Just a quick note to let you know I arrived safely in Duluth this morning, Tuesday 5/12/09, at around 10:30 a.m., after paddling in the last eight miles from Lakewood Station in rough seas (10-15 mph NE winds, waves 2-5 feet). The boat handled well and I made good time.
On going through the aerial lift bridge canal, however, the “clopotis” (confused seas),or massive chop waves, came in through the canoe cover and I partially swamped, mostly in the stern. As I expected this possibility beforehand, I was within hand-reaching distance of a pier ladder and grabbed on to the ladder. I had Kitigan, myself, the canoe and all my gear clipped together, and planned to secure the main tow line to the ladder, knowing the swamped canoe would not sink based on the buoyancy of the natural materials of the birch bark canoe. I did not feel endangered or request emergency help. I did, however, ask Mike Anderson, an experienced local kayak and canoe instructor/guide/photographer, who was on the pier taking pictures and talking with me as I entered the canal, to check and see if there was a rope or life ring handy in case I needed it. He said to keep paddling and thought I could make it through the canal. As I paddled hard to try and make it, I felt I was taking on too much water and stopped at the next ladder expecting to self-evacuate myself, dog, outfit and canoe up the ladder and/or tow the canoe tow rope by hand through the canal to a safe landing point.
As I was securing the canoe to the ladder, Duluth Fire Dept. Capt. Charles Smith descended the ladder and insisted I come ashore immediately. He first helped me lift Kitigan up the ladder, then commanded I leave my canoe with rescue personnel in a small motorized raft, who just arrived. After a brief discussion, they decided to tow the surface-floating, swamped canoe through the canal, under the lift bridge, and to the Coast Guard station on Park Point.
I got wet from my belt down and could have self-rescued as I am always prepared to do, but let the responders help me with my canoe. I stayed warm and in good spirits, and Kitigan is fine. Most of my gear stayed dry inside the plastic pack liners and I didn’t lose anything, although the canoe sufferred damage to the hull by the tow, possibly when it was brought ashore. It’s good to be off Lake Superior safely. The people responding to my aid were very helpful and I appreciated their help.
After visiting with Duluth News-Tribune Outdoors Writer Sam Cook, as previously planned, I am now at a friend’s home on Park Point, Andrew Slade, two blocks from my outfit and canoe. I changed into dry clothes, had a nice visit over hot coffee, and am now ready to depart. It’s now noon. I need to repair/repitch the damaged canoe, paddle six miles southwest up the Duluth Harbor Bay and camp at Indian Point campground. The Big Lake is building from the 3-5 foot swells I paddled in on, to 4-8 foot swells. The bay side is reasonably calm. It sounds like we’re in for a good thunderstorm and rough weather, so I’m headed to make a dry camp.