Friday, September 28, 2012

Think you can kayak Lake Superior?

Prior to our northwoods trip to Lake Superior last week, I thought I was a fairly experience kayaker. I've kayaked the lakes and rivers all over southern Wisconsin and I've whitewater rafted in Colorado. Easy peasy. 
I was determined to rent a kayak and check out the Lake Superior coastline during our trip. I thought it would be fun to rent a 3-seater and take my husband and kids with me too. 
When we got to Little Sand Bay, not far from Bayfield, I stopped to read an informative board they had posted near the water. My dreams dwindled more and more as I read, not that I will never ever get to do the kayaking in Lake Superior... but it wasn't going to happen this trip. I will need some training, and I am certainly not taking my 4 and 5 year olds with me. 
This was the first thing I read... which was quite startling: 
The 1-10-1 Principle
Upon sudden immersion in cold water, a person has about…
• One (1) minute to gain control of their breathing. The
shock of immersion in cold water causes gasping for air and
• Ten (10) minutes of meaningful movement to attempt self rescue.
The rapid loss of control over your hands, arms, and
legs leads to swimming failure.
• One (1) hour before becoming hypothermic and losing
I went on to read about the highest average surface temperature of Lake Superior is 61 degrees, and that is in August! Brrrr! They consider 70 to be cold... 70 is a very cold body temperature. At 70, the body cannot generate enough heat to keep warm.
Then I went on to read this: 
Kayakers Die From Hypothermia

There have been two fatal kayaking accidents in the Apostle Islands in the past two years, On Friday September 10, 2010 two kayakers departed from Little Sand Bay to paddle to a campsite three miles away on Sand Island. Increasing wind and wave conditions on Lake Superior caused the paddlers to become separated about 4 pm.
One of the paddlers reached Sand Island and reported that his companion was overdue after 6 pm. An extensive multi-agency search continued unsuccessfully through the evening until deteriorating weather conditions forced its suspension near midnight. The body of the missing paddler was found floating near Sand Island the following morning. The victim was wearing a life jacket over a full wet suit.
The cause of death was determined to be hypothermia.
Against recommendations from park staff, a group of four college students launched kayaks from Little Sand Bay on the afternoon of June 7, 2011. Two of the four kayaks capsized during the crossing to Sand Island sending the paddlers into 49° water. Three of the paddlers eventually made it to shore and used a cell phone to report they had lost sight of the fourth man. The Coast Guard found the missing man unresponsive in Little Sand Bay at about 8 pm, with a blue life jacket and the bottom half of a wet suit on. His friends reported that, when last seen, he was wearing the life jacket, swim trunks and a t-shirt. The paddler died from hypothermia.
These tragedies might have been avoided if the paddlers took the following precautions:
• Use the proper equipment in the proper fashion. Several of the kayaks in these incidents were too small and not properly outfitted for a trip on Lake Superior.
• Use the buddy system. Stay together with your group.
• Check the latest weather forecast and pay attention to existing lake conditions. In both incidents, paddlers ignored warnings to delay their trip.
• Wear a wet suit or a dry suit and a brightly colored PFD with reflective material.
• Be capable of re-entering your kayak from the water.
• Do not overestimate your skill level.
Okay, then. Point taken... no kayaking on this trip. And maybe I will never have the opportunity to kayak Lake Superior, though I certainly hope I can someday. 
To make up for not being able to kayak, we chose to take the Apostle Island Cruise which was a much safer alternative for us and the small kids. We were able to see much more coastline in one day than we ever would have by kayaking. Not as up close and personal, but we are alive to tell about the beauty we discovered on our trip.

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