Sunday, December 16, 2012

The blog takes a break

We've been taking a break from blogging, but not from paddling. Back soon!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The effects of Hurricane Sandy in Chicago

Most of our attention has been focused on Hurricane Sandy's effects on the northeastern states. But the superstorm was so enormous, it affected Chicago as well.

Tight isobars indicate the intensity of the low pressure system.
We were spared the drama and destruction of Hurricane Sandy. But we got some of the wind.

Not our usual marine forecast and flood warning.
Waves to 23 feet on Lake Michigan, with occasional waves up to 31 feet; this called for cameras, not kayaks. Of course, the waves weren't that big near shore, but they were big enough.

Waves exploding over the break wall at North Avenue.
Gale-force winds blowing the tops off breaking waves near Oak Street Beach.
Water streaming back down after flooding the bike path.
As evening approached on Tuesday, the waves continued to build. The lakefront path was closed, but Chicagoans gathered at a safe distance to watch the mayhem.

The path was a dramatic but perilous place.
Wave watchers put the plumes in perspective.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to make your own nose plugs

Our Fall whitewater kayak class at the West Cook YMCA has begun. Thirteen students in an amply chlorinated pool means one of two things: suggest they buy nose plugs, or make them.

President John F. Kennedy admires a new set of nose plugs, drying on a homemade rack between dips.
Today we invested in $8 worth of wire and $13 worth of Plasti Dip--enough material to make hundreds of nose plugs--and began clipping, bending and dipping.


...and dipping.
Soon these nose plugs will adorn the faces of our students, allowing them to learn to paddle, brace and roll without getting a chlorinated nasal irrigation.

Wire cut, bent, and waiting to be dipped.
After a second and third dip, the nose plus will dry and be ready to use.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why you should practice rescues in conditions

What's going on in these photos?

(Leon Somme, Alec Bloyd-Peshkin and Keith Wikle)
Check out our guest post on Go Kayak Now!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Gales 2012 lived up to its name

We have to admit we weren't convinced that the location for this year's Gales would work. Sure, Naturally Superior Adventures is in a lovely place, uniquely suited for optimizing our changes of having the ideal mix of wind, waves and current for an intermediate, rough-water symposium. But dang, what a drive! Would people attend?

Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade, Intl., under a glowering sky.
Those who did were amply rewarded for the hours they spent driving to Wawa, Ontario. We had four days of wind and waves; the tide race at the mouth of the Michipicoten River was sometimes exciting, sometimes intimidating. Waves rolled onto Sandy Beach and rebounded off the rocks along the shoreline. Swift current poured out of the river mouth, and strong eddies formed on its sides. There wasn't a rough-water skill we couldn't work on.

Waves roll in next to Naturally Superior Adventures.
And work on them we did. On Friday, a surf session devolved into a body surfing session in response to 35-knot headwinds. On Saturday, small groups of coaches and participants set out on journeys along the coastline, punctuated by rock gardening and slot shooting, as well as some unplanned but well-executed rough water rescues.

Leon, Alec and Keith execute a surf-kayak rescue in the tide race.
A group explores rafted sailing with the aid of a storm shelter.
Participants head out for a long boats in currents course.
A calm launch beach inside the mouth of the river.
On Sunday, the winds were calmer in the morning, and courses on incident management and rescues as well as long boats in current took to the water. But when the wind returned in the afternoon, most participants chose surfing courses, and again Sandy Beach was the site for surfing and a few "yard sales."* From time to time, a snow squall blew through adding an additional element of excitement.

Paddling along the rocky shoreline. 
Tucking into caves and crevasses.
Throughout the symposium, coaches and participants shared meals in the cozy Rock Island Lodge. The kitchen staff served up tasty, hot food to cold paddlers at breakfast, lunch and dinner. These meals also provided opportunities to socialize and share stories of the day's courses and experiences. Evening meals were followed by presentations from featured coaches as well as local authors Connor Mihell and Darrell Makin, who've written books about the history and conservation of Lake Superior.

Lunch time at the Rock Rover Lodge.
Conor Mihell reads from his book, The Greatest Lake: Stories from Lake Superior's North Shore.
Bryanna, kayak guide and member of the hard-working kitchen staff.
After dinner and presentations, participants set off for their tents or local motels for a well-earned night's sleep. The combination of exhausting paddling and early start times (breakfast at 7, on the water at 9) didn't promote the type of late-night carousing typical of other symposia.

At 7 a.m., gear left outside to dry was covered in snow.
For us, the Gales offered a rare opportunity to coach in conditions. The base of the pyramid in kayak instruction -- as in other sports -- is much larger than the top; most courses are for beginners, so it's a treat to coach intermediate paddlers. It also offered an opportunity to work with other committed coaches and share ideas and techniques.

