Kayaking Technique Forum

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Spring weather and the Great Lakes

On Friday May 11, I decided to go kayaking on Lake Michigan. The marine weather forcast posted at 4am that morning indicated light winds out of the southeast with 1 to 2 foot waves. In the afternoon the winds were predicted to switch to the northwest and waves were to become 2 to 4 feet. There were also possibilities of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Part of my logic in going out last Friday was that the weather prediction for May 12 and 13 looked very poor and I expected that small craft warnings would be issued for those days. In fact small craft warnings were issued on both of those days and over the weekend two kayakers were pulled out of the Lake by the Chicago Police Marine unit when they apparently became hypothermic.

Now to my sad story. I loaded my kayak in a light rain and got to a harbor not far from by house by 9:30 am. I launched, the waves were no more than one foot at the time. I turned on my marine radio to the weather channel and heard a different forcast than I heard earlier in the morning. Now when the wind switched waves were to go to 3 to 5 feet and the robot voice said "with a possible small craft advisory."

I decided I would stay near to the harbor so I good get back to shore relatively qucikly. Sometime around 11:00 all wind stopped. The calm before the storm was a hand. The sky out in the Lake turned black in minutes and I headed back to the harbor. I was no more than a half mile away. Waves went from 1 foot to 4 feet in minutes as a hard wind blew in (maybe 15 to 20 knots). Since I was heading with the wind I expected a good ride back. Then the unexpected happened. I was riding down the face of a wave and my kayak turned. In my attempt to correct the turn somehow I went in (yes I made a mistake). I carried out a very good roll and came up.

The water was about 53 and I recall I shook my head. I heard a breaking wave and turned my head, before I could brace I was knocked down again. This time for reasons totally unknown to me I immediately wet exited the kayak.

Once I came up I secured the kayak, righted it, and got my paddle float off the deck. I was not too cold because I had on a good wet suit. The kayak was only a quarter filled with water, but the waves were now 4 to 5 feet. I decided that I was going to attach my set of sponsons before I reentered the kayak. This took far longer than I would have liked. But in the end it was done and they were inflated. I renetered the kayak and began to pump out the boat. When I had secured my skirt I looked at my watch and realized I must have been in the water for about 25 minutes.

Getting back to the harbor was slow work with the sponsons on, but there was no way I was going to attempt to take them off in the wind and the waves. Entering the harbor mouth was like coming into a new world of peace compared to what I had been through.

I don't know what lessons I learned, if any. But clearly if I am going to use sponsons I have to get them on a lot faster than I did that day. Part of the problem was that my hand were cold, because I was not wearing gloves when I got knocked down. All in all this is what kayaking is about. At least no one had to come and pull me out of the lake.


in Chicago