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September, 2006
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I've Been Krugerized!
By Dawn Stewart

"WITHOUT A PADDLE: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida By Sea Kayak" by Warren Richey

The story of Sharkchow's 2006 participation in the Ultimate Florida Challenge. Coming to a bookstore near you. June 8, 2010.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-63076-8
320 pages, $24.99
Due in bookstores and on Amazon.com June 8, 2010.


UFC 2006 New Release

$25.95 with FREE Shipping!

Jenning has a second version of the EPIC Ultimate Florida Challenge. This is a two DVD set. The first DVD is the same as the first release. But the second DVD contains two very interesting interviews.

First, SharkChow has a long interview giving many details and insights into his impressive win of the first WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge in 2006. His hint about using the tides on the St. Marys river is worth the price all by itself if you are thinking of doing the UFC yourself. Note: this is really a voice recording - no video.

Next there is a shorter video interview of ThereAndBackAgain (aka TABA). TABA isn't a complainer so he had never mentioned many of the real issues he faces in these challenges. This interview opened my eyes and prompted some minimal changes to make things just a bit more fair.

Special Note: The proceeds all go direct to Jenning. Making this DVD took untold amounts of money and time. This would make a nice preview for the UF2010 event.

We sell fun!

I've Been Krugerized!

My Introduction to the Kruger Dreamcatcher

By Dawn Stewart (aka SandyBottom)

When I arrived in Tampa Bay for my first WaterTribe Everglades Challenge (March 2004), I was an admitted sea kayak snob.  You know the type, "you’re not a real sea kayaker unless your boat is longer than 16 ft, British, fiberglass, skeged, and you aspire to climb the BCU star system in paddling".   I had read a recommendation from Chief (head of WaterTribe) to use kayaks with rudders in the Challenges; I figured I'd show him, if you really know how to sea kayak you don't need a rudder. 

With my much-loved Nigel Dennis Explorer, a "real sea kayak", I was surprised and somewhat humored by the variety of boats intending to participate in this race.  I remember thinking Wizard's Rob Royed 13' x 28" boat looked a bit like a bathtub, being so short and wide.  I got quite a kick out of Pelican's sit-on-top with a pedal apparatus.  I couldn't imagine pedaling a sit-on-top for 300 miles in the ocean.  There were a large variety of well-known sea kayaks, plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and some beautiful wooden kayaks.  Almost all had rudders except KneadingWater's Nordkapp (another "real sea kayak").  There were also a number of boats called Kruger Canoes registered, these looked so big I could only think of a barge, and worse, people were paddling them with a single blade paddle.  What was up with that, that's not "real paddling"?

The winner that year was GreyBeard and Ridgerunner in one of those Kruger barges.  SharkChow was 2nd in his ruddered Current Designs Solstice.  Both came in a few hours over 3 days.  Another couple of Kruger boats (Chief and Manitou Cruiser's) finished in less than 4 days.  Wizard's bathtub finished a few hours over 4 days, and Pelican pedaled in at 7 days.  I finished last with an elapsed time of 8 days.  I sure showed them. 

But, in a WaterTribe Challenge, it's not the winning that counts; just completing the course is an accomplishment all are proud of.  And when it was over, proud I was to have become a member of this wide and varied group on the beach at Key Largo.  And, as happens to many WaterTribe alumni, I had changed. 

I had finished my Challenge with a new perspective and regard for different boaters and boat types.  All of us finishing this challenge had accomplished an incredible feat in small boat expeditioning that certainly didn't require a "real sea kayak", and in fact "real sea kayaks" were not necessarily the boats that excelled.  Most surprising, at the end of the challenge, I found myself wanting to try out and paddle one of the Krugers.  I had finished the challenge having spent 8 days being cold and wet, exhausted, sore, blistered, and chaffed.  I even had to sleep (sitting up) in my boat one night.  Looking around, I noticed that those paddling Krugers were talking about being comfortable and dry, and fairly pain free after 300 miles. 

Not having any other, I paddled my NDK explorer again in EC 2005.  Same cold wet ride, same chafing and blisters, and also, same great sense of accomplishment.  However, during this Challenge, I began looking at the wide variety of kayaks and small boats differently, with growing respect, curiosity, and interest, especially as they might apply to my interests.  Continuing to learn from my WaterTribe experiences, I found myself actively looking at and thinking about pursuing "other ways" to enjoy my sport, expedition travel, and time on the water.  I now had a better understanding of the statement "to encourage the development of boats, equipment, skills, and human athletic performance for safe and efficient coastal cruising" part of the WaterTribe mission, almost a dare, certainly a challenge to be different and open your mind to the possibilities.  Towards that end, I found myself seriously studying the Krugers.

