Haida Gwaii 2013 Trip Report

February 15th, 2014

Haida Gwaii in 2013 turned out to be a different trip than the trips in 2005 & 2009 (click to see photo galleries). Click here for photos from the 2013 trip. Included are photos for the road trip and a stop in Glacier National Park for a week.

Here is a guide to the trip highlights.

The weather was far different than previous years. Drier and calmer. This made paddling the west side far more enjoyable. Note the blues skies and seas that are 3′ or less. Oh and notice the other paddlers. Two people Shayne and Matt from Vancouver Island were on the same ferry as myself and doing the same trip. This was the start to ~2 weeks of paddling together.



This wasn’t the case all the time. The second day became the typical pattern, one far more predictable in that winds would rise around the points and in the afternoon. A couple of times they rose to a degree it was time to start looking to pull out. But rounding a point would reduce them. Good thing about the wind? It was from the northwest, a tail wind!



A good thing about traveling with Shayne was that he was good at fishing. He put himself thru college working a fishing boat on the islands. It was multiple evenings with him that fresh Rock Cod fillets would get delivered.



The calmer conditions enabled landing for lunch at places one wouldn’t consider in bigger conditions. Below is the landing in Portland Bay. Given the size of the cobbles and the size of logs above the high tide line, I was glad to not be spending much time in such an exposed place.



The weather did give us times to have a weather day and catch up on our rest. Here at Husband Harbor an all day rain settled in and we took the time off. Interesting thing was the wind didn’t come with the rain, so we were able paddle the next day. Same thing for two other weather days we took.


Most interesting was Wells Harbor. An earthquake, the second largest in Canadian history stuck the area months prior. There were numerous mud slides on the surrounding hills and the wood on the beach came from a tsunami triggered by the quake. Never seen such a density of crushed & mangled wood on a beach before.  There was a certain tension being here knowing it could happen again…


The wildest and biggest waves came on the longest stretch without an easy takeout – 25 miles from Wells Harbor to Cape Freeman. Overfalls or an uneven ocean bottom combined with the tidal currents to disrupt the waves. We had 6′ waves grow to over 9′ and start breaking randomly around us. Fortunately none broke near us but it was quite a ride for a couple of hours.


Ninstints, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an amazing place. Totem poles from over a hundred years ago still stand. Haida, the First Nation people have Watchman, or people who protect the site from looters and give tours. Our guide was Kenny. For over three hours Kenny told of Haida history, customs, stories and heritage.


After Ninstints, Shayne & Matt and I parted ways. It was good to paddle with them but we differed on routes we were taking on the east side. The east side offered a different world of paddling. With a lot of islands that offer protection, calm seas and winds were a daily occurrence. Still a wild and beautiful land. Only challenge was the dry summer. Campside creeks that ran normally were dry and one needed to search for larger sources of fresh water.


The earthquake also had other effects, it caused the hot springs on Hot Springs Island to go dry. Good news is that they are coming back with trickles of water increasing in volume and temperature the week before I arrived. And this had happened after a previous earthqauke. The bad news is that it wasn’t possible to get a good soak! Below is one of the dry pools.


Then finally, a photo from the ferry on the way back to the mainland.


From here it was on to Glacier National Park for a week of hiking.

After three trips and 70 days of paddling on the islands, it is still a magical spot for me. The Haida add a magic like no other place, except maybe what the west of Ireland offers. And as always, weather dominates. The trips in 2005 & 2009 were dominated by weather and had a significant number of weather days. This year the weather at times seemed too good to be true.

So which year is my favorite? I can’t say, each one offered such a unique view of the place. I can say the 2009 trip was my least favorite but I would still take the experience that trip offered despite not being able to accomplish any of its goals. In the end, as a paddler, one responds to the weather and allows it to form the trip. For it is often in the unplanned, that gives a trip the alchemy that makes for an intoxicating potion.


Salt, Trip Prep and an Update

June 24th, 2013
Haida Gwaii aka the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia 40 miles out from the mainland and just south of Alaska.

Haida Gwaii aka the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia 40 miles out from the mainland and just south of Alaska.

As I ready for Haida Gwaii (click here), packing the laminated charts and maps used on previous trips, my fingers tell me that they are covered in salt. This tactile sense brings more memories: storm bound at this river mouth, a beautifully sunny rest day here, old growth trees on this island, Orcas off of this point, etc.  If the trip goes as planned, it will mark three trips and close to seventy days on the water there. This is a place that has grabbed me and pulled me into it’s waters in a way that only traveling by sea kayak does.

