Lake Michigan Saugatuck Sea Kayak Day Trip June 28, 2008

Sea Kayak Trip Lake Michigan, Saugatuck

After several months of feeling sub-standard, experiencing new low ebbs of my fitness and strength, and consequently feeling very low in spirits; the wind began to blow. Unfortunately it did not howl, but spirited breezes across Lake Michigan were quite enough for me to be getting on with. After being a complete ass and forgetting about dropping off my Isabella at camp (I suck), I negotiated a penitent truce at home. Paddle time with Lori and Doug and getting Isabella off to Van Buren Youth Camp became a settled armistice between all parties.

We paddled out of the harbor and into the wind. This particular day was overcast and the wind was veering from the southwest to due west, to northwest. We made the call to head directly out. We paddled at a steady four knot clip due west for almost two and a half hours. I felt some of my old strength and fitness returning. Nothing ached for once. Lori unfortunately was taking my bad mojo. She was hurting but keeping up.

As we neared the time for turn around the wind had begun to veer completely to the northwest. The waves had been tidied up and began to form tidy swells. The blue green freshwater sea began to hiss as the cat’s paws of white caps skittered across the surface. Mist closed in around the land. My paddle blades caught the wind as we tacked towards land. I dug in for all I was worth feeling the muscles in my back and my abdomen pulse, twitch, and burn.The Foster Silhouette began to plane and surf on the small wind driven waves. I was leaning well forward trying to free the stern and allow it to catch the swells. I began to fly with my old grace again. As my kayak spilled down wave, I was edging hard and allowing the hard chines to catch and then pivot the kayak down wave again.

Doug and I have a tendency to try and ram one another while surfing, I actually parked my Silhouette over the top of his Valkyrie deck on a crossing between North and South Manitou while surfing wind waves between the islands. I tried to keep the distance healthy, but as we surfed, I had to drop a few emergency hanging draws to pull us apart.

I enjoyed feeling the powerful fluid bite of the Werner Ikelos. I found myself using a fairly high cadence for my forward stroke. I would spin hard and then sweep and edge to stay on course and then dig in with a rudder to keep the lighthouses marking the harbor on my bow. Doug and I would trade leading the surge towards land like two motorcycle riders on a starting line, goosing the throttle, he would spin dig his blades deep, spin hard, and then catch a ride. Doug’s Valkyrie would scoot ahead fifty or one hundred yards until he would have to start paddling hard again. Then I would dig and spin until I caught a ride, perhaps even getting on the back of another waves, and then smelling another ride, dig hard to climb over the top and spill down wave again.

As this sprinting continued I forgot about the hernia repair, work, and all problems, and only about the next ride. In some small way this is what being in a sea kayak on open water is about, the distance between land and sea is a thin tether that needs to be broken every once in a while. If I stay too long on land the tether seems to grow in thickness and weight until it becomes hard to bear. Nothing in life that I have done thus far has felt as beautiful or as free as flying before a tail wind 5 miles from land.

We all know surf kayaking is obviously very freeing. It is however a different feeling. Heading out to surf storms has a certain amount of sheer dread with brief moments of pure bliss. The pit of dread in your belly as you break out on a 25 knot wind day from a beach with 10 foot surf is a bit much at times. But that dread is rewarded with a carving green water bliss that you couldn’t top with a shot of heroin in the eyeball. Burt Monro said it best about his motorcycle, “I live more in five minutes on that bike than most people do in their whole lives“. This is especially true of surf kayaking. Sea kayaking wind driven waves is not as thrilling, but it has beauty and grace. It also has a different pace, it is slow enough to be able to enjoy it while you’re doing it. While surf kayaking I am so completely in the moment, I have to think back while in the car on the way home about the rides I caught, rather than while I am paddling out to get the next one. Suffice it to say, I am still in love with both mistresses.


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  3. Thanks for posting Keith….. nice to get some vicarious Midwestern Big water paddling in… and I enjoyed your comments on why people enjoy kayak surfing ….

    “I live more in five minutes on that WAVE than most people do in their whole lives”