Archive for the ‘Personal trips’ Category

Back From the East

Saturday, 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!




Trip Report – Thunder Bay, Isle Royale to Rossport

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

One of the things about a trip in this area leaves you with, its big, really big. With good weather, calm seas and wind, I was able to get out to some great spots like the Rock of Ages reef and lighthouse on Isle Royale as well as the entrance islands to Thunder Bay. Sitting out there one gets a feeling of being dwarfed as one does in the mountains out west. Big vistas, the

largest cliffs on the lake and remote rugged shorelines has a size that can only be home to a

Sleeping Giant as seen from Isle Royale 20+ miles away

Sleeping Giant.

Total days on water – 21; total mileage 275; 1 weather day; 2 rest days; 4 days under 10 miles. Click here for a link to a photo gallery of the trip with captions that tell part of the story.

Numerous days the lake was flat calm with mirror like seas but not always. One day stands out, my first day on Isle Royale (the second day of the trip). Tucked in at Belle Isle, I didn’t know what was brewing. Checking the weather forecast, all the American forecasts were going off with warnings of severe thunderstorms, one of which was to hit Isle Royale at 8:30am. They were right in calling it severe. Waiting for the warning to expire at noon, it got extended, then the Canadian forecast started going off with more severe storms from another direction. Things seemed to subside by 6pm. But there was only an hour+ break before the next one hit. At 9pm, a large squall line hit with winds to 45 mph and hail. For the next two weeks I ran into people who were hit by this storm. One group on Isle Royale had a near death experience and a sailboater with decades of cruising on Lake Superior required assistance. Fortunately all ended up safe.

Another thing that stands out is that planning for redundancy worked well on this trip. A water filter cartridge failed, the first time that has happened in 20 years, and was replaced with a spare. For the first time in a decade, food spoiled. I lost jelly due to a poorly sealed jar and carrots rotted because they got wet. Despite the loss, food was plentiful as it should be on a trip. And the trip ended without food cravings. Quite a difference from 12 years ago when I didn’t bring enough protein or dairy items on my first multi-week trip.

These waters were paddle by Natives and French Voyageurs centuries before today. It was the latter who named the formation Sleeping Giant that dominates Thunder Bay. Of course, the Natives have a story as well as a name for that formation. To them, it just wasn’t a Giant, it is Nananbozho, their Creator. And their Creator lives with them.

This is the latest trip in the season for these areas. I will admit to being concerned about Isle Royale being crowded but that wasn’t the case. What was the case was the surprising number of boaters in the Thunder Bay and on up to Rossport. Folks in sailboats cruising for a month, fisherman out for a weekend to a family out on vacation, there were all kinds of boats and all kinds of people.

The dock at Wray Bay with Isle Royale in the distance

The generosity of the folks at the Wray Bay sauna continued with folks from Minneapolis sharing bratwurst and beer, as well as a sailboater from Thunder Bay ensuring I always had a beer.  Not everyone was this friendly everywhere, but friendly enough to know that boaters and kayakers can mix even though we often share different viewpoints that our respective sports give us.

One of the disappointments was with kayakers. Few were seen but the skill level and in particular, the risk management, was poor for the majority. The first kayakers I ran into at Belle Isle took a rec boat around Blakes Point, one of the most notorious places for rough seas. At Blakes, their reaction to a bulkhead failure was to keep paddling. That boat arrived at Belle Isle with its back deck awash. Both situations could have resulted in a long time in the water for one of them, none of whom had a wetsuit and it seemed they were lax in wearing PFDs. It was all I could do to stay patient with them when they started in on lecturing me on how dangerous it was to paddle there. Additionally, the backcountry volunteer I met was out paddling on the lake without a pfd, sprayskirt or wetsuit. Hard to take him seriously. But there was a group that was heartening. They had gone to the Grand Marais sea kayak symposium and came out afterwards. Sea kayaks, sprayskirts, wetsuits and pfds were all worn and they were attentive to risks being taken as they were building their experience out there. Thank goodness  they showed up.

Magic is one way to describe the trip. My car’s alternator failed in Superior. Thanks to having a smartphone, I was able to find a quality place that fixed it in 3 hours, including the tow. The

Columnar basalt on Simpson Island

crossings were perfect weather windows that provided calm seas and on the first crossing to Isle Royale, a bubble world where the horizon disappeared as mirror seas reflected the fog & sky while there was an absolute silence. The geology in the area is of old, old volcanoes. This seeps into one’s soul in so many ways that it takes perspective to notice the minute and subtle differences that lie beyond words. Then there were the animals. Loons were everywhere and if there is a special bird for me, it is this one. Everyday there were calls and pairs around with one day there being 20+ rafted together. And finally the last day – an Eagle flew straight & true and two Loon’s were bill dipping & calling to each other on the paddle in; on the drive home, Bear Cubs, 8 rainbows and a lightning show after dark that took me back to my first time out west .

