Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Massasauga #3: Storm clouds

Before dozing off in the tent on night three of our Massasauga Park paddling trip, I tuned into the local marine weather forecast. It looked like things might turn a bit nippy, with a forty-kilometre wind booked to start picking up around midnight, and conditions worsening through the following day. Having been out in a few doozies, we weren't too fazed; we would get up early, we thought, and make the roughly four-hour dash back to the put-in before things got too wild.

On cue, the wind picked up at about 12:30 a.m., shattering the stillness that had reigned for the previous three days. It felt significantly stronger than forty, so, just to be safe, I emerged from the tent to make sure the boats were secure. Satisfied, after a short grope through the pitch dark, I turned back in, and, still wiped out from the previous day's venture out to Wreck Island, promptly passed out.

We awoke to an even stiffer wind, and by now the waves were beginning to wash even over our sheltered little beach. The temperature had plummeted; the previous day's morning high of about fifteen Celsius had been chopped roughly in half. Worse, the revised forecast called for winds gusting to double the original prediction, or about eighty kilometres, and further dropping temperatures. If we were going to go, it had to be soon.

After a quick and unappetizing breakfast of dry bagels, we quickly disassembled our cozy haven and took to the boats. At first, we made great progress winding through the group of small islands that surround Sharpe's Island. It was only when we were about to attempt the first of two open crossings that the rain started. In only minutes, it had built into a raging downpour. Finding a bit of shelter on the inside of a rocky point, we waited it out in the boats, then eventually picked our way over to a small island about midway across the small bay we had been camped out in.

It was while we were about to make the second crossing that things got interesting. Finally, we felt the full force of those predicted gusts, and as the wind picked up, we felt it lifting up on our paddle blades with every stroke, at times threatening our grip. By now, every wave was washing over our decks, pushing us sideways and forcing us to brace. Even though we were both feeling like pulling the plug on the whole venture, we decided to proceed -- albeit slowly and carefully. Keeping close together, we dodged across the bay to the shelter of the mainland, the waves smacking up against our rear quarters the entire way.

The rest of the paddle was relatively quiet, though chilly and into a stiff headwind. After what felt like a lifetime, we arrived back at Pete's Point and our waiting car. After a quick, open-air change into dry clothes, we tightly strapped the boats down and were on our way.

My lunch at the Waubashene Truck Stop, just south of the Massasauga, was indicative of the amount of energy I expended that day: a fully loaded chicken burger with extra fries and coleslaw, chased down by numerous coffees.

Our stomachs full, we bid a fond adieu to the 2008 paddling season (barring a significant turnaround in the weather) and turned south toward the city. Spring, it seems, is a long way away.

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