Archive for April, 2008

Weather – Observation Skills

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

On a rugged & remote coastline, receiving a current forecast is not guaranteed. But if a forecast is one of the primary safety items, what does one do, not paddle? There have been occasions like this for me. It can be scary sitting on the west coast of Ireland or Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlottes, places where the sea’s reputation require caution and a forecast.

More common though is an inaccurate forecast, one that as soon as you receive it, you know it is wrong. I have received these everywhere, from an afternoon paddle in Marquette to many an overnight trip

Observation skills provide a chance to not only check the accuracy of a forecast, but to make a forecast in the absence of one. Here are some photos, they are thumbs so you can click on them to see a larger version.


The clouds in these photos taken over several days tell about the storm.

Seeing those clouds descending in the first photo, shows the forecast for a storm was accurate and it was going to last a bit. When clouds descend over 12+ hours like this, it is a sign of a low pressure system, a system that generally brings stormy weather that can last days.

The middle two photos shows the progress of the storm. The second one in addition to the clouds, shows the rain, a sign of a front passing. The third one is when the storm is at its peak, note how low the clouds sit.

The fourth one shows the storm moving on as the clouds have started to lift. Note the surf.

A more threatening situation is a strong & fast changing wind called a squall line. Check out the thumb below:


This photo was taken in the Rossport Islands on northwest Lake Superior. Note the presence of blue sky and several different clouds layers. The dark bottomed clouds just starting to pass over us brought winds that gusted 30+ knots for 20+ minutes. After the line passed, the previous conditions returned with winds around 10-15 knots. These are some of the most dangerous conditions to encounter, primarily because how fast the winds increase and how strong they can become. We saw it coming 10+ minutes before the winds struck and tucked into the protection of the shore to wait it out. These squall lines can strike anytime there is a strong, unstable weather pattern, most commonly around thunderstorms.

The photo was taken in october. Original plan was to make the 6 mile crossing out to the nearby Slate Islands. Given the instability of the forecast (it changed every 6-12 hours) and the strength of the winds, we alternated to the closer and more protected Rossport Islands.

Finally, check out this thumb:


These were the last clouds of the system that the first four thumbs showed coming in, four days prior. Note the cumulus (cauliflower like) clouds to the west. I kept my eyes on these clouds for quite a while. They can develop into a thunderstorm. In addition to the lightning, the high winds associated with thunderstorms are also a danger. After a while, their threat receded, they neither built (grew taller & wider) nor did more cumulus appear in the afternoon. Both developments that would cause me to become more cautious.

On Isle Royale, I watched a thunderstorm build over Thunder Bay during the afternoon. The sky overhead stayed clear. After dinner around 7 or 8pm I sat watching the lightning and the towering cumulus 20-50 miles away. This is the scene in the first thumb below.

I watched some clouds come off of the thunderstorm and head straight towards my camp – a squall line! This is the scene in the blurry second thumb below. It covered 20 miles in under 30 minutes. Winds gusted to 35 knots for 20-30 minutes before the rest of the thunderstorm caught up. It rained steadily for the next couple of hours with 10-15 knot winds. By the next morning the storm had moved on leaving behind calm conditions.

06505_03.jpg 06505_04.jpg

Observational skills come with study (click here for references) and time spent on weather observation. Having a forecast is a critical safety item. Having the ability to observe the weather and make simple predictions adds to safety.


Weather References

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

For years I read or should say, tried to read books to get a greater understanding of the weather. But what I found was a topic prone to a lot of theory. This means it is tough to understand how to apply it when sitting in a sea kayak. Here are three references I use because they are practical and are written for the general public, not a meteorologist. All have increased my observation skills and in turn, increased my forecasting skills.weatherhandbook.jpg

The Weather Handbook by Alan Watts

A book with theory alongside practical information. Most of the practical information is placed in the context of how it fits in with the theory. There is a lot of information included that I have not seen elsewhere and it has helped to develop my weather forecasting skills. The author is a former British meteorologist who honed his practical weather knowledge to improve his sailboat racing.

Wind, Weather and Waves by Environment Canadawindweatherwaves.jpg

A practical guide to weather in the Great Lakes with great pictures and very good information. There is information specific to the Great Lakes that helps to explain some weather patterns that are rarely seen elsewhere. But much of the information is applicable to any place near a large body of water.

Instant Weather Forecasting by Alan Watts

weatherforecasting.gifA guidebook that provides information on what the clouds currently tell you and what the future may bring. Mostly pictures with a reasonable amount of text describing the situation. Even more practical than what is found in The Weather Handbook which is a great companion for the associated weather theory.

A word of warning, some of these books maybe out of print. Best to scoop them up!