Mark Przedwojewski (WaterTribe member ManitouCruiser), met and began learning about canoe expedition from the famous Verlen Kruger in 1995.  Mark bought his first Kruger that year, and subsequently began building Kruger Canoes under Verlen's tutelage.  In 2003, Verlen offered Mark the opportunity to purchase the company as he retired.  See www.krugercanoes.com for more information on Mark, the Kruger boats, and Verlen.  These days, Mark is dedicated to continuing Verlen's work and to making a little part of Verlen's legacy accessible to paddlers  

I learned that Kruger Canoes Inc. is a small business with its shop located right next door to Mark's lighthouse styled cottage, which he built himself on acreage located in Irons, Michigan.  Mark is often the sole employee of his company; he personally builds all the boats by hand, taking as long as 80 hours to complete one.  There is no fancy stocked show room or fast talking salesperson.  Kruger advertisement is by word of mouth and accomplishment.  If you are interested in buying one of these boats, you can call Mark by phone and come up and paddle with him.     

Mark had generously offered to loan me his Dreamcatcher, a sea kayak-like Kruger canoe to use next year in the WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge (UFC), a 1200-mile circumnavigation of Florida including a 40-mile portage, March 4 - April 3, 2006.  Mark knew I had wanted to try and do this larger race and that I had concerns about attempting it in my own sea kayak.  The offer was a wonderful surprise (not unlike Mark himself), and one I couldn’t refuse.  Mark will also be participating in this challenge in a Kruger Sea Wind.  Mark has always had a good showing in WaterTribe Challenges, and, has the current distinction of having earned more WaterTribe shark and alligator teeth, (the award received after a successful completion of a WaterTribe Challenge) than any other WaterTribe member. 

And so it was that I found myself joining Mark and Jack Cramer on an expedition paddle along the shoreline of the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) on Lake Michigan.  After which I will bring the Dreamcatcher back home with me for training.  So on Wednesday, August 24th, 2005, I drove the 1000 miles up to Irons, Michigan, hoping that I would like this Kruger Canoe.  I hadn't actually ever paddled one.   

This article documents my introduction to, and impressions of, the Kruger Dreamcatcher, including a report of my experiences during the Lake Michigan trip.  It is also an attempt to provide a review of the Kruger Dreamcatcher from the perspective of a paddler whose experiences are with higher performance expedition sea kayaks.

That Friday in Irons, I met the Dreamcatcher.  She has a “Lake Michigan” blue deck with a white hull.  It was immediately obvious that she had weathered thousands of miles.  She is Dreamcatcher #2 in a very small current fleet of 20 worldwide.  Built in 1993, she's lived her whole life outdoors, and has lost all her original shine and luster.  Like me, she is a bit rough around the edges and has been around the block a few times.  But she’s built strong, and also like me, has many more trips left.  She and I will get along just fine in the UFC. 

 

The Kruger canoes look different to a sea kayaker and the Dreamcatcher even more so.  The boats are advertised as the “ultimate tripping canoes”, designed for comfort, efficiency, and seaworthiness.  The Dreamcatcher, looking sort-of like a very big sea kayak, is not a high-performance yak.  She is considered a traveler, designed for the comfort and stability that would be enjoyed on long distance trips, though many use their Krugers for short day trips.  She is not a surfer, nor a play boat, though surf landings and launchings are often required of her.  She doesn't have the extreme maneuverability one would want playing in rock gardens, though her layers of Kevlar make her strong and sturdy in a rocky environment.  Through Verlen, and now Mark, her reputation is for long distance expedition travel on water, just what I love the most.

We spent Friday mounting my new Pacific Action Sail (PAS), one of the sponsored donations I’ve received for the UFC, and the best small boat sail designed for touring.  Mark proceeded to show me many of the Dreamcatchers accessories, including a sun canopy (Bimini top), which will be very handy during the month long trip in Florida, and a netted cockpit tent that he made specifically for his use in earlier Everglades Challenges.  And we discussed her other features and basic handling.  We built a paddle bag, finished packing for the trip, then relaxed with some beers, barbequed chicken, and waited for Jack to arrive.  Jack Cramer, who I’d become email pen-pals with a few months earlier as we planned this trip, is an avid Kruger canoeist, who loves river travel and expeditions, and is about to embark on a new simpler and different life, moving to Irons to work with Mark, making and paddling Krugers.