Sometimes it seemed as if the Giant was dreaming a dream that covered the land. A dream that can only be described as big.


Paddling Time

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Details, details, details… The last day before a trip is filled with these. Food

Food bags packed for 21 days

for three weeks, maps and charts, gear – all the usual big picture items. But the micro ones are the ones that can affect you the most. Like the time on my way to a launch site, nearest grocery store hours away, when toilet paper popped into my head. Many thanks to the folks who kept the roadside toilet well stocked. Or the time on a trip that I realized I had no chocolate bars. I’ll admit it appears minor now, but the gold time on trips for me is post dinner journal writing and sunset watching while nibbling on chocolate. And finally, the lesson learned that one does not buy food for a 7 day trip at midnight after spending several hours prior in a bar. It didn’t even help that part of the time was spent on trip planning.

Chart of the area for the trip

So today is sitting, thinking and visualizing. Part of it is dreaming as well. About two weeks on/near Isle Royale and then a week running from Silver Islet to Rossport.  (click here for more detail). Out of 21 days, 19 will be spent on islands. Eagles, Otters, Moose, Sleeping Giant, Pie Island, Rock of Ages, saunas.

So many muses that one has a tough time thinking of things like toilet paper…


Half Time

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Three instructor workshops down and three to go for the spring/early summer. Through the Y we taught around 300 kids water safety during school fairs and one class. The Y’s kayak schedule is together and staff training starts this week. The first 8 weeks of the season are always busy and this year is keeping me in high gear.

This past weekend offered a welcomed breather with the Memorial Day holiday. No better place to go to than the Keweenaw Peninsula, where despite the holiday, saw only three groups out on the water. Of course the unstable weather pattern (read cold and wet) we are experiencing this spring may have had something to do with it. But that also had something to do with the magic. Fog, flocks of soaring raptors, thunder, rainbows and turkey buzzards flying through trees.

The launch and take out were at Bete Grise and was able to make it out to & around Manitou Island. Can’t complain when the early forecasts were calling for 15-20 knot winds that turned into 10-12 knots – speeds that provided a  margin in case conditions deteriorated. Click here to check out  photos from the trip.

Now its back to instructor workshops, staff training and the kickoff of the Y’s season.


Island Hopping

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

From Silver Islet to Rossport is one of the best sections on the lake for paddling. It is island hopping through what is essentially a wilderness area. The nearest road is many miles away with a few cabins scattered along the way. Below is a chart section for the route (click on it to enlarge).

Silver Islet is at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula on the eastern side of Thunder Bay. Rossport is up at the northeast. About 80 miles lay between the two. That can easily, given reasonable weather, be covered in a week.

One of the dominating land forms in the area is Isle Royale, the largest island on the lake. It has been ten years since I’ve been out there. Given there is extra time, the plan is to go out to Isle Royale before heading onto to Rossport. Below is the currently planned route.

Weather will play a large part on the Isle Royale leg. It is a 13 miles crossing out, something that needs the right conditions. Plus the route also plans going around Passage Island and the Rock of Ages Lighthouse, both significant crossings also requiring the right conditions. Then the return crossing is 13 miles. Fortunately the only required crossings are out and back so the others can be skipped if needed. The trip will take place in later july and early august, a time of year that typically has a calm weather pattern.

Trip plans are to cover 240 statute miles (200 nautical miles) in 19 on water days (12 paddling days, 7 weather/rest days). Much will be determined by the weather. But some of the things that can start now are logistics, maps & charts and food planning.

Some of the logistics are underway. The Isle Royale leg will be solo while a friend, Jessie, will join me for the Rossport run. The other piece is to work out is a car shuttle as something we do ourselves or pay someone else.

The maps and charts are easy. From 2000 to 2002 I covered this ground in several different trips so it is a matter of pulling them out of the pile. Campsite locations and notes are on the maps eliminating any research.

Food planning has started as well. A menu plan has been put together with a grocery list. Most of it is shelf stable (non perishable) and as it is purchased over the next month it will be repackaged. Food drying will start once some parts come in for my food dryer. A list of perishable items to buy such as carrots, sausage, cheese, etc is ready for the day before the trip starts.

The above is a photo from a trip in 2002 on a run from Rossport to Silver Islet. Pre-digital so it is a bit muddied but the essence is there – islands, wilderness and a whole lotta of water. The planning with all its jigsaw puzzle pieces of numbers, supplies and dates has begun but the dreaming, well that’s been going on for a while…


ACA National Paddlesport Conference

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

In early november, I traveled to Asheville, NC for the National Paddlesport Conference put on by the American Canoe Association (ACA). Fun was had presenting and attending other presentations. Got on the water for an instructor update with some great paddlers from around the country. Most fun though was in talking with so many different paddlesport instructors as well as catching up with friends.

