Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections on the GLSKS "one coach track"

At this year's Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, we had the opportunity to work with students who signed up for the "one-coach track." This meant each of us worked with five students for the entire weekend, rather than being assigned to teach a series of two-hour skills sessions with an ever-changing group of participants who signed up for each of those courses.

We chose the one-coach track because we were interested in working on a progression -- one of our responsibilities as BCU Coach 2 trainees. But we did so with some regrets because it meant we wouldn't have the opportunity to work with other coaches and participants at the symposium. We'd be off on our own little learning island.

It turned out to be a terrific opportunity. We began by discussing their goals and then videotaping each of the 10 participants performing a set of two-star skills: efficient forward paddling, moving sideways, maneuvering in a small space, and performing a low brace.

Some of the participants in our one-coach track watching their videotaped performance as Alec offers observations.
Over the course of the next two and a half days, we were able to help them improve those skills. We began with the fundamentals: posture, connectivity, power transfer and feel. We then applied those and other concepts to everything from the forward stroke and edged turns to bracing and rescues. Our standard for everything was "safe, effective, efficient," enabling them to understand why particular approaches make the most sense and to choose what works best for them.

Thanks to the weather, the course culminated in taking those skills into bumpy water for a real-world application. Finally, we videotaped again, allowing our students to see how much they had progressed. It was a rewarding weekend for all of us.

One-coach participants testing their skills in bumpy water. 
The one-coach track allowed us the freedom to work on skills without feeling the two-hour clock ticking, to establish a well-paced progression, and to provide varied practice over two and a half days. In the end, if was a more optimal learning experience for them, and a more satisfying coaching experience for us. 

The 10 participants and two coaches from this year's one-coach track.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wild weather at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium

Unloading boats at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium.
The words of Herodotus, inscribed above the door of the New York City post office, might well apply to this year's Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium*: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night..."

We arrived in Grand Marais, MI just before a deluge that signified the end to a string of hot, humid days and the start of a period of cooler weather. The rain pounded so hard on the metal roof of the symposium headquarters in the community center, people had to shout at close range to be heard. Outside, ominous clouds began circling over Lake Superior, and the US Coast Guard announced a water spout offshore.

Ominous clouds circling offshore at Grand Marais, MI.
But the wet and wild weather didn't dampen the enthusiasm of coaches or participants.

Hey, it's a water sport! These students couldn't be stopped.
Over the next three days, we paddled in wind and waves, as well as on flat water. We sweated in light clothing and shivered in dry suits. It was a weekend tour of midwestern summer weather, and a great demonstration that neither snow nor rain nor heat not gloom of night stays these paddlers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

*More posts about this symposium will follow in the coming days.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Taking advantage of paddling Chicago's manmade shoreline

Our local environment. Photo credit: Joyce Ann
When we think about taking advantage of a local paddling environment, we tend to think about exciting and even exotic things: rock gardens, tidal races and tiny islands.

Here in Chicago, we don't have any of those natural features. Our 28-mile shoreline is manmade, an urban coast comprised of beaches and break walls, punctuated by piers and harbors. Our shoreline is highly developed, and in places, the offshore waters are bustling with tour boats and recreational traffic on summer weekends. How do you take advantage of that?

Some of Chicago's offshore manmade structures: the Chicago Harbor Light and breakwall.
In fact, this environment is ideal for a course on risk assessment, leadership, group management and good decision-making. These were the foci of our recent Open Water Journeying course, which we created to enable students to plan and execute safe and enjoyable day trips.

Participants in our Open Water Journeying course making sure their boats and kit are ready for the day's paddle.
Over the course of the day, we assessed the actual risks we faced that day and found ways to mitigate them. We discussed general principles of leadership and group management, agreed upon ways to communicate among ourselves, and practiced communicating with lock tenders and commercial vessels.

Following appropriate protocol to hail the lock tender on a VHF radio.
We developed strategies for safely paddling through areas with complex boat traffic patterns. We kept together as a tight group during longer crossings and correctly estimated the time it would take us to complete them.

Keeping a group together during a longer crossing.
We launched and landed on docks and other structures.

Chicago offers a variety of launching and landing challenges.
We've long appreciated other features of our shoreline: the break walls that generate exciting clapotis when waves approaching and leaving them collide; the north-facing beaches where we can surf when conditions are right. But it's easy to overlook this area's other environmental assets--a hazard of paddling any place that's very familiar--or to regard them as negatives.