I had a thousand questions for Mark and Jack regarding the performance of the Dreamcatcher (and Kruger’s in general), all of course related to my sea kayaking background.  Can she be rolled?  How does she handle in surf?  How do you brace into waves when broached?  How maneuverable is she without the rudder?  What about rescues with no front bulkhead?  How dry is the back hatch?  How will I carry her around getting on and off the beach?  Can I use a double bladed paddle?  What is faster, single or double blade?  Mark patiently tried to answer my questions based on his knowledge and experiences and on Verlen’s and others reported experiences.  But, he agreed that in the end, I would just have to take her through some paces and see for myself, and, he would be very interested to hear of my results.  His confidence in these boats is unwavering, and I could tell he expected I’d feel nothing less. 

Saturday

All packed up, we drove to St Ignace at the Straits of Mackinaw, the body of water between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, to leave our cars at the take-out.  From there, we got a ride to Menominee Wisconsin from Mark’s Dad.  At our put-in, we camped overnight at a nice campground on the Lake on Green Bay, and planned an early start the next morning.  Our itinerary was to paddle north and east back to the Mackinaw Bridge, approximately 180 miles.

Sunday

Sunday, the morning of our departure, we were quite a curiosity among our neighbors at the campground, with lots of picture taking and questions about our trip.  Mark and Jack were both paddling Kruger Sea Winds.  These boats are also considered decked canoes, but they have a very long cockpit, and they look more canoe-like than sea kayak.  They too are built with floatation in the bow and stern, but like canoes, are without any bulkheads.  Sea Winds are routinely paddled with a full spray deck, much like a very long spray skirt.  Like the Dreamcatcher, these boats are considered ocean travelers.  In all their paddling experiences, neither Mark nor Jack have ever flipped one over, other than during the occasional messy surf landing that we all have experienced at one time or another.

My questions about how to carry this heavier boat around were easily answered.  All three boats were outfitted with a “drag rope”.  This is a rope with handle attached to the bow (or easily moved to the stern).  You just grab the handle and pull, dragging the boat behind you.  Hmmm, this was interesting, and very easy to do, even with fully loaded boats.  Mark explained that these boats are built to be workhorses; they do not need the careful handling that the glass sea kayaks are given.  The lay-up of 10 layers of Kevlar on the hull makes this possible.  Yes, you’ll eventually wear off the gelcoat in spots, and it will lose some of its spit and polish, but that’s just considered character.  This being a fairly heavy boat, dragging is a very nice feature.

Immediately upon sitting in the Dreamcatcher, my face lit up with a smile. The seat was incredibly comfortable.  Another pleasant surprise was not being swallowed up by the boat.  I’d previously seen a photo of an earlier prototype with Verlen, which appeared that the cockpit had came all the way up to his armpits.  The seat was adjustable such that the paddler can sit lower or higher in the boat by increments of 2” with 3 positions.  Choosing the middle position, I didn’t feel like I was sitting particularly high or low, and in fact it felt very natural.  And though I did not have the same bracing with my thighs that I am used to with a narrower boat (no contact at all without really trying), my position in the boat to the deck seemed very familiar.  While I might not have felt that the boat swallowed me up, it was definitely voluminous inside.  I could put my legs and feet in any position I wanted, include sitting up cross-legged.  There were pockets and spaces for lots of gear on both sides of my seat, behind the seat, and a cavernous space between my feet and in front of me.  I was immediately sorry that I had packed for the trip with extra care regards weight and bulk, my only concession to a vacation was that I had packed a 2-man rather than solo tent.  Oh well, I would learn.

Packing a Dreamcatcher is so different from packing my sea kayak that has the traditional British 8” and 10” hatches.  I have learned to pack for trips using many small drybags, even compression sacks to get my sleeping bag in the boat.  All this is quite an organizational feat that requires labeling to remember where the heck everything’s stored.  Just for foodstuff, I had 6 small bags; kitchen stove and utensil bag, fuel bag, dinner bag, breakfast/lunch bag, and a snack bag.  Mark and Jack had about 4 big bags in all for the whole trip, and lawn chairs, Jacks even had drink holders in the armrests.   The Krugers size certainly offers easy accessibility to everything once you are in the boat.  It became a cruel joke on me that throughout the trip, every time I wanted/needed something, it was a huge search for the right bag, then rummaging through the small bag.  By the time the trip was complete, I had broken every fingernail and ripped just about every cuticle with the packing and unpacking of my little drybags.  Throughout our trip, I would watch Mark and Jack miraculously produce all variety of stuff right from their seats.  Incredible, I quickly found myself excitedly planning the many changes I’ll need and want to make regards packing for the UFC.