Marcia and Ronnie's storefront

One of the goals was to get information on kid kayaking programs. Several folks at the conference provided great information. I was also directed to Marcia at Sea Kayak Georgia (SKG) (click here) on Tybee Island near Savannah. Being relatively close by, I decided to stop by to chat and see the area. I met up with Marcia and her business partner Ronnie who shared their impressive experience over several hours on having up to 3000 kid days a summer.

Sign out front of Dale's business

Also got a chance to spend time with Dale Williams. Dale started SKG before selling it and currently imports the Nigel Dennis kayaks (click here) Nancy and I love to paddle. He also operates the Outdoor Inn (click here) where I stayed while there. He pointed out a few interesting places to paddle. Unfortunately the conditions were flat so no surfing in the infamous triangle located there.

Cockspur Island lighthouse. The door is unlocked so one can climb up to the lightroom.

A calm day for this part of the Triangle

It was enjoyable to travel and visit some beautiful parts of the country as well as have downtime in summer like conditions on Tybee. I must comment on southern hospitality. Marcia, Ronnie and Dale all demonstrated a friendliness that made me feel like a friend. This is something I have heard about but after experiencing it, must admit I enjoyed it greatly.


Beaver Island

Monday, May 31st, 2010

An interesting thing happens when ones starts casting about for a 3 day trip to do. Here is the chart section that caught my eye (click on it for a larger view):

Beaver Island and surrounding area from Chart 14902

Even better it is a two hour drive from Marquette. Driving to the launch site on the beach, it is another one of those off the beaten track UP places. Little did I know…

The crossing was long enough and the land low enough to require paddling by compass for 90 minutes.

Launching and heading out the conditions were perfect, little wind any day in the forecast except for sunday night when a front was to move through. A long crossing like this needs conditions like these to avoid becoming an ‘adventure’.

Navigation is always challenging in a new place. I couldn’t see significant land features for the first ninety minutes so it was paddling by compass till visually I could lock onto a landmark.

Landing at Squaw Island I was tempted to leave right away due to the loud hum of many insects wings. Amazingly the gnats (sometimes called muffleheads) were in many large groups flying about. Fortunately they are non biting and there were few mosquitoes or blackflies about. The positive is they indicate good water quality and are a bounty to fish and birds. The negative is they were out on the water where they flew into my ears, eyes and generally made a pest of themselves when the wind died.

The other feature of this trip was the heat, it was hot and humid. Most Memorial Day trips are cool due to the water temperature, not this year, most of the water felt at summer temperature. This I assume also accounts for the algae seen along the shorelines and in the shallows. This algae also made swimming in some areas unappealing.

Algae was seen in the shallows everywhere.

But there were highlights. The biggest being this abandoned lighthouse (below) that someone is maintaining. It is unlocked so one is able to go up the tower! Wandering around inside of it exploring was an unexpected bonus as many of these structures are either boarded up or in such poor condition that you don’t want to go inside.

Found this abandoned lighthouse, that someone is maintaining and leaving unlocked.

And then finally, except for Beaver, these islands are wilderness. A few boats were about and few people. It is a good place to get away, when the conditions allow it…

A Merganser swims past the setting sun


Granite Island

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Granite Island lies 6-7 miles out from the coast north of Marquette. Literally a rock, it is privately owned and has a lighthouse on it (click here). It is a nice distance for a crossing. A past saturday, things looked stable enough wind wise to give the crossing a try.

The view from a couple of miles out looking west back towards the mainland and my launch site. Winds were 15-20 mph making the early part of the paddle easy. Eventually some waves from the southwest built and combining with the seas built by the western winds, made for some work using correction strokes to keep the boat on course.

The view about 30 minutes out from Granite Island and with the island in the sun. The lighthouse is on the left.

A closer view of the island when going around it. It turns out the same plans were used for the lighthouse in the Huron Islands. Hard not to think of the keeper and his family who was often stuck out here once the fall storms started because of distance from the mainland made it too far to row.

Coming back to Little Presque Isle and the launch site. Here are the three headlands between here and Marquette. Closest is Little Presque Isle, next is Partridge Island and in the distance is Presque Isle, the northern tip of Marquette. The smudge on the horizon is McCarty’s Cove which is just north of the lower harbor.

The landing at the mouth of Harlow Creek with Little Presque Isle lit up by the sun.