Friday, April 25th, 2008

Weather Map from mid morning thursday to beat the forecast’s increasing winds. The catch was, the winds had already increased. In addition, the cloud cover matched what was forecasted for later too. Conditions tell you about the forecast. In this case, the forecast was accurate but it was off time wise. In this case the storm forecasted to arrive this evening, could be expected sooner.

Weather forecasts are predictions of current & future weather. Every paddler needs to check the forecast before launching. But everyone complains about weather forecasts as being wrong so does one ignore forecasts?

Only at your own peril. There is the story of the two paddlers in a double at Pictured Rocks. They paddled into a major storm that was predicted several days ahead of time and were trapped by the rapid change in conditions. They were plucked off the cliffs by a US Coast Guard helicopter. I know a guide who had a group on the water during this time. No rescues needed there, he knew the forecast and stayed in a safe place.

A forecast is more than air temps, chance of rain, wind speed, wave height, etc., there is additional information. There are trends to expect – are the winds speeding up or slowing down, are they changing direction, etc. There is timing – when is the wind changing?

This morning I knew from the wind & cloud cover, the storm was arriving early. The rain started at 4pm instead of the forecasted 7pm. Can a paddler use this? You bet. Do you push on or hold up? Setup camp now to be ready for a storm arriving early, or push on to cover additional miles with a later arriving storm.

Having a forecast can help prevent a helicopter ride. Reading between the lines can help adjust paddling plans to any unforecasted weather changes.


Weekend Paddle

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Nancy and I paddled this past weekend and there was still some impressive ice foots around. Click here to see the start of the photos from it.

The photos start out at Munising’s Sand Point (click here for a map). We had hoped to launch there and head over to Trout Bay on Grand Island. The first photos show the ice pack we found and it was moving around in the wind. Desiring to land after we launched, we decided to check out nearby AuTrain Bay (click here). At the AuTrain River mouth we found an opening in the ice foot and headed out. As you can see, we encountered an ice foot we estimated to be 15-20′ high.

The last photos are from a paddle to the south of Marquette towards Harvey (click here). Again more ice foot this time in the 10-15′ range. We also headed up the Chocolay River and played in some of the currents found there.


Team Seals

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Nancy and I have been selected to be members of Team Seals, paddlers whoseals.JPG represent Seals Sprayskirts (click here). We are very happy to be associated with Seals. I have been using Seals sprayskirts since 2005. I was desperate to find a sprayskirt that would keep me dry. In the rough waters off the west coast of the Queen Charlottes, I thought my foot pump was going to wear out because my sprayskirt leaked so much.

My first experience with Seals was the skirt didn’t fit. After a second skirt did not fit, I was ready to move on but the sales person told me the owner of Seals, Joe, wanted it right. This was quite the change for me as the previous sprayskirt company told me their skirts don’t leak and even tried to convince me that I had worn the skirt out after only one season of use. Seals got the fit right. Obviously they stand behind their product.

Seals sponsored Ireland 2007 (click here), my circumnavigation of Ireland and an expedition that demands the best gear. Needless to say it was great to have a skirt that kept me dry – the way it should be.

Nancy and I both selected the Pro Shocker (click here), the best skirt out there and the skirt you see in the photo. Product innovation and being a good citizenĀ  to Seals is more than a motto – click here.

Amazingly, even their nylon skirts hardly leak thanks to their rim grip feature. It is people like this I would like to see tackle something like world peace or ending poverty. If that could happen, everybody would know about Seals, not just paddlers.


Ferry Reservations

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Last night I made reservations for Carl and I to take the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and back. (click here to view ferry route) The reservation agent educated me as to the proper pronunciation of some of the name places and was generally very helpful. He pronounced Newfoundland with the emphasis on the last syllable, but said it is also correct to emphasize the first syllable. Good to get local knowledge, and sound a bit less foreign! We well leave North Sydney on July 5th and arrive in Port aux Basques (pronounced Port a Bass) in the early afternoon. We will leave Argentia (pronounced Ar JEN tia) on the 26th, and arrive back in North Sydney late… that is a 14 to 15 hour ferry ride. Our kayaks will travel as freight – for an extra fee. One more task to check off the list.

I also received some sprayskirts from a sponsor today – Seals. They were custom made, and fit very well. I look forward to trying them out when I paddle this weekend.

Foiled Again

Monday, April 14th, 2008

After paddling a couple times last weekend, I had looked forward to more paddling this past weekend. But someone forgot to tell Old Man Winter that it is supposed to be spring, and another snow storm rolled in. That is what spring in the U.P. is like. Friday was a snow day – yippee! I work in the schools, and staff like snow days as much, or more, than the kids. It was some of the wettest, heaviest snow I have ever shovelled. Saturday it was still howling, but there was new snow and I went backcountry skiing with some friends. Great conditions – might as well play with the weather and not fight it.