Our first day on the water was about the paddling stroke.  Mark had suggested I take the opportunity being with him and Jack to work on using a single blade paddle, as it is the paddle type that was used by Verlen and is most often thought to be the ideal paddle for a Kruger.  Mark had given me some on shore instruction, and as we started paddling, I would observe, mimic, and ask questions about  their cadence and stroke.   I actually found the stroke came pretty easily to me.  I was at first concerned that aerobically I wouldn’t be able to handle the very high stroke rate I was seeing Mark and Jack use.  I was in pretty good shape, but they were really moving that paddle.  With a strong rudder, the Krugers are most efficiently paddled with today's modern canoe stroke or marathon racing stroke.  This is a very short stroke, less than 24” in length, with a very high cadence, 50-55 strokes/minute, all powered with torso rotation.  It is a simple stroke, and one that looks to be much more work then it is.  The one area that I do need to work on is in eliminating the sideways boat rocking that result from my using more legs than is typically used with the canoe stroke, but is part of my kayaking stroke.  With the rudder for steering, one can switch sides whenever you feel the need.  I was amazed at how much rest your body feels when making that switch.  Already on this very first day, I was starting to relax and feel better about my plans to do the UFC in a different boat with a different paddle. 

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After only an hour, a breeze began to pick up and we were able to use our sails.  Since this was my very first time with a single blade paddle, Mark decided he and I should catamaran our boats together, we could sail when the winds were favorable, and I could be able to work on the paddle stroke when we needed to paddle.  Catamaraning Krugers is another feature of these boats that allow an even more stable platform during inclement weather.   We spent the day motor sailing, ("motor" meaning human powered with paddle).  Jack would occasionally get ahead of us in his SeaWind and Balogh sail rig, which allowed faster sailing than our cat rig.  Mark and I were using his Balogh Sail and my new Pacific Action Sail.

We motor sailed all day.  I was glad we were able to mix it up, sometimes the wind would allow a total rest from paddling, letting us maintain 3-3.5mph, other times we could push it up to 4-4.5 with straight paddling.   We were making great time, and with ideal conditions, decided to push our larger crossings a bit and cut some corners by bypassing the town of Escanaba, and crossing Little Bay De Noc. 

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We camped on Stonington Peninsula, which juts from the North shore of Lake Michigan before disappearing beneath the water's surface to reappear some twenty miles to the south as the northern tip of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula.   This is also the site of the Peninsula Point Lighthouse, an old historic lighthouse built in 1864 and abandoned in 1936.   The light keepers’ house no longer exists, but one can climb the winding cast iron staircase up the 40’ cream brick light tower to enjoy the lantern view of the Lake and surrounding areas.  The station is situated on a small park, part of the Hiawatha National Forest. This park also serves as a premium spot to view the annual September migration of monarch butterflies which gather to feed on the point before winging their way across Green Bay to the Door Peninsula, and their remarkable flight south to winter in Mexico.  Throughout our trip, a day wouldn’t go by when we didn’t see Monarch butterflies flying past us, even on those occasions when we were as far as 5 miles from shore.  Interestingly, the Monarch Butterfly is the Kruger Canoe logo.

Monday

Our 2nd day we awoke to favorable winds and set off to motor sail again.  In true WaterTribe fashion, this was a paddling trip with a destination, not a camping trip with some paddling.  We were up early before daylight; camp broken and boats packed in the dark.  We’d breakfast during the sunrise and then be on the water early.  We were a pretty serious group, wanting to make good miles every day when the weather was good, and hoping to finish in St Ignace on Friday evening where Mark and Jack had some business to attend there that weekend.

We left Stonington Point and crossed Big Bay de Noc, a 14 mile distance with 3-4 foot non breaking rollers.  This is where we would leave Green Bay and enter Lake Michigan.  We lunched on a small island off the point at the end of the bay.  It was here that Mark and Jack would first set up their big lawn chairs to relax and enjoy lunch, I on the other hand  had this small lightweight low to the ground camp chair, that was always more work setting up then was worth it, and which eventually broke on the 3rd day.  

