Submitted by Trip Nate Strong Event Sponsor and ACA Instructor
The Lake Michigan paddle was planned as an opportunity to gain experience paddling in conditions on inland seas and to provide some training when opportunities arose. There was a total of 13 participants. Three ACA instructors were part of the group to assist in training and keeping people safe. We had conditions and also the opportunity to experience the importance of utilizing weather forecast in planning our choice of launch sites, what we could do on the water and for how long.
Thursday started with an evening paddle on Lake Michigan for about seven early arrivals. The weather was hot and the lake calm and many enjoyed a cooling dip in the water and a chance to practice some self rescue skills. Friday morning brought some rain, larger, but safe conditions, winds from the northwest and the forecast called for building seas throughout the day. It was decided to start early and launch from South Beach at South Haven in the protection of the south pier. Eight paddlers launched in scattered lite rain showers to practice paddling and some skills in the mild waves while staying close to our launch site. After the last dark cloud pasted we ventured around the end of the piers to test out the rougher conditions on the upwind side of the pier with reflected waves and bouncy water. Within a very short time it was noticed that the wind and conditions were quickly picking up, as they can on inland seas, and a hasty retreat was made back to the protected waters on the south side of the piers. There paddlers played in the variety of conditions found near the pier until landing as waves continued to build. Some stayed to enjoy the kite boarders that had begun arriving to enjoy the wind and waves.
Friday again brought moderate conditions and a chance for building winds from the northwest and waves. After rechecking the forecast, the decision was made to travel to St. Joseph to launch at a protected site on the St. Joseph River. We now had twelve paddlers who launched to paddle out through the St Joseph River channel to check the conditions on Lake Michigan. The piers along the river channel provide protected paddling with gently building conditions as you approach Lake Michigan. The group was comfortable in the conditions on Lake Michigan and we paddled around to the south side of the piers to maintain access to the protected water if needed. As we paddled south along the shoreline and away from the protection of the piers the waves gradually build, giving us the opportunity to pick the level of conditions that we were comfortable in. At one point, the group split with some staying in milder conditions, while others went a little farther to experience some bigger waves. The groups rejoined and paddled back to take a break in the protected water near the piers and then returned to the St. Joseph River channel and back to our launch point. Some choose to extend the paddle a little further paddling up the St. Joseph River a ways, around and island and returned to the launch site.
Sunday morning we made the decision to return to South Beach in South Haven with the forecast of building conditions and winds building to 20+ knots from the north. We launched in the protection of the piers in mild conditions and paddle along the lakeshore to the south. With the wind forecast in mind, we limited this paddle to about 2.5 miles so as not to travel too far from the safety of our protected launch site. Reaching our turn around point, it was noticed the wind was building and we returned directly to the launch site to land in the protection of the pier.
It was a wonderful trip enjoyed by all that came and a chance for some to safely challenge themselves in moderate conditions. Extra care was taken for dealing with covid-19 and maintaining social distancing. The trip was also highlighted by beautiful sunsets at the beach and children playing along the shoreline.