Leon, Shawna, Alec and Sharon, on the rocks and in the wind.
If you missed The Gales, don't despair. It will be held again next year in the Apostle Islands. Put in your request for time off work now. If you want to develop your rough-water skills, this is one symposium you shouldn't miss.

*Yard sale is a term for the random distribution of boat, paddle, person and loose gear after a capsize and wet exit in the surf.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Forecast for The Gales: chance of fun 100%

The Gales Storm Gathering is less than one week away. The roster of coaching talent is impressive: Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme are returning, and are joined this year by Nick CunliffeChris Lockyer, and a host of top Great Lakes coaches.

Keith Wikle, one of the organizers of The Gales, surfing last weekend.
This year's featured guests are wind and waves. To maximize the chances of their attending, The Gales is scheduled in October and located this year at Naturally Superior Adventures at the mouth of the Michipicoten River in Wawa, Ontario.

Alec prepares to carve on a wave.
The Gales is a rare intermediate symposium, designed to give students instruction and experience in "conditions." This means surfing, rock gardening, rough-water rescues, leadership and incident management, as well as paddling long boats in current and working on navigation by day and by night.

Scott Fairty tries to break out through Great Lakes surf in a whitewater boat.
It's not too late to register for this year's Gales. And if you happen to see wind and waves, tell them they're expected!

Heading out in search of another ride back to shore.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's a buoy! Real-time data comes to Indiana

The lonely life of buoy 45007. (Photo from
For many years, buoy 45007 has been an only child in Lake Michigan. Located 45 nautical miles east-southeast of Milwaukee, it provides vital data about wind speed, wave height, and air and water temperature. But it's up there and we're down here.

The Harrison-Dever crib provides local wind and air temperature readings. (Photo from
We get real-time data from the Harrison-Dever crib, which provides wind speed and air temperature. But its sensors are airborne, so it doesn't provide water temperature or wave height. For wave height, we rely on computer models, extrapolation and observation. (See our list of wave and weather sites to the right.)

TIDAS 900, the new kid on the block, er, lake. (Photo from
But now we have a new real-time data source: the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Michigan City Buoy. The Tidas 900 buoy is owned and operated by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Purdue University Department of Civil Engineering. It's the first buoy in Indiana and provides a data point further south in the lake and far closer to Chicago.

We'll be watching it tonight, when the marine forecast calls for gusts to 30 knots and waves of 8 to 12 feet. Its data won't tell us exactly what's happening on our side of the lake, but it will give us one more solid data point and, no doubt, inspire us to zip over and paddle with Keith Wikle when the conditions there exceed our own.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How to have a no-regrets paddling season

Autumn isn't the end of the paddling season, but it is the end of most of our out-of-state paddling. We're back at school and back to work, squeezing paddling into our evenings and weekends, acutely aware of the later sunrises, earlier sunsets and ever-cooling water and air temperatures. Board shorts give way to surf skins; surf skins yield to drysuits. Before long, we'll wear gloves or pogies and neoprene hoods, and the long Chicago winter will begin.

The key to contentment during this season of transformation is feeling good about what we did during the summer. Did we get out in a variety of conditions, from calm to rough?

Sharon paddles in a calm bay along the Pukaskwa coast.
Alec disappears behind a wave on Lake Michigan.
 Did we paddle in a variety of places, from the Great Lakes to the ocean?

Heading out in search of tidal races in the San Juan Islands.
Did we practice our rescues so they're snappy when we need them?

Bonnie and Alec practice a scoop rescue.
Did we repair our gear?

The NDK Pilgrim awaits its new skeg cable.
Did we paddle multiple craft?

Leon gets into the long, skinny Valley Rapier 20.
Seth in the Rapier 18 and Sharon in a Canoe.
Did we paddle multiple craft in current?

Sharon, Ryan and Greg on the Menominee River.

Alec and Scott use a sit-on-top to move materials for engineering the Yorkville whitewater course.
Did we paddle at night?

Bright lights, big city, quiet harbor.
Did we spend the night under the stars after paddling?

Sunset from Sucia in the San Juan Islands.
Did we spend time paddling with friends?

Our good friend Keith Wikle.
Above all, did we teach as well as learn, and develop as paddlers as well as coaches? It's rare to answer all of these in the affirmative, but this year we came close.

Our last trip of the season will be to coach at The Gales, an intermediate, rough-water sea kayak symposium on Lake Superior. If your season is coming to a close and you're looking for one last paddling fling -- a chance to work on your skills in dynamic conditions with some of the top coaches in the US, Canada and the UK -- come join us at The Gales. The location is spectacular: Naturally Superior Adventures just south of Wawa, Ontario. The coaches will include Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade, International; Nick Cunliffe of Kayak Essentials; Chris Lockyer of Committed to the Core; as well as a host of top Great Lakes coaches from both sides of the border.

If you're looking for a no-regrets paddling season, sign up for The Gales.

Take the leap! Come to The Gales!