During our picnic, I mentioned surprise seeing so much water and no boats.   It wasn’t  total wilderness, as you would occasionally see a vacation home here or there, and following the Peninsula usually further back from shore and completely out of site, was the highway that ran around the lake from Michigan to Wisconsin.  Jack explained that the UP is quite a drive from Detroit or other large Michigan or Wisconsin towns and cities where there are people who might have a weekend home, so it was relatively undeveloped.  There was an occasional small town, fishing town or mining area, but mostly it was beautiful evergreens.  It was not a flat land, but to say rolling hills might be an exaggeration.  There were many postcard views of untamed areas.   The shoreline on the Lake was often rocky with an occasional small sandy beach, and very thickly forested.  We traveled 28 miles before looking for a place to camp. 

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That night we camped at Portage Bay, which was very rocky, and our tents were set up on stone slabs.  Further inland was much forested, and someone commented that it looked like Bear country.   Most evenings Mark could easily find wood and built fires.  We often had a fire for breakfast.  We’d sit around the fire visiting and getting to know each other.  Planning the trips and races we all dream about doing, you know, the Yukon River Quest, an Inside Passage trip, paddling the length of the Mississippi River, etc…  We were all like-minded souls with similar dreams of expedition and travel.

Tuesday:

On this third day, we set out with no wind, though weather predictions were for the winds to pick up later in the day coming from the NE.  There would be no sailing today, and I was actually excited to be able to spend the whole day working on my stroke.   I found I could get up some pretty good speed in calm conditions.  Watching the GPS, I could easily maintain 3.7 – 3.8 mph, even getting over 4 mph was very doable, but I’d likely have to work on my technique if this was to be sustained for any amount of time.  I was very pleased with my paddling progress.  Later in the afternoon we encountered the predicted headwinds, 10-12 mph, just short of white-capped waters, and I experienced the ease of paddling into a wind with a single blade paddle.    

At one point during the day, I decided to try out my new Greenland paddle (GP).  When Mark offered the Dreamcatcher, I had planned to use a GP, as I had in my previous WaterTribe Challenges.  I am a committed GP paddler, and even surf with it in both my sea kayak and surf kayak.  Prior to this trip, my husband had made me a new and longer paddle for use with the wider Dreamcatcher.  I was anxious to try it out, though was quite surprised at how much I was enjoying using the single blade canoe paddle.  My husband had carefully made as light a wooden paddle as he could, yet, it was no comparison to the carbon fiber single bladed canoe paddle.  Once in my hands the GP actually felt like a log, and I was quickly understanding all the previous comments I'd heard about how the Kruger canoes are more comfortable paddled with a single blade.  I paddled for a couple miles, then put the GP away or the rest of the trip.  Much to my surprise, I was really enjoying paddling with the canoe paddle, and was very pleased with the speeds I could maintain.

For the first time during the trip, we saw a ship, actually a freighter leaving an area on the coast where there was mining.   So much water on this lake, and throughout the whole trip I only saw 2 freighters and 2 fishing boats.  At home, on my much smaller lake, fishing boats, sailboats, and jet skis far outnumber kayaks.

While we paddled, we followed a shoreline route towards the town of Manistique.  Originally a village founded in 1871 and named after the Ojibawa name for the Monistique ( meaning vemillion) River.  This settlement began as a village in 1885 and was originally a lumber transfer town.  Timber was cut further north and sent down the Manistique River to Lake Michigan, where it was sorted at Manistique and sent by boat to different towns for processing and use.   A few miles west of town, we could see the Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse.  A 35’ red light tower, shaped like a square pyramid, located on the break wall at the entrance of the Manistique River, first lit in 1917 and automated in 1969.

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As we neared the lighthouse and the town, a new plan began to formulate.  To celebrate Mark’s 35th birthday, which would be on Wednesday, we started talking about finding a store and buying some fish or steaks to barbeque later at camp.  However, as the town came into view, the plan slowly changed to dinner at the Big Boy’s Buffet, which we could see located right across the street from the lake with a fairly easy take-out.  So, buffet it was, and a large one at that, including more dessert than any one person needs. 

Back in the boats, we turned back into the wind to leave the bay, looking for a campsite not too far away, yet outside of town and away from civilization.  We paddled a few more very uncomfortable miles, overly full and barely digested.  Mark had bought a 6 pack of beer he was holding for camp.   Soon we found our first very sandy beach, a great campsite.  At the end of the day, we had averaged 3mph, a fairly decent speed paddling for a whole day, including headwinds, and we had finished the day having paddled 26 miles.