Navigation Practice

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I got quite a bit of practice with a variety of navigation techniques while on my recent trip to Maine. Much of it encompasses universal skills – but the Maine location offered some differences from what I need to consider in Lake Superior.

First is the magnetic variation in this area. Unfortunately, a magnetic compass does not point to true North – the North on a map, but to magnetic North. The difference between true and magnetic north depends on where you are in the world. I am spoiled around here, with a variation of only a few degrees. There are places on Lake Superior where the variation is zero. In Maine it is nearly 20 degrees… enough to get severely lost if you don’t do your homework correctly!

Second is the tides – which create currents as the water flows in and out around the islands and headlands. The currents where I was aren’t major currents – and I had been told I didn’t need to worry about them. But, they certainly are significant. When making crossings, I nearly always had set a ferry angle – make a significant correction to my heading (the direction my boat was facing) so I would stay on course (going in the direction I wanted to go).

Third is the boat traffic. There is boat traffic in some areas of Lake Superior – but not much around Marquette. Maine has quite a bit more traffic – in terms of working boats (ferries and fishing boats) as well as recreational traffic – mostly sailboats – some yachts. Most significant where I was paddling in Maine was the lobster boat traffic. I am not sure how boats avoid all the buoys (marking lobster traps) littered nearly every where. It seems props would be tangled up in no time – especially if navigating at night or in the fog. Not an issue for me – the buoys made great range markers so I could tell if I was staying on course during a crossing.

Universally, I have to deal with fog and limited visibility. Complicated in Maine by the tidal currents and boat traffic. The last day of paddling it was foggy most of the day. Sometimes visibility was only a couple hundred feet. But, it was ever changing. Which really messed with my perspective at first – trying to figure out how close the island I was seeing was… did it just look far away because of the fog? With all those islands, I had to be careful.

At one point, I got momentarily disoriented – I could see tons of islands – and boats – at the water level but the fog was thick as pea soup. Thing was, the fog stopped 10 feet above the water in a very clean line – but without much contrast between the water and the fog it was hard to tell at first. As it was, all the tops of the islands were hidden- I just saw slivers all around. Kind of cool. Then, as the fog changed, the island I was approaching was magical – I could see the top and bottom of the island, with a hazy foggy band – a ribbon blowing softly in the wind – around it’s middle. I love fog paddling – always creating ethereal visions.

I made one mistake in all these foggy crossings – and was lucky. I was making a series of crossings – island to island to island. At one point, when studying the chart to set up the next crossing, I looked at the wrong island for the starting point. Luckily, my course took me in the direction I wanted to go – just to a different island (not to nowhere). Though confused for a bit, I figured out what I had done and re-oriented myself. A lesson to check and double check and triple check….. But, I made it back safely!


Launching and Landing with the Tides

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Being a Great Lakes Paddler, I don’t have to deal with tides (or tidal currents) in my home waters. I have paddled in tidal regions several times in the past, but doing so as a solo paddler for an 11 day trip in Maine was a new experience. I set out along the Maine Coast on July 15th with some trepidation, not knowing exactly what I would find for landings. The tidal range is about 10 feet, and I wondered how I would be able to manage dragging my boat up and down with the tide. I had along a set of small wheels (on loan from Sam), not sure if I would be able to use them.

They did come in handy right at the launch – a natural smooth stone entry. I headed out and camped my first night at Harbor Island. I landed at low tide, unloaded gear and hoped the tide would bring my boat up. I wasn’t sure how it would work, as the landing wasn’t great. A couple sailors arrived, and helped me move the boat. It was not convenient to my campsite, but above high tide and a better bet for launching the next morning. In the evening I walked around the island. The tide had risen enough to cover some big boulders in another area, leaving a smooth, stone ramp between the island and the ocean. I knew I could land and launch there except at the very lowest of tides, so I moved my boat again (and the wheels came in quite handy!)

From there on, I became better at scouting and calculating how the tides would effect my launching. Timing is everything – when I left in the morning depended more on the tides than on anything. The next several nights I spent at Kimball Island with a great cobble beach that acted like ball bearings – pretty easy to move the boat. The first morning, I was launching at low tide, and the boat was up high. I gave a little push, figuring it would go part way and I could push again. But, it rolled all the way to the ocean. Some other kayakers were there, and I am sure they thought I was nuts as I ran behind the boat, catching it before it launched without me!

At one campsite (Ram Island, in Hurricane Sound) there were 2 hours on either side of low that would make any launch inconvenient, and a solo launch very difficult (if not quite impossible). I used the wheels again here, to get my boat on and off a big flat rock where it would be safe overnight – though could only do so for an hour or so on either side of high water. I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. so I could make it work.

I decided traveling with someone else in tidal regions makes life much easier – especially where access is already quite limited by geography and lots of private land.