On June 5, 2022, Duane and I got out for the third time this year in our kayaks. We had been out a couple weeks earlier when it was warmer, circling around the entire area known as L’Anse Bay, basically from the water plant in L’Anse, across to the Ojibwa Campground in Baraga and around the head of the bay and back to the water plant. I’d guess it would be about 9 or 10 miles, depending on how close one hugged the shoreline.
The water was glass calm and the weather was warm, so we were out in rash guards and wetsuit bottoms, in spite of the cold water. Of course, we had on our PFDs. I was practicing with my new Greenland paddle, using techniques from a paddling program I was exploring, bending forward as I leaned to impact turning, bracing, and the like. The paddle felt remarkably different, and it allowed different movements. Interesting.
I was gearing up for the next lessons, which were sculling and what my program was calling the “old man roll,” which felt about my speed. After about four hours of paddling, though, we had had enough. The sun was setting. We went out the next weekend in somewhat choppy water.
Because of the cold wind, we didn’t try to do too much, just a little warm-up maneuvering in the waves. We had ordered new dry suits, so we were not in any rush to get out in the cold water. Satisfied with his day, Duane was on shore, and I still took some turns in the water.
In my practice turns in the choppy waves, I was extending the paddle, just like in the videos, feeling really good about my progress. After about 30 or 40 turns, I was about to be done, making one last tight curve in close to shore to turn back to the landing spot, but I hit a wave oddly and missed my brace. I’m not even sure I tried to brace as it happened so quickly. But I was upside down at an odd angle. I have never capsized unintentionally, so I did not have a ready course of action in mind, which delayed my response. Not good!
By the time I managed to get turned around to pull the front of the spray skirt loose, I was disoriented and needing a breath. I had tucked junk under the straps at the front so I had trouble getting it loose. Pulling hard and kicking, I managed to free myself, but not without a good scare. I came up gasping, but I had not taken in a big drink. Right side up, I hung on my boat and breathed.
When we finally got going on June 5 in the cold weather, I felt a bit reticent, needing to regain some confidence. I can self rescue with a paddle float and the cowboy maneuver, but I am still working on avoiding the wet exit. We are working on assisted rescue techniques, if only the water would warm. We also carry Garmin Explorer Pluses for navigation and safety. Still, I was little tentative as we started.
On this lake, there are hazards–frigid water, deadheads, floating snags like fishing nets, rocks protruding from the bottom, boulders just below the surface, unexpected high wind and waves, fog rolling in to obliterate one’s view, boaters who can’t see kayaks, kayaks that aren’t visible on radar, etc.. It is no place for the unprepared, those without PFDs, or ones who fail to heed warnings from the Coast Guard or National Weather Service.
Duane and I have a deal when we paddle: Anytime, no matter what, if one of us is uncomfortable, we go to shore, whether that is to bunch the adventure entirely or simply to get our bearings. We spend a lot of time on the water paddling, and I spend a lot of time in the water swimming. When Lake Superior jangles my nerves, or his, we take a five. We also communicate on the water, and we wait for and help each other when necessary.
On June 5th, the lake was choppy, but we stayed together throughout. When I watched the video segments that Duane shot, I was surprised at how many times he checked to see that I was there. It was rather touching because I don’t really notice when I am focused on paddling. When the waves came up to the higher end of the forecast at calm to two feet, I needed a break, so we took it.
When I felt better, we got back into the waves for a fast paddle home. Leaving Pequaming, we surfed the waves along the shore from First Sand Beach, past the Township Park and the water plant, back into L’Anse Bay. By then, I was back in my comfort zone, confident that I can indeed operate my boat, avoid the obstacles, and paddle safely. This coming week, we are again practicing exiting and reentry in open water, and I will continue my work with the Greenland paddle. It was a good day overall.
You can see our video of the day here: https://youtu.be/eWY_C9C9nSs