Thursday, September 29, 2011

Paddling at night, inevitable and pleasurable

The days are getting shorter; sunset comes ever earlier. We're bemoaning the loss, but we're also taking advantage of the opportunity to do more night paddling long before bedtime.

Paddling the Chicago River after dark.
It's beautiful. The streetlights and headlights are wistful; the building lights are lonely and lovely. People are working, commuting, eating, sleeping. And us? We get to paddle!

Paddling on Lake Michigan, with the skyline in the distance. 
There's a lot to learn at night, too. We've discovered that some running lights are brighter than others. (Our current favorite: the Kayalite.) We've discovered that the captains of the frightening Seadog speedboats are far more friendly and professional than we thought, and that hailing them on channel 16 is an effective way to let them know where we are and make sure we aren't in their path. We've discovered that it's hard to switch to the channel they suggest if your VHF radio doesn't have an illuminated display.

We've also discovered that afterwork paddles are a great opportunity to get out with friends who aren't available on weekends. And paddling on Wednesday, in particular, is like a mini-weekend. Two days later, it's the weekend again!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A new waterproof camera for paddlers?

Paddlers always seem to be asking which waterproof camera to buy. That's a symptom of two problems: we aren't thrilled with the cameras we have, and they don't hold up as well as we wish.

Our main needs are high picture quality, video quality, water resistance and ruggedness. Shutter lag is a major drawback. So we were intrigued when Nikon announced last month the imminent release of a new point-and-shoot, waterproof digital camera, the Coolpix AW100. It's not out yet, but the specs look attractive for paddlers.

Nikon's new entry into the waterproof camera market. 

We're assuming that this camera is as waterproof as the others. It claims to be rugged enough to survive a five-foot drop; the recessed lens would certainly help if it face-planted when it fell, but a lens cover would have been a nice addition.

If this camera uses some of the same internal processing as other Nikon cameras, the picture quality should be as good as the specs suggest. (For the full specs, click here.) The video offers full HD as well as slow motion (at reduced resolution), which should be great for technique analysis and revisiting that great ender in the surf. Normal video is 30 frames per second (FPS); the Coolpix can capture video at 60, 120 and 240 FPS.

Shutter lag will still be an issue, but the burst mode allows you to capture three frames per second, giving you a better chance of catching the expression on someone's face when he successfully rolls up.

Since the camera isn't out yet, we can't talk to anyone who has tried it and can attest to its performance, but check out Digital Photography Review for an in-depth assessment of the information available. The comments at the end extend the discussion and provide additional information. 

Bottom line: This camera lists at $379, making it the most expensive point-and-shoot, waterproof digital camera. (DPR recently reviewed them here.) Our Pentax Optio W80s are still functioning after two years, in spite of our griping, but if we had to replace one of them, we'd be tempted to try out this new Coolpix.

If anyone gets one and has a chance to try it out, please let us know what you think.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

If you are intimidated by rough water....

The Gales: A Storm Gathering will be a great place to learn or improve your rough-water paddling skills.

Daybreak with waves.
During one recent foray in Lake Michigan waves, a fellow coach and friend mused about how few paddlers go out on truly rough days. Are they intimidated, he wondered, or just uninterested? What would it take to bolster both their confidence and ability?

One answer is the upcoming rough-water symposium, The Gales: A Storm Gathering, which will be held October 8 through 10 in Marquette, Michigan. Over the course of three days, there will be courses in surf kayaking, sea kayak surfing, rock gardering, rough water rescues, incident management, and open-water and night navigation, along with "long boats in current" classes on the nearby Menominee River. Registration is still open. Local accommodations are very affordable. So if the following images represent the kind of paddling you'd like to enjoy, sign up soon!

Sharon gets ready to launch. Waves always look smaller from the shore. Learning to estimate wave height is a useful rough-water skill.
Punching through the surf zone requires timing and technique.
The same is true of surfing back in.
Boat control in rough water is essential. 
Clapotis offers rough-water opportunities, too.

We'll be there, paddling and coaching. We hope to see you there, too!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

A week of rough water on Lake Michigan

It has been an amazing week of rough water along the Chicago shoreline. Day after day of 25 to 30 knot winds out of the north and northeast have given us large waves, massive clapotis and loads of fun.

Sharon, Bonnie and Scott playing in the clapotis near Foster Ave. beach.
The key to having fun in conditions such as these is knowing your own ability and having friends who are skilled paddlers. We were fortunate this week to get out on our own and also with our paddling partners Scott Fairty, Aaron Litchfield and Bonnie Perry.

Today, the wind had dropped. The forecast promised waves of 4 to 6 feet, but in fact the lake was much calmer. At first, we were disappointed; the lake looked relatively flat. Waves of 3 to 4 feet were still rolling into the beaches, but we felt let down. Still, there's always fun to be had if you know where to look, so we set out for some areas where the waves reflect off of hard surfaces and create chaotic conditions.

The lake was relatively calm, but the area near the break walls was rough enough. Here, Alec is practically airborne.
Bonnie amid waves.
Scott--or at least part of his boat.
Sharon--or at least her helmet and paddle blade.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Marveling at Lake Michigan from the sky

Whenever we fly back to Chicago, we hope the descent will be over Lake Michigan. There's something grounding -- if you'll excuse the pun -- about returning to our home waters. 

I (Sharon) was fortunate yesterday. We approached at the southeast edge of the lake. I recognized the disfigurement caused by heavy industry to Indiana's shoreline as we flew by.

Then we were out over open water on a very windy day. Whitecaps dotted the lake and there were waves as far as the eye could see.

We continued north, past the heart of the city, then turned east for our final descent.

It's hard to explain the thrill of seeing the lake from 20,000 or so feet when you're accustomed to seeing it from two and a half. It's huge, dignified, beautiful. I couldn't wait to land and spend time on its surface once more.