Sea Kayak Storm Paddling with Doug Van Doren on Lake Michigan

Sea Kayak Day Trip with Doug Van Doren-Lake Michigan

Waves were predicted to be 3-7 feet out of the Northwest. Wind was gusting to 30 knots. Doug Van Doren and I suited up at Dog Beach near South Haven. We paddled out through the breakers with some effort. Doug almost immediately started to lose his spare paddle on the back deck of his Betsie Bay Valkyrie. He got it secured and we started paddling into the wind.

We were paddling into steady gusts, but were somewhat sheltered from the wind in the troughs of sizeable swells. We tried to stay somewhat close together, but we were forced to shout even when only a few feet apart due to the wind. I was trying to get a few pictures snapped off and by the time I got my first picture off Doug and his kayak would disappear behind a swell. We chatted back and forth for a while, but as we got closer to the pier, we started talking about when to turn around.

The sky was bright blue. The water was a wonderful Homeric Mediterranean green. The scale of the waves and the winds was such that I had been focused on what I was doing, but I noted how calm I was. I think the three or four years of Surf Kayaking has mellowed my freak out about the wind and the waves. Some would say I am an adrenaline junkie and that if Force 7 winds don’t get your blood pumping you’re messed up, but I was enjoying myself and did not feel terrorized as much as very alert and engaged.

Certainly the Great Lakes and their storms are nothing to be trifled with. And if anything, anything, had gone wrong paddling almost a mile from shore in those conditions it could have been very tragic. But in the end that is life isn’t it?

After an hour of paddling into 20-30 knot winds we turned around. We immediately began flying with the wind. I was catching rides so easily that all I had to do was keep my boat pointed towards shore and take a few strokes and my Nigel Foster Silhouette would start to plane out. Doug and I started doing neck and neck pacing with each ride. After I stopped to take a picture Doug raced for nearly 100 yards on one ride. I didn’t catch up with him until we were looking at the impact zone on the beach. I picked a line and tried to do a diagonal run and successfully carved my way into the beach. Doug followed after and a steep breaker picked up his stern and and his bow plunged down deep into the water. The wave broke and Doug, Valkyrie and all cartwheeled end over end. He wisely pinned himself to his back deck and flattened his paddle to his side. I was unable to get my camera out in time to get a picture.

Doug surfed in to the beach. I continued to catch a couple of rides. I got one beautiful diagonal ride, and then got worked heavy on another where I caught a good ride, but then got window shaded pretty hard. I rolled up about three times before finally getting the kayak turned seaward. I tried breaking back out for about twenty minutes. I eventually decided to call it a day and surfed back to the beach.

There Doug and I were asked to the do the unthinkable, we were asked to help jet skiers. We helped two young guys carry a three hundred pound jet ski up the hill to a trailer. I think we may awaken at the next sea kayak symposium to find ourselves chained to a fence with our heads shaved.