Wednesday

Wednesday, we woke wishing Mark a very Happy Birthday.  This morning brought the first hint of change in the weather to come, lots of dew and dampness as we packed up a very wet and sandy camp.  With enough wind to let the sails help move us along, I started the day cat-rigged with Jack, but we quickly realized this wouldn’t work for us.  Jack’s rig was not set up for an easy cat configuration, and we were forced to position our boats on Jack’s least favored paddling side.  Yes, even though you paddle alternating sides throughout, it is not uncommon to have a preferred side.

Switching to a cat-rig with Mark, we used more “motor” than sail to try and keep up with Jack.  I think I would have preferred less time in the catamaran configuration.  I sometimes felt a bit like an attached side car, but I would not have been able to keep up otherwise.  My 1 square meter downwind sail, certainly helped us along, but is no match for the full sized Balogh sail.  Considering myself more a paddler rather than sailor, I've registered for the UC in class 1, which is the canoe and kayak class which allows a small down wind sail, but no outriggers or lee boards.  I had no real interest in a larger sail. 

In an earlier period of his life, Jack was a sailor with experience in racing sailboats.  We had arranged for VHF check-ins every 30 minutes when Jack would get far ahead of us, though he never really got out of sight.  I was learning quite a bit about canoe/kayak sailing.  For the kind of travel we were doing, and in the broad reach conditions we had, it was pretty much one-tack sailing.  I’d always wondered how you decide when tacking back and forth to accommodate wind direction would get you more forward movement above what you would get paddling.  Mark told me that he found in canoe sailing that paddling was usually faster than trying to sail tack a course.  Sailing offered extra speed and possible rest from paddling, but canoe/kayak sailing is not high performance sailing.

Another interesting thing I had noticed during the trip was the quiet.  It seemed to me that at sunrise, I did not hear as many birds as I am used to when outdoors in the early morning.  This day though, we would occasionally hear the beautiful call of loons on the water.   Our weather had been beautiful. The last few days were sunny and 80 degrees, just beautiful.  The nights were in the 60's and dry for perfect camping weather.  Even the water was warmer than I had expected at 72 degrees at shore, was often warm enough for a comfortable evening bath and swim.                  

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Winds began increasing to a steady 10-12 mph, we were making good time, and the trip was going very well.  We began contemplated changing the route a bit by making the 17 mile crossing over to Beaver Island.  Neither Mark nor Jack had been there before and we liked the idea of getting out there in the middle of the Lake.  This would put us in open water for most of the day, and we thought it would be a great adventure.  We also decided to try it as a 3-way trimaran for fun and for safety.  We would use both the bigger sails on the outside Krugers with put me in the middle. 

We got the boats all set up and set off.  Unfortunately, the winds were not as ideal as we had thought, or really strong enough for the extra drag of 3 boats together.  The wind direction did not allow us to get as good a tack as we had hoped, and at less than 3mph we decided we’d never make it before dark, and getting stuck out there with either no winds, or, with worsening winds was not a good option.  We had been excited about the possibilities, that we never really put too much thought into the how it might effect the remainder of the week and trip.  The crossing would have shortened the trip distance, opening up other possibilities, but the weather could turn on us.  And indeed, it ended up being a good decision not to cross over, as we would experience a change in the originally forecasted weather at the end of the week.  Our 3-way trimaran experiment lasted less than a mile. 

 Now 18 miles east of Manistique, we came to shore to reconfigure the 3 boats at Seul Choix Point.  The home of another Michigan lighthouse, Seul Choix (pronounced Sis-shwa) Point Light marks a small harbor on Lake Michigan, some sixty miles west of the Straits, the name means "only choice".  Native Americans and French fur traders traveled in canoes across the rough waters of Lake Michigan.  This point was named by the French who found that it was the only harbor of refuge in this part of Lake Michigan. If boats were headed for the Straits of Mackinac, the only choice for safety was Seul Choix.  During the mid-1800's Seul Choix Point was the center of a thriving fishing community, but today, only a lighthouse complex is still active, consisting of  the light, still operating (though now automated), and  the light keepers’ two-story red brick home, (now a museum for visitors).  

Mark and I returned to the cat-rig configuration, and the day seemed to fly by with sailing and paddling.   We traveled 29-miles, and completed our celebration of Mark's birthday over a shared camp dinner of burritos stuffed with Mexican rice, with summer sausage and cheddar cheese, and lake cooled beer.  Later that night, before heading to our tents, we were treated with a special show, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, which Jack and I had never seen, and Mark only once before. 

