Open Water Trips

Adventures in Open Water in Small Boats

Black Island, Lake Winnipeg *LINK* *Pic*

Took Friday off for a 4-day weekend and paddled around Black Island in Lake Winnipeg with my buddy Ashley. This was the first time out actually camping with my Yost Sea Tour 17R and for his CLC 17LT. It was great paddling, from gliding across mirror-smooth water to staring whitecaps in the eye. The 11th largest body of fresh water in the world, Lake Winnipeg averages only 12 m deep so has really short waves and a 1 metre high swell is often half as long as a kayak. Exhilarating stuff, in swimming-pool temperature water. It sure makes a difference knowing you won't die from falling in. As long as you don't swallow any of it.

The blue-green algae are doing nicely, thank you, on the north side of the island. They looked healthy enough that if you strained them out carefully,
you might treat the water for drinking, but I'm not so inclined, preferring to damage my liver the old-fashioned way. So you'all quit putting them phosphates down the drain, y'hear?

Saw a pack of wolves just an hour and a half out of Gull Harbour. Two
adults, two young adults and two cubs. They howled, then emerged from the
trees and played on the beach for a few minutes before the adults and cubs
went back into the shade. That was way cool, I've never seen wolves in the
wild before.

The north side is a long string of beaches changing suddenly to Canadian
shield archipelago. Nice small island campsites, sheltered. We knew that
somewhere along that end of the island was an Anishinabe cultural/spiritual
camp and figured we had a site sufficiently screened from their beach that
we'd do our thing and they'd do theirs. Then the music started, not
ridiculously loud but the PA annnouncements were. Mercifully few, and the
music wasn't bad, just a strange selection, so no biggie. It was just a
surprise after the whole day of feeling so isolated.

Next day the sky was cloudy, the wind was stiff, and the forecast gloomy.
Between Black Island and the east side the waves were pretty gnarly, both
from the wind and from the combined currents of the Red & Winnipeg rivers
squeezing through the islands. We checked out a bay on the anchorages list
for a lunch spot, but there was no beach. There WAS a beach 5 metres away
on the other side of the point, however, so we avoided an hour of getting
thrashed by the wind by partially unloading the kayaks and hauling them
over. Then we headed into the gale to the old quarry.

That was fun, most of the time. Waves breaking over your bow looks cool. Feeling a wobble 300 metres from shore feels less cool. We got to one edge of the quarry and found it was the part of the tailings pile with all the domestic garbage in it, so we had to launch back into the surf for a 15 minutes roller-coaster ride as the wind freshened to 17 knots. The boats were fantastic. They just stayed upright and on course. We paddlers were very much the weakest link in the system; when I felt I was capsizing, I didn't correct it, I just stopped doing whatever I was doing wrong. The flex of a jointed aluminum frame is a really neat feeling, as is riding so close to the water. We could hold course into the wind with little effort up to 45 degrees off, or downwind to about 30 degrees off. Directly across the wind was surprisingly comfortable. Other angles could be held, but long boats are going to broach in big short waves and it was less effort to zig-zag than to hold a broad angle to the wind, or waves, we're not sure which really ruled.

The old silica quarry is a surreal wasteland. The high headland seen from the water is dumped overburden. Inside the worked area is sand and odd industrial
artifacts oddly reminiscent of Tatooine in Star Wars. The colours are the
palette of oxidation states of iron, with brilliant white silica in a few spots. It was ghastly, but it was also the only shelter on
the entire south side of the island.

Sunday was a long paddle with no breaks around the south side. But we
didn't know that and tried to land. We headed into one of the few sections
not guarded by boulders until we realized, too late, that the pebble "beach"
rose almost vertically to the shoreline. The waves were dumpers, not big or high but strong enough to have polished the fist-size pebbles making up the beach into spheres and possibly make a mess of a kayak. The waves carried us in until I slammed sideways into the pebbles and grabbed on. The next wave lifted me in a bit more so I rolled out of the boat and grabbed it up onto the shore. OUCH! A couple of nice cuts in the PVC from that mistake.

Ate, nursed bruises, and to our great surprise, managed to launch and get
our spray skirts on before getting a lapful of wave. Paddled up past Hecla
and Gull Harbour and found a beach for the night where we could get across
early before the winds built up. After a gloomy, buggy dinner the sun came
out and the wind died. Out of this mirror-like lake emerges a sailboat,
making slow but steady progress in a sparrow-fart of a breeze and risks
heading into the natural harbour we were in. An old guy, his son and two of
his son's buddies pull up and with their short keel just nose into the
beach to say hello. It was cool, just doing the same as us but with different tools.
Refuse to use the engine, takes the fun out of it. They push off and sail away into the sunset.

So a great initial trip with the kayaks. Once again, we made our own
weather. It only rained when we were already wet from paddling, or taking a
nap, or at night. Experienced the confidence that a good boat design gives
you in heavy seas. Saw wolves! Only three tiny blisters in my first experience of all-day double-blade paddling.

Don't think we'd bother with the south side of the island again, unless the winds made the north impossible. The east shore of Lake Winnipeg is highly spoken of among paddlers and yachters, so next time we would cross and head north. I need to work a bit on my packing to get my own sleeping gear and clothes into my boat. Since we had to carry drinking water, trading bulk for weight between us was easy, but I need to find narrower dry bags and make a few tweaks to the boat for easier loading.

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Black Island, Lake Winnipeg *LINK* *Pic*
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