Following proper procedures in the Chicago Harbor Lock. Photo credit: Joyce Ann
Sure, there are days when we wish there were less traffic, and we definitely take advantage of every opportunity to paddle or coach in places with more beautiful and interesting natural features. But wherever we are, we try to appreciate what we have. And when we're on the water in Chicago, that's Lake Michigan's urban coastline in all its manmade glory.

Making good choices before a complicated crossing through boat traffic. Photo credit: Joyce Ann

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Buy my kayak! Avocet LV is perfect for smaller paddlers

The Avocet LV is one of the few boats suitable for smaller paddlers.
There aren't many performance sea kayaks suitable for very small paddlers. Many boats claim to fit kayakers who weigh less than 130 pounds, but few actually do. Most boats are too deep for shorter paddlers (a paddler's hip bones should be just below the cockpit coaming) and too high-volume for lighter paddlers (increasing the amount of boat out of the water and making it more susceptible to the effects of wind).

In the Avocet LV, a 110-pound paddler has proper trim.
The Avocet LV is one of a handful of boats that actually fit Sharon. It's fast and nimble, equally at home on a journey or in surf. It's stable enough for beginners, playful enough for advanced paddlers, and highly responsive.

The Avocet LV loves rough water.
This boat is a 2008 with a built-in compass and a fiberglass keel strip. The skeg works, the hatches are dry, and it's in good condition with only cosmetic blemishes. The deck is robin's egg blue; the keel is white; the coaming and trim are quill grey.

So why are we selling it? Because Sharon is now a Valley-sponsored paddler, and she has a new Avocet LV. So this one is for sale for $1900 (firm).

Here are the specs:

  • Length: 15'11"
  • Width: 20'5"
  • Depth: 11.5"
  • Weight: 45 pounds

If you're interested, contact us at kayak (dot) bp (at)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A full weekend of big waves and rough water

This has been a stormy start to summer in Chicago. We've had lots of rain and, to our delight, several days of strong northeasterly winds.

Northeast winds yield big waves on the southwest side of Lake Michigan. 
Better yet, this happened over a weekend. And even better than that, we had a contingent of kayakers staying at our house.

Paddling out into 5- to 7-foot waves during one of three weekend paddle outings.
Mountains of water, and no other boats to share it with.

The winds were in the 20- to 25-knot range for most of the weekend. One evening, we paddled into the wind for more than an hour, then turned around and paddled back in 15 minutes. North-facing beaches had excellent surf, though paddling out against the wind and the waves was a workout.

Taking photos of surfing is uniquely challenging. It requires getting out of your kayak and snapping pictures while your friends continue playing in the waves. Some days we do it; some days we don't.

This time, we didn't.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see

You know that expression about how some people paddle with dark clouds over their heads, while others see only blue skies?

That was our experience on Friday.

Pat Rota paddles out under menacing clouds.

Sharon focuses on the light at the end of the tunnel of clouds.

Keith has no idea why we might be worried.
Note: We had carefully monitored the weather and tailored the location and duration of our paddle accordingly. No kayakers were injured in the making of this blog post.

Paddling in fog: a quieter experience on Lake Michigan

Paddling out through the fog.
Warm air, cool water and still winds conspired to create fog along the shoreline on Thursday morning. The four-mile crib was invisible from Burnham Harbor. The only way to get there was to paddle a 67-degree course and wait for it to come into view.

The fog-shrouded skyline behind us.
Few sailboats bothered to venture out in such still conditions; motorboats and cruisers stayed in the harbor, too. We saw a couple of tour boats and heard communication on our VHF radios between them and the lock tender. Aside from that, we were alone on a very quiet lake. 

The four-mile crib came into view about half a mile from shore.
We heard the fog horn long before we reached the crib. As we approached, we also heard the squawking and screeching of cormorants and gulls, who weren't pleased to share their prime fishing ground with us.

We weren't interested in fishing, though. We came to swim.

Alec pulls his boat through the water, demonstrating that we are all between swims.
The fog gradually burned off, providing an interlude of blue skies before the cumulus clouds built above the city once again. By late afternoon, another in a series of summer storms came through, with strong winds and a deluge that contributed to the rising lake level (the optimistic way to view yet another storm that kept us off the water). In coming days, we'll post photos of some of the rougher water that followed.