To get to this point on the calendar requires a loud phew! Previous summers my workload was overwhelmed with running the Y program. Stepping into a different role with less responsibility this season, life is still busy, but there is free time. How enjoyable instead of the constant scramble and having to triage so much of one’s life. With this change, is also a needed process happening to recovery from being overwhelmed for four seasons in a row. My respect to those who can live with such a schedule.

This year also marks a new direction for Nancy and I. ACA instructor workshops have been our primary activity this time of year outside of Bay Cliff and the Y. Given our experience including working as guides, running instructor workshops, doing staff training, and personal paddling, outfitters are turning to us to train their staff to a high standard.  In working with outfitters, it is one of the frontlines in keeping Great Lake’s paddlers safe. Best of all, this is fun with good people.

Arrival at Skidegate by ferry and time to pack the boat. 21 day trip in 2009.

Arrival at Skidegate by ferry and time to pack the boat. 21 day trip in 2009.

But back to trip packing/preparation. All my food is together except for a last minute buy of fresh food items. All equipment is packed together into a pile. A complex float plan is together and given to two trusted friends who will watch after me. Today is going over the needed tide tables, maps and charts ensuring they are all here & in order. Then there is the packing for the trip to Glacier National Park which includes three days of backpacking on the continental divide and several days of car camping to enable day trips on the divide in different areas. Details, details and more details are coming together so everything is in place when needed.

There is also several days of massage left. My clients, who I know I inconvenience by being gone so long, are understanding and coming in for one last massage before my return in a month. They all support my trips or at least, listen patiently as I talk about them. The photos on my office walls help to explain this part of my life.

Dugout canoes at the Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate.

Dugout canoes at the Haida Heritage Center in Skidegate.

In preparing for this trip, one thing I have been aware of is time. Previous years, working a crazy schedule with the Y, time was scarce and at times, an adversary. This year it is a friend. After returning from my last instructor workshop, I started the packing process. Tired and fatigued (three 12-14 hour days will do that), I had time to take a nap. Upon waking, my memory kicked in, I didn’t remember packing beef jerky. A sign that time has returned to being a friend and a helper. A welcomed sign…

With a checklist and a five day drive out to the ferry in Prince Rupert, the forgotten beef jerky would have been remembered. But remembering on my own and before leaving the house or using the checklist, sets up a different drive. A relaxed drive where the land tells its story and I can watch and listen: from the Northwoods, to the Northern Plains, to the Rockies to the Canadian Rockies to the BC coast and the Pacific. It is a trip that tells the story of the land as it transitions into the world where the paddling can begin. A trip that mirrors my transition into what will likely require some very committed paddling.

Gwaii Hanaas Logo

Now, back to getting salt on my hands again…


Ferry Stories

April 5th, 2013

First trip out to Haida Gwaii, the photo below was the start of the two different BC ferries that Carl and I took. It was also the start of pushing kayaks onto ferries and a few lessons learned along the way.

Carl and I getting our boats ready to roll aboard the ferry in Port Hardy for the ride up the Inside Passage.

Getting our boats ready to roll aboard the ferry in the background for the ride up the Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Photo by Carl Mather.

The learning curve.

  • We rolled our boats onto the ferry. Best to load them I told Carl. Boats loaded with 25 days of gear are heavy, especially when you push them 1/4 to 1/2 mile on an inclined steel grating. I can still feel my back aching. Stress cracks showed up in the gel coat. On the return trip, we used the cart walk on passengers can put bags onto and left the boats light. Sorry about that Carl…

    Kayak wheels. Strong enough to wheel a loaded boat around. Strong enough to handle a loaded boat.

    Kayak wheels.

  • Arrival times tend to be accurate, its the offloading that may take a while. We missed our scheduled permit talk at the Gwaii Haanas Park office because of that. Fortunately the ranger lady took pity on us and we were out in an hour instead of waiting around till the next day.
  • Water from the facets may not be potable. On the current ferry from Prince Rupert out to Skidegate I felt the effect by the next morning. It was 3-4 days before the need to quickly land when paddling had passed.
  • Good wheels that breakdown and stow easily are a must. They best handle a loaded boat as well. On the first trip to Haida Gwaii we left our wheels in town. Mine didn’t readily come apart and Carl’s didn’t handle a heavy boat well. The wheels to the right solve both of those problems.

    Blocks used to secure my boat on the way to Haida Gwaii.

    Blocks used to secure my boat on one ferry.

  • Expect to secure your boat. Some of these boats encounter rough water and your boat will slide around.

There is a good life aboard to enjoy.

  • Some have all you can eat buffets. Carl and I each had 3+ overflowing plates for breakfast and dinner after our 25 day long trip. Satiated, we found comfortable places to sleep off our food induced stupor.
  • One of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen was when Carl and I sat on the stern as we pulled out of Skidegate at sunset. Simply gorgeous. Also gorgeous was the cabin shower and the bunk beds with clean sheets that we booked for the overnight trip to Prince Rupert. Waking up the next morning, Carl was in the shower again. Didn’t you take one last night? I wanted to make sure it took.

