Da Haven to St Jo w/ DW...Nov 22, 2013

Kitesurfing or snowkiting...if the wind's blowin'...where you goin?

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Da Haven to St Jo w/ DW...Nov 22, 2013

Postby West » Sun Nov 24, 2013 11:39 am

Two years ago on the 27th of Nov 2011, we had a spectacular day at Silver Beach...this last North had a very similar make-up to it; forty knot winds being ushered in on an Artic front that pushed hard and fast down the BIG LAKE with flying snow and falling temps... On both days I rode with TG, just the two of us at St Jo.

I pulled into Silver Beach to the sight oh so familiar, flying sand across the parking lot slightly side-on with the waves stacked and peeling, just beginning to break off the lighthouse at the pier's end...it was still early, bout 9 am, and the conditions were just building...the elephants began to march!! TG was on his way down from Da Haven to pick me up if things "felt right"...a downwinder on a day like this in late November should not be embarked upon haphazardly. With temperatures below 40 and still falling, high seas, and gale-force winds, it was gonna be a gut check that was for certain...Knowing and trusting your dw partner was a given...

TG and I have been running the Michigan coast on downwinders with high regularity the last several seasons, in fact, we had set a goal of 1,000 shoreline miles for 2013. I TRUST in TG as much as I trust that the sun will come up tomorrow; he is a seasoned mariner who has spent countless hours along that coastline his entire life. His decision making in times of crisis is quick and thorough; and his loyalty to a bro unwavering....that is the type of downwind partner I want, and the type I want to be...someone who checks on you when you go down, someone who diligently tries to aid you, someone who has got "your back", and will not leave you.

Once TG arrived in St Jo, we looked at it a bit, checked the updated forcasts, marine warnings, and NOAA graphicals....it became apparent that there was no backing off of the wind, and that as the day progressed the NNW would probably slowly clock N....this is the recipe for "sheer madness" at Silver, and it would very nearly duplicate the conditions that led to that magical day two years prior. We decided to go for it, and after deciding not to start from the half-way point at the Roadside Park, we headed the 20plus miles back to South Haven along Lakeshore, getting glimpses of the waves along the way....what stood out to us then, and as we peered at Silver earlier was that there were no close-outs, just huge wedges that resembled A-frames, that began to break and then just reeled on down the line...but the thing that "floored" us was just how incredibly far out they had begun to break...we have run that coastline dozens of times in the past, and never did it resemble anything close to what we saw...

We cruised past TG's house to pick up his 6m since by then we had determined that we needed the smallest kites we had...the spray was like liquid smoke off the pier in South Haven and like in St Jo, the waves were breaking at pier's end. The wind was steady and side-shore with a little sleet flying on the it, the water a glassy calm between the waves. WOW, we just chuckled at out impeccable timing as we rigged the 6m and 7m kites...and the elephants continued to march!!

As we suited up, the thundering crash of waves resembled the sound of elephants trampling through the forest; and as we headed to the beach to launch our kites, I could feel those same elephants trampling my insides....it's a feeling so peculiar, so complete, so absolutely undeniable....it's a reaction to fear I surmise; one that must be acknowledged and yet controlled, one that must be subdued yet not annihilated...it is a safety mechanism that reminds one of the intensity of the situation. I have learned over the years not to try to "master" it, but to relish its very existence, and to channel it into meticulous, deliberate performance.....

I threw Caution to the wind, and up went TG's 6m.....a smile lit his face as his bright blue kite graced the cloud-leaden skies: it's always a great affirmation when you launch a kite from behind a jetty and there IS as much wind up there as you had hoped....I launched my light blue 7m