An Aurora is a beautiful natural phenomenon that creates a light show in the sky.  The light show that we witnessed that evening, was that of a white and bright light that danced across the sky as vertical structures that looked like thin tall rays moving in waves from south east to north west from horizon to horizon. We watched the light show for about an hour until it seemed to die down.

Thursday

The lake winds have really arrived.  Small craft warnings were announced for the day at 15-20 mph winds with 25 mph gusts and waves 6-8 feet.   It started out calmly as we prepared to leave, planning to abort the day when and if things got too big.  We had to cat the boats today, as I would never be able to keep up and Jack double reefed his sails in order for us to stay together, since the cat configuration would still be slower than Jack's boat.  Winds were SW, with waves on our beam.  To stay warm, I was wearing fleece and paddling jacket.  It was a much wetter ride than previous days.  With both Mark's Balogh and my PAS we were getting up to 8 mph.  No paddling needed. There were even times I had to take down my PAS. With only one rudder in use (when cat-ed) the pressure needed to steer became tiring and difficult for Mark.  And then there were the other times when we were going just a bit too fast for my comfort.

It wasn’t long before I started noticing the waves continuing to grow.  It was very exciting.  The coastline was very rocky here, and we had to sail out far from shore to round a very rocky point.  Crossing the point and turning East to parallel closer to shore, we were now surfing the waves on a broad reach.  Though I never once felt unstable, or, unsafe, I didn't really like the speeds we were doing, and surfing the occasional wave under sail was a bit disconcerting.  The boats though were completely stable.  We needed no bracing.  Again I was wishing we weren't cat-rigged, as I would have loved to have paddled the Dreamcatcher in these conditions and seeing how she performs.   But I knew I would have lots of opportunities for that later when I got home.

Jack’s SeaWind was very fast with the Balogh rig, and he was often as far as a mile or two ahead of us.  We kept a close watch, could easily see his sail, and, we kept in VHF communication.  Finally, on the VHF, Jack said he'd had enough and was turning in.  The waves were big, and a large one had broken right over him, leaving him cold and wet. It was time to dry off, warm up, and call it a day.  We sailed in closer to Jack to check on him and plan our landing spot, as the shoreline was very shallow and rocky.  We'd made 27 miles, it was still early afternoon.

The wind waves generated on the Lake are much different than the ocean swells and waves I'm more used to.  Yes it's a big lake with a large fetch.  The waves seem more breaker-like, then swell-like, were steeper and often breaking, and were much closer together then ocean swells.  They break differently than in the ocean, not a dumping or violent break, but more a rolling over.  Surf landings on the Lake are not uncommon.  The shallow waters at the lake shore leave as many as 10 or more rows of breaking surf. The rows follow each other closely as they break and roll towards shore.  It's a beautiful site from shore, a challenge from the water.  As we approach the surf, Mark tells me that surf-landing cat-rigged is a bit different than solo landings.  He says it's important to not let the waves take over and surf us into shore. "He's got to be kidding me".   He then tells me that we need to control the landing; we can come in fast, but want to be on the backsides of the waves, back paddling if necessary to keep from getting surfed in.  Interesting, we'd been surfing waves for a while now, with an occasional broach that Mark seemed to fairly easily control, possibly because we were cat-rigged.  Looking over at Jack solo, I noticed him taking a couple of wide broaches off some

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 waves, and even with his Balogh sponsons, I could often see his body automatically leaning with each wave to correct the boat’s tilt.  In the end, both ours landings were actually uneventful and not that hard, beyond trying to stay far enough away from each other for safety sake.

We were still too far away to see the Mackinaw bridge from our landing point, but with binoculars we could see the Lansing Shoal Lighthouse out on the lake off in the distance.  This remote lighthouse is so far out on Lake Michigan that it can only be visited by boat or viewed from the air.  The lighthouse rests on a concrete pier. The light marks Lansing Shoals which are detached rock strewn reefs within the passage through which vessels navigate on their trips between the Straits and the northern harbors of Lake Michigan and Green Bay.  We had some great views with our binoculars.  This would be another place that could be a great paddling destination, though, not sure how one would land and get up onto the lighthouse pier.