    Watching the cars come onto the ferry in Prince Rupert after they watched me push my boat on first.

    Watching the cars come onto the ferry in Prince Rupert after they watched me push my boat on first.

  • Met a paddler from the Falklands on one ferry. Fun to pass time talking about paddling in another part of the world.
  • The ship’s restaurant on the run between Dublin and Anglessey is a Burger King but you can order a Guinness.

But with all that said, you can expect to face the unexpected. Rules, regulations, the things the reservation agent says all can change and throw a barrier in your way. Check out this story from Nancy and Carl’s adventure taking the ferry to Newfoundland – click here.

Ferry Stories:

  • Traveling from the city of Vancouver to Vancouver Island, I learned July 1st can be pretty festive in Canada. An obviously inebriated person shouted out at various intervals I love you Canada and Happy Birthday. Sometimes there are pretty woman on these ferries. Sometimes it is best to stay away from them. One of them pretty ladies introduced me to the singer who was her friend.
  • In Stockholm, post 9/11, I had just passed through security when there was a shout. I was 15′ from a turn down a hallway and 50′ from the guards. Do I look back or ignore it and continue? After a couple of steps I turned around, all the security guards were there looking at me when someone said something in Swedish. No idea what was said, I kept pushing, smiled and waved. They all burst into laughter as I reached the hallway and turned out of their sight. Phew!

    Anna in line for the ferry in Mariehamm, Aland Finland.

    Anna in line for the ferry in Mariehamm, Aland Finland.

  • Also in Stockholm, I pushed the boat onto the escalator after realizing it wouldn’t fit on the elevator. Everyone, without a word, moved out of my way, as if that happened everyday.
  • Arriving in Prince Rupert, the ferry out the Haida Gwaii wasn’t until the next morning. The nearest campground was 2-3 miles away. The lady behind the counter was not one to allow any rule bending. What to do when it is midnight? We waited till the terminal staff left and commando camped in a nearby field. We rolled out of bed at 5 am to avoid trouble, broke camp and waited under the terminal’s eaves until it opened at 7am. A different counter person was more friendly. We didn’t say where we camped but the man said, you know a lot of paddlers just camp right over there, pointing to where we spent the night.




Food Planning For 23 Days

March 29th, 2013
The Sun by Haida artist Robert Davidon.

Artwork by Haida artist Robert Davidon.

23 days on the water. If all goes well, my third trip out to Haida Gwaii I will be in a wilderness unlike any other I have paddled into. After the first day, I will not see a road till day 22. A town and the ferry terminal will appear on day 23.

Food, that’s what I think about. What’s to eat?

Paddle where one can stop along the way in a store or restaurant is a totally different trip than if one needs to plan everything one eats for 3+ weeks. Below is some of what I’ve learned after 20+ years of doing overnight trips and 15+ of self supported trips two weeks or longer.

Not all paddling trips have a pub nearby.

Not all campsites have an Irish pub nearby.

Preservation is necessary. Cheese and sausage gets eaten the first week, tortillas pack smaller and last longer than other bread products and if you are lucky, hard cheese like parmesan can last three plus weeks. Dried fruit lasts and lasts, that is, if you don’t eat it right away. Several dinners come from grocery store shelves. Tuna helper is good protein & well known (I add dried veggies), Alessi’s Pasta Fazool soup is dried and has real food in it, dried spaghetti sauce plus dried ground beef rehydrates with the cooking pasta and a can of chicken, a spice packet, dried veggies & instant rice is a Chinese like meal. Variety in protein (beef, chicken & fish),  texture (rice, pasta, soup, etc) and flavor (Italian, Chinese, Mexican, etc)  is important to keep taste buds interested over weeks, even when very hungry. Variety also helps with getting better rounded nutrition.

Fast food? Think it is going to rain soon or you are so tired, all you want to/can do is crash out, think Mary Jane’s Bare Burrito. Boil some water, mix & throw it on a tortilla, you are satiated in under 20 minutes with no mess to clean up. Even quicker is some

Cooking dinner under a tarp in Haida Gwaii.

Cooking dinner under a tarp in Haida Gwaii.

beef jerky, dried fruit, tortilla and possibly a sports bar – this dinner has been eaten standing under a tree in a downpour before.

Have a need to eat something greasy & salty? Bring along some hashbrowns, oil and a fry pan. Add some eggs (from freeze dried or powered, freeze dried taste better and have little clean up), and you have a breakfast meal that for an off day or a half day will make you dream of the next time you get to eat it.