The plan was to paddle on Sunday, as it was supposed to warm up a bit, and the wind and waves drop down. It did drop some by Sunday, and I was tempted to go surf with Sam. But, there were several reasons I didn’t. It didn’t drop quite as much as I was comfortable with this early in the season. I have been out only twice this year, in flat conditions, and would like something a bit more tame for my first surfing of the season in ice cold water. In addition, I wasn’t feeling 100% – not in the physical condition I want to be in when pushing the edge.

I did get out after work today. A gorgeous, sunny day – 40’s. Shortly after I arrived at the put-in, Don Goss drove up and we paddled together for a couple hours. It is supposed to be in the upper 60’s the next couple days, and in the 50’s the rest of the week. Hopefully, paddling season is here to stay!



Sunday, April 13th, 2008

A good size wave to passes underneath as I wait for the next wave of the set. A quick glance and all I see is a huge wall coming at me. As my stern rises, my speed picks up and my bow pearls (dives). A quick calculation and I decide to let it go. In the next instant the boat is vertical, standing on its bow. A quick brace like stroke on the left side pirouettes (spins) my boat 180 degrees to where I find myself eye level with the wave. I drop cleanly down onto the hull and continue to surf the wave, this time backwards.

The wind has been blowing for 3 days now. Yesterday waves were going clean over the Upper Harbor breakwall. Today’s near shore forecast shows the wind dropping and the double digit waves heights gone:

1030 AM EDT SUN APR 13 2008



Driving past the Upper Harbor breakwall today, only spray is going over. At Middle Bay, the scene in the photo is what greets me.


Surfing this time of year one deals with cold water, rusty skills and limited fitness. But today could be some of the best waves of the season thanks to the recent conditions. The risk-reward trade off is getting pushed.

Once out, it takes a while for my hands to stay warm. Each time a breaking wave hits my face, it causes an ice cream headache. But within a few rides I find a good break and start working it. The big waves are dying – their sets are becoming further apart. But waiting ends up proving rewarding for I end up with two enders and about 10 good rides within the hour.

It is exhilarating to surf, it adds an entirely different dimension to the sport. Here in Marquette, we get the best surf on the shoulders of the season, spring and fall. Pool sessions and early training enables pushing the envelope so early.



Wednesday, April 9th, 2008


One of the things about paddling is that you should not be afraid to be in the water, no matter the temperature, even if it is 34 degrees. That is why you wear a drysuit, to keep warm in water that cold. The photo above is my testing out a new drysuit, an Immersion Research Double “D” (click here).

What’s it like in water that cold? Provided you have worn enough layers under the suit, it is like stepping into a freezer – you notice the cold but it takes time to get chilled. Far different than a wetsuit, where you immediately feel the cold water against the skin and you do feel chilled as your body’s heat warms it.

For the amount of paddling and instruction I do in very cold water, I need a drysuit. In may at our instructor workshop in Big Bay, I will be in the water for around 90 minutes being the swimmer on rescues or demonstrating self rescues. Before I needed a drysuit, I used a drytop and a wetsuit which works well.


About the IR drysuit, it is a good one. The arms are articulated so there is little interference for the forward stroke. It has a streamlined fit on the upper body and fits more like a lightweight paddling top than a drysuit. It has the features you need – a relief zip and a neoprene cuff at the waist so it stays up even when not being worn on the upper body. (Useful when packing up the boat prior to launch or looking stylish buying groceries at the co-op after the paddle.)

One of the things I was unsure about was the rear entry zipper. After using it 6+ times now, I see the advantages. Primarily it comes from putting it on and taking it off – no more wrestling match type struggles – it makes that part easy. First time I used wore it, I immediately noticed the zipper, it rubs up against the back of your arm if you pull your arm at shoulder height backwards. Good news is that one doesn’t notice it when paddling after all that is approaching an unsafe arm position (ie shoulder dislocation) and should be avoided anyway. Only drawback is in zipping/unzipping it, it does take some yogi like dexterity I have not needed before but it is possible.

The only drawback I see is the size of the pants on it, they are baggy. Baggy in a drysuit means more air inside the suit to purge out. In this case in means a walk into the water after putting it on or using the relief zip to push the air out. My previous drysuit I could do the same just by crouching.

Overall the suit is a good one and I excited to have it. It was good to see IR expand their line of paddling gear to include drysuits just as my old drysuit was wearing out.


Seal Launches

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Here are several videos of seal launching off the ice in Middle Bay. Enjoy!

Sam’s launch – click here

Nancy’s launch – click here

Stew’s launch – click here