This was our first short day.  The forest on the edge of the beach offered some small clearings inside the tree lines to set up tents for a reprieve from the wind.   We were now in an area where the coastline was very hilly, we could see the Cut River Bridge, high above us and to the North.  No campfire this night, as we began to prepare an early evening dinner.  After our 2nd night out, I had given up on my freeze-dried dinners (I'd brought one for each night, weight saving).  Mark and Jack had brought so much real food, that we started cooking shared meals, each making an offer of something to share from their larder.  Thank goodness I had also brought sausage, cheese, crackers, sardines, potato chips, and Reisen chocolate candy.  Beyond that, for me it was just a WaterTribe special, accelerade, endurox, bars, and Gu.   Mark's kitchen on this trip, was huge, a hard plastic trunk filled with his stove, utensils, and a complete pantry, all which easily fitting into his Sea Wind designed to carry as much as 400 lbs of gear.  After dinner, we said goodnight, agreeing we could sleep in and then assess the water conditions in full daylight after listening to an updated weather report. 

Friday

We woke to wind, white caps and waves on the lake.  We would be forced to sit out the weather for awhile.  As a diversion, we decided to hike a few miles over to the Cut River and up to the bridge.  The Cut River bridge is a steel deck cantilever bridge with extensive latticing and two main piers made of attractive stone arches.  This bridge is an area attraction in a park setting with trails on and from the bridge down into the valley and river below (really more a creek than river).  

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By afternoon the wind and waves appeared to subside providing a window that would allow us to keep moving forward.  We packed up, and got back on the water about 2pm.  It was another exciting day on the water, there were still small-craft warnings posted and off shore waves were again 6-8 feet.  We paddled 10 more miles in less than 2 hours until the building waves finally drove us back to shore.  We found a beach to land on that had a few waterfront vacation houses.  This was now Friday evening, and we’d run out of time.  We decided to declare ourselves ‘ship wrecked’.  With the help of some wonderful local families, Mark got a ride to town to pick up his van and trailer, and all helped us pack up the gear and load the car.   It seemed abrupt and sad to be ending our trip, but what a great trip it was.   We drove to town, had dinner and found a motel for the night. 

Saturday

The weather predictions were for more of the same and it was looking like the annual Kruger Mackinaw Island bridge paddle scheduled for Monday might be cancelled.  I decided to leave for home with the Dreamcatcher early and still have most of the weekend to spend with family.  What a pleasant surprise when at 5am as I was tiptoeing out of my room to the exit stairwell to find Mark and Jack stick their heads out their door, all smiles, and wishing me a safe trip.  I arrived home 19 hours later in Chapel Hill, and found the Dreamcatcher a nice home in my  garage with the rest of the growing fleet.

Home:

The weekend after I arrived home, I was anxious to get the Dreamcatcher out in familiar waters.  I regularly paddle a 15-mile night paddle on Friday nights with friends on a local lake.  I was both excited and anxious about showing up with my new old boat.  My paddling partners would certainly find the Dreamcatcher different.  I also feared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them as our paddles are usually paced at 4 mph.  The Dreamcatcher was certainly a curiosity, but we managed to maintain a respectable 3.7-3.8 mph pace throughout. 

Since returning home, the Dreamcatcher and I have paddled many miles weekly on the lake and have taken a few weekend beach trips.  I've not missed paddling my Explorer at all, and have retired it for the season at least until after the challenge.  I know think of the Explorer as my play kayak, rather than my expedition kayak.  I've also not been much interested in using the GP or any double bladed paddle.  Zaveral Racing Equipment has sponsored me in the UC by providing an 8oz bent shaft carbon fiber distance canoe paddle.  I find it so much easier on my joints, and enjoy the rest provided by alternating sides.  I will need to do some training with a double blade paddle for the UC,  as it will be necessary in a rescue situation, and possibly for added stability in rougher water and surf landings.  But the single blade has now become my primary paddle.

I've found myself completely surprised at how much I enjoy and love paddling this boat. I still don't quite know what to call it, a canoe or a kayak.  It doesn't really look like a canoe, and you don't kneel in it.  It's rather large for a sea kayak, does not quite maneuver like a sea kayak, and has so much buoyancy it sort of bobs on top of the water.  Yet it looks more kayak than canoe.  That I paddle it with a canoe paddle makes it difficult for me to call it a kayak, though certainly there is a tradition even in some traditional Inuit kayaking cultures of using a single blade paddle with kayaks.  Needing to classify what I do, and not really able to classify the boat to my liking, I've taken to just saying I'm a paddler.

I’m sure I want one of these Kruger boats.  I want one for all the kayak camping trips I regularly do on the lake and at the coast.  I want one for all the future expeditions I dream about.  I want one or all the future WaterTribe Challenges I plan to participate in.  I want one just for my Sundays on the lake. 

Mark said if I finish the Ultimate Challenge, I could keep it.  Look out everyone, here I come.

Copyright ©2006 Dawn Stewart

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