Then there is fresh food. Out of every craving I have walked off of a trip with, fresh is the only one I have not figured a way to fix. Baby carrots, small onions and garlic are carried as they all last well and can be thrown in bow/stern end to stow. Tortillas, baby carrots and peanut butter are a mid trip lunch staple. A bit of onion and garlic livens up any evening meal. Have to admit I am still figuring this part out.

What three weeks worth of food looks like.

What three weeks worth of food looks like packed.

Fuel concerns are another factor. Multiple meals boil water and then the meal is ready (bare burritos, stir fry using instant rice) and others cook for under 10 minutes (tuna helper, spaghetti, soup). Early trips had longer cooking foods and needed more fuel. Now I carry 80 ounces of fuel instead of 116 ounces for a 21 day trip.

Sports nutrition such as what Clif does grew from something I once questioned to something that earned its place in a packed boat. Clif bars I eat once a year, paddling season, for their dense calories. Clif shots and bloks provide a quick calorie boost. An ample supply is stuffed into my PFD pockets. When combined with a hydration bladder, you get  easy access to water & calories in rough seas or extended paddling between landings. A sports drink such as Cytomax provides hydration as well as sustained energy, I stop every hour for a drink of it. All of these products help me at the end of a long day (30-40 miles) to drag the boat above the high tide line, setup camp and cook dinner without crashing.

Deserts can save your sanity/pick up spirits and provide a reward. Simple foods with a low fuel requirement are needed. Chocolate is a standard, a snickers for every week is a

Stopping for coffee and ice cream in the San Juan Islands.

Stopping for coffee and ice cream in the San Juan Islands.

tradition and dried apricots turn into an object of lust. But a change is needed every once in a while to lift one out of taste fatigue or save you from killing someone (tough on a solo trip). Popping popcorn provides a salty crunchy snack that cannot be duplicated. Warm cookies (instant pancakes with chocolate chips added) makes one forget about apricots or murderous desires.

Chex mix provides a pre-dinner snack while waiting for the water to boil, both salty and crunchy, it can temporarily defang hunger pangs.

I’ve learned certain foods, even after two+ weeks of paddling taste awful. Instant cheesecake is one, potato soup by Bear Valley is another. There is the need to be satiated and Amy’s Mac & cheese just doesn’t pack enough calories. Then there is dietary needs, beef jerky is on every trip as a protein boost as is cheese and powdered milk for the nutrition (like calcium) that milk brings.

So much focus is on dinner and that is my plan – have the evening to rest, recover and plan for the next day. Breakfast is simple on paddling days, granola, powdered milk and dried bananas – I can get on the water in under an hour from waking up when needed. Plus a cold breakfast saves on fuel. Lunch is tortillas with cheese & sausage the first week, peanut

Gift from a crab fisherman in Ireland.

Gift from a crab fisherman in Ireland.

butter & jelly the second and flavored tuna/salmon packs the third week. That last week, the protein/energy provided by the fish is amazing to feel course through ones self. Breakfast and lunch are geared to be simple & quick, there is paddling to be done.

Food is highly individualistic. Like philosophy, some of this will seem silly to some people and to females or a different aged male, there can be different results/needs. Culture influences preferences as well. One European paddler friend prefers to eat his big meal of the day at lunchtime. Lunch is a couple hours long and he prefers to paddle into the evening where dinner is something simple & quick just before sunset.

But food is fuel. Screw it up and it will be near impossible to have a good trip – have you ever met anyone on a diet who is happy? Get it right and a miserable trip won’t be as miserable. Either way, food can help you crank out the miles one day and wake up to do it again the next. You’ll even look forward to the question, what’s to eat?


Haida Gwaii Part III

March 23rd, 2013
Totem pole from the late 1800s at Chaatl a former village on the west coast.

Totem pole from the late 1800s at Chaatl a former village on the west coast.

Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands in northern British Columbia has always been a muse. Previous trips in 2005 and 2009, totaling 46 days left me wanting more. So in july of 2013 I will return for 23 days on the water, my third trip there. Self supported and solo, I will let the weather determine the actual route. Any route, will include rain, storms as well as old growth, Bald Eagles and remote wilderness. Magic and misery are closely entwined here. First time on the west coast it rained for 6+ days with only a few breaks. Also hard to forget was the waterfall that was thousands of feet high, an exposed beach where the high water mark from waves was nearly a mile from the waters edge and the mountains rising up out of the ocean.

A totem pole being carved along with completed canoes at teh Haida Heritage Center.

A totem pole being carved along with completed canoes at teh Haida Heritage Center.

The people of the Haida First Nation have a thriving culture I have seen in few places. In particular is their artistry. These are the people of the totem pole, whose artists were and still are highly valued. It is a culture that looks to the water. Villages were on the waters edge, travel done by canoe and the majority of food came from the ocean. The Haida language is taught in all the schools, even to non Haida children. Efforts by the Canadian/British Columbian governments to deny their rightful authority to the land and self government has been ignored. Their Haida Heritage Center, a place for artists, workshops and a museum, has no admission charge. They view their culture as something to share with the world.

The view from Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.

The view from Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.

On the way home, is a planned three day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. My application is in the lottery and I am hoping for those days to be spent along the continental divide. My last trip to Haida Gwaii I drove through Banff and Glacier and was intrigued with the ability to drive high and then set out with elevation changes 1-3000′ instead of a 4-6000′ climb. The continental divide, where water flows into different watersheds,  has always been a fascination for me. In Glacier at one place, waters flow towards the Pacific Ocean, Mississippi/Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Bay. Truly a flatlanders muse.

Travel in Haida Gwaii is not to be taken lightly. On the remote west coast, hazards are abundant. This is where waves formed in Hawaii, Japan and the Aleutians meet land.  Boomers, waves that break only when the largest waves come through are found everywhere here. Normally, one consults a chart and plans their route based on what the bottom topography dictates. The west coast near shore bottom is uncharted, observation is my only option here. The east coast is more traveled and sheltered. Currents will be an issue in a couple of areas and require careful planning.

ACR's PLB that will be along with me on the trip.

ACR’s PLB that will be along with me on the trip.

My last trip there was stopped in its tracks by two stationary low pressure systems that each sat for 5 days throwing out 25 knot winds. With a float plan that had a friend expecting a call on a specified date and time, responsibility dictated I couldn’t continue once things cleared. This time I will have more flexibility thanks to the feature ACR’s personal locator beacon has to send out a couple of different non emergency signals.

In the end though, this trip is an immersion into the wilderness of northern British Columbia plus a bonus trip to the mountains of Glacier. A trip to the Muses offers one a richer life. For me it most likely means part three will be followed by a part four…

PS More photos below!


Prince Rupert is a 5 day drive from Marquette.

Prince Rupert is a 5 day drive from Marquette.

An overnight ferry will cross the Hecate Strait.

An overnight ferry will take me across the Hecate Strait.

Carl Mather paddling along the wesat coast, where mountains meet the sea.

Carl Mather paddling along the west coast, where mountains meet the sea.

Cape St James, the southern tip of the islands.

Cape St James, the southern tip of the islands.

Near Cape St James. Photo by Barry Poole.

Near Cape St James. Photo by Barry Poole.


A protected cove on the east side under the rising moon.

A protected cove on the east side under the rising moon. Photo by Carl Mather.

Ninstints, a UNESCO world heritage site as the best remaining example of a Native village site.

Ninstints, a UNESCO world heritage site as the best remaining example of a Native village site. Photo by Carl Mather.

The hot springs of Hot Springs Island are starting to flow again after a recent earthquake. Photo by Barry Poole.

The hot springs of Hot Springs Island are starting to flow again after a recent earthquake. Photo by Barry Poole.

The totem poles of the Haida Heritage Site.

The totem poles of the Haida Heritage Site.

From Glacier National Park, a peak along the continental divide peaking out of the clouds.

From Glacier National Park, a peak along the continental divide peaking out of the clouds.


Haida Gwaii (517)

Looking west after passing through Glacier National Park.


2013 Workshops

March 4th, 2013

We are lucky at SKS, we get to have a lot of fun doing what we do. Whether its the paddling programs at Bay Cliff Health Camp or the YMCA of Marquette County, we get to reach out to kids and adults of all ages and get them paddling.  There is also our personal trips that sometimes takes us around the world.

How the paddling season gets its start!

But there is another element of the SKS dream and that is instructor workshops. Over the years this has built from running one IDW & ICE a year to 2013 where including our own workshops, we have 7 different partners for running 16 different workshops over 40 days.

It is humbling the trust people put in our experience and skills to run workshops that train their staff and customers. We work hard to do our best and to put together high quality,  professional workshops. We are also selective in our partners, working with those that share our goals and standards of quality. Often with these people you can find this is more than a job or a business, it is a lifestyle.

Dates and contact info on the workshops we are involved with is listed here. Below is a brief description of the location and/or the people.


Big Bay
This is where everything started and it feels so much like home. Of course using the available room and board at Bay Cliff is like being at home. The staff there all enjoy having paddlers come and stay. Nancy and I are often amazed how after years, they will remember someone. After spectacular conditions and participants last year, we are looking forward to again be on home waters for these programs. Our IDW filled quickly with just a spot or two currently open.

Team Leadership Center– Door County

Team Leadership Center IDW - by Dave Schultz, LongBoatKayak.com

Situated on the Door Peninsula, we are able to find excellent conditions when we need them. Last year we did Level 1-3 and this year we are upping that to L1-4. No promises but this is a place you can find conditions in just about any winds thanks to Tim Pflieger who knows all the nooks and crannies and has decades of being an outdoor professional.

Clear Water Outdoor – Lake Geneva
Working with the CWO folks is fun. Dave & Sarah know everyone turning a short walk downtown into a series of introductions. But you quickly realize their shop is a hub, a hub for having fun, a hub where good people are and a hub for doing good in the community. Oh and the clean waters of Lake Geneva that is a rare find in southern Wisconsin, they are working to keep it that way. But lets talk IDW/ICE – this is a great place for Level 1-2 workshops. A lake with a fun shoreline to paddle along, that can generate appropriate conditions and nearby calm water ponds when needed. A state park literally at the beach offers a quiet and beautiful place for presentations.

Naturally Superior Adventures– Wawa

Thats Dave and his big smile as he carries his boat away after a surf session.

Offered again in 2013 as it was at the Gales last year, it is exciting to be returning. These workshops are a Level 1-4 IDW/ICE offered back to back in the late summer. A location that feels like home, much like Big Bay. This is a place that offers so much opportunity in teaching locations – protected flatwater, currents, crossings, surf, rock gardens – it truly is a great place to instruct. Then there are the people, David Wells, Ray Boucher – paddlers with a lot of heart and soul.

Northern Michigan College – Traverse City
It is exciting to be in a new place and in an area where there are not many instructor workshops offered. The folks here are looking to build the foundations of a community program for the future, this is their first step.

Whitecap Kayaking – Ironwood
Another new place, Whitecap offers both whitewater and sea kayaking opportunities. This workshop appears to be filled already.

YMCA – Marquette
Offered for over 3 years now, this Level 1-2 workshop takes advantage of the great flatwater paddling opportunities around Marquette and is part of the Y staff training. Expect beautiful locations that offer a quiet and focused environment, clean water and a lot of fun & games.

Bay Cliff’sAdaptive Paddling Workshop – Big Bay

The APW group gathering together on the water by Dean Juntenan

Hosted by Bay Cliff and lead by Nancy, this is how to learn about adaptive paddling. So many good things come out of this workshop. Instructors and recreational paddlers get jazzed by what they learn and the students with a disability, gets even more jazzed by learning to paddler.

Level 5 Advanced ICE – Marquette
Offered every few years, this is a workshop to test out for high level skills. Expect to travel to conditions such as currents in the Menominee River and surf where ever it is on Lake Superior or Michigan. Best thing about this, it is about paddling, instructing and having a lot of fun. Offered in October, when the gales of november come early!

Fall Weather

September 24th, 2012

In the last ten days there has been surfing, rough water paddling and rock gardening combined with high winds, big seas and hail/sleet. This is fall, one of the most challenging and most dynamic seasons for paddling here on the central part of Lake Superior’s south shore. Today, the wind finally changed direction after blowing from the north/northwest at over 20 knots for two+ days. Smelly gear, tired muscles and big smiles sums up the current times.

A photo log of the times with a debrief follows. Click on the photos to see a larger version.



From the Big Bay ICE, John reaching to place the high mark along the wall. We had Level 4 conditions which enabled us to play in the reflecting waves while testing/developing instructor candidates skills.

Conditions on tuesday for a personal surf session, 4-7'. Messy waves in one part of Middle Bay but beautifully formed in another.


Note the white, that is gel coat. One of the problems with the well formed waves was where they deposited you, in front of some rocks. Fortunately this was a glancing blow and not the first time either. Some of the best rides this day were off of these rocks...


Hail fell as well as the squall lines moved thru. Definite sign of fall...


Friday ended up doing a lesson for Michele and Mike. Note the squall line bearing down on us. These squall lines add a dynamic variable to the conditions with increased, sometimes significantly, wind speeds.


Mike riding the waves. Note he now has a helmet on given the change in conditions. While we were out working on some rock gardens skills, the seas built thanks to the winds. This is the start of two+ days of northwest winds, winds that bring surf to Marquette.


The next day, surf built all night promising 5-8' in Middle Bay.


Just before Launching with Jeremy. Note the whitecaps as the winds picked up pushing 20+ knots. We launched but both determined we would rather be someplace else...


The someplace else? After scoping out the east side of Presque Isle, we launched at the marina but first stopped to enjoy the waves hitting the wall. That mist is from a wave hitting the other side so water & air gets pressurized and shoots out thru the cracks.


Ok, sometimes it is a really big wave on days like this...


One of the coolest front row seats one can get. The amount of power is tremendous.


That is Jeremy. We managed to dodge most of the wind on the east side of Presque Isle so that left the waves, waves estimated at 8-10' and whose wave period was 10 seconds, a sign of how big conditions had built.


Heading back in under a squall line. The dynamic beauty of the day is caught in this photo. It also lead to us paddling into gale force headwinds that kicked up 1' waves in a half mile fetch as we worked our way back into the marina. Fortunately the breakwall protected us from the big waves on the lake during this time. One of the reasons we were there.


Another day, another squall line. Sunday proved to be calmer wind wise as Nancy gets ready to paddle.


Nancy breaking out thru the surf. We played in it when we came back and one could catch some nice rides in the 4' surf


Playing in the rocks as the squall line flings hail and rain at us.


The north side of Partridge Island with conditions we both expected. Where we launched and played in the rocks were protected by Partridge Island. On the north side was some 4-6' waves rolling in with wave periods 8-10 seconds. Lots of water moving about.


The other part of the north side of Partridge Island, where the waves are reflecting. Clapotis can be seen on the unsettled sea.


So risk management featured big time on all of these days. Skilled & prepared paddlers, alternate plans, nearby exit points, judgement, communication and being able to say lets get out of here helped mange risk but didn’t remove it. Each situation was unique and needed to be managed differently.

  • Leading others in a class setting in conditions ups the ante on risk management. Testing out skills in a progressive way so you can as well as the participants build confidence in their skills is necessary. This gives you feedback on where people are and with an experienced eye, know when it is time to head to the exit point. We never would have gone into the reflecting seas off of the Big Bay breakwall if surfing in 2-3′ seas didn’t go well or that an exit point was nearby.
  • Paddling solo in surf and on saturday with the big seas and strong winds featured an exit point of swimming back to the sand beach if the first 2-3 rescue methods (roll, re-enter & roll, assisted rescue) failed. Having done this on more than one occasion when learning to surf and before having a roll, I know it isn’t fun or dignified but it is a solid backstop. Having the result of an extended swim be blowing out to sea or into rocks/cliff, is best considered carefully.
  • Outside of the break wall had inside the break wall as an exit point for getting out of conditions. The north side of Partridge had the south side as an exit point. There wasn’t a back stop here to quickly and easily get out of danger. These were ventures into greater risk and paddling changed because of that consideration. There was no rock gardening, no playing next to a cliff in the reflection and a careful watch was kept for breakers and boomers. Being able to do a quick self rescue or assisted rescue were critical in these areas due to the proximity of cliffs/rocks/breakwall/etc and the significant wave action. Positioning so there is a safety margin in a worse case scenario, a rescue that gets extended due to multiple attempts and drifts towards danger, was necessary.
  • Options such as alternate sites were thought out before hitting the water and gave us a chance to adapt to conditions. Plans were made as we sized up and assessed conditions, often while paddling. This flexibility avoided locking Jeremy and I into paddling Middle Bay as the wind increased. It avoided putting Mike and Michele into conditions too large for their learning comfort.
  • Being fall changed the risk equation vs it being spring. A season of skill practice & building fitness, plus warm water is different than 35 degree water, and lower fitness & skill levels found in spring.
  • Being fall also sharpens the senses, including the sixth sense which plays an important part of judgement. Often one knows something is wrong subconsciously before consciously. It is first noticed in ones ‘gut’, that sensation that is so critical to recognize and act upon for safety.
  • When paddling with others, the ability to communicate. Jeremy and I both decided to turn around once we regrouped after launching and reaching an area outside of the in shore break. One of us also voiced it was time to turn around outside of the breakwall. These are places where not saying anything, not speaking clearly or honestly, not respecting another or any sort of communication issue can create a train wreck.
  • Finally, the debriefing. The sitting around and talking/thinking about what happened. Answering the questions what went well, what could change to improve it and was there any excessive risk taken helps everyone to reflect on the day. This can help to bring everyone onto the same page or sort out that paddling together is questionable. Extended reflection time for a solo paddler is usually necessary due working things out without the shared group experience/input.

This was a series of paddles that even with the best risk management practices, the unexpected can happen. The goal is to keep these situations small, manageable by the group/individual and to learn from them. The gel coat left on the rock is an example. Given the rock is two feet from shore and I hit it just before landing on the beach, the risk colliding with it never concerned me outside of boat damage. Given it has happened before leads to a new game of what if.

But in the end, all this is about fun, challenging one self, building skill and experiencing a beauty that makes descriptions seem inadequate. It is a good day when the only thing that stinks is the paddling gear…


Back From the East

August 11th, 2012

Just returned from Maine & New Brunswick. Here is the photo gallery click here. Friendly people, seafood and blueberries sums the trip up well. The following covers some memorable moments:

  • This is one of the few areas I’ve seen with a viable fishing industry. Jonesport appeared to be nothing but fishing and lobstering with not even a local sit down restaurant or hotel.  New Brunswick had more tourist business but still had an active fishing fleet.
  • Fisherman were friendly, waving all the time. Locals were friendly as well. They were also reserved. Asking no questions, they chatted but were humble and quiet about the challenges they faced. Lobster was at a low price and in the rural areas, this place is poor with people working multiple jobs to make ends meet. People not from there stood out in several ways but mostly in how assertive they were.
  • Blueberry season is huge here and was underway when I got off the water. A great way to satiate the craving for fresh food.
  • There are no sand beaches here, the best you could get was either cobbles or gravel. Driftwood here consisted more of lumber (ie 2x4s and other parts from docks) than trees. Anything made of paper left out overnight would be devoured by tiny jumping bugs.
  • Some variation of fog and southwest winds was the typical weather forecast. This appeared to be routine but had little to do with the actual weather. My guess the weather forecasters are Buddhists promoting people to live in the moment.

Some visual memories:

The dock at Wilsons Beach. Landed here at low water to get water and yes that meant climbing down the ladder (see the rungs at the boats stern) 20' hanging onto filled water bags!


Sleeping in on a rainy day, I heard something outside the tent. This soggy immature Bald Eagle was within 5' of the tent and hung out for over an hour. Eagles are everywhere and were once so endangered, Bald Eagles from Minnesota were brought in. (Some looked if you called out Hey Ole/Lena!)


Wild Roses were on most of the beaches I landed. Fragrant, hardy and resistant to saltwater, they were in full bloom and added a magic to these places.

Fog had a presence as expected. Eerie at times, beautiful at times and sensory deadening when it stuck around for 3 days.


Chartwork for one of the crossings done. Put fog together with significant currents and the challenge scales up. Magic though was had as this crossing had Whales, Dolphins and passing boats all heard but not seen. The Puffins and Gannets were quiet but not as shy.


A decomposing Whale tail. Given campsite logbook entries, it had been there for over a year and smelled better than I did.


A roadside takeout joint. Found everywhere, they were locally owned, offered fresh seafood and were entertaining. This place was in a trailer with a valid license plate. Another called "Yu Takeout' also had Korean food.


Would I go back? Not for a long trip. The area is challenging for a long trip due to private lands/lack of wilderness but this is probably the best one can do on the US east coast.

But long trips are not everything. There is a beautiful shoreline, New Brunswick does offer some of the better tidal challenges I’ve seen in North America and seafood places like Yu Takeout makes it a good place to visit and paddle. Even with Buddhist weather forecasters!




Off to Maine & New Brunswick!

July 16th, 2012

Mid season is here which means time for a my summer trip. This year it is three weeks out on the Maine New Brunswick coasts. Couple magnets there. First, never been to Maine and am looking forward to seeing a place with a culture so involved with the sea. Second is the chance to run up to New Brunswick and the mouth of the Bay of Fundy (click here). Further north is the location of the 60′ tidal range and this is the place that water flows past. With several islands out from the mainland it offers a chance to play in the tides. Then there is the tidal eccentricities such as the Old Sow (click here), the largest whirlpool in North America and the second largest in the world as well as reversing falls, a waterfall that reverses direction depending on the tidal height. Then there is the sea life due to the rich waters (click here).

This looks like a fairly civilized trip meaning there is a lot of development around and concerns about private property. Fortunately the good folks at the Maine Island Trail Association (click here) have worked hard to make places accessible.

See ya in August!


Being Busy

June 24th, 2012

By the numbers since early april:

  • 7 ACA instructor workshops
  • 5 Y staff training sessions
  • 150+ hours of instruction
  • 75+ people

Add in phone calls, emails, planning/coordinating, event breakdown, paperwork and driving – it doesn’t include the classes with recreational paddlers – and it has been a busy two months. In comparison, 150 hours and 75 people was the seasonal total for all things kayaking 10-15 years ago.

This is a very good season so far with a lot of learning, fun and smiles all around. I consider myself fortunate to be able to do this work and be this busy.

Instructor workshops still remain challenging despite doing them for 12+ years. A recent drive home provided reflection time, there is still room to grow, lessons to learn and new areas to look into. There is a deep well here.

But this isn’t about numbers, it is about people. That is the best part. To me, it all boils down to engaging the student in learning and enabling them to succeed. Once they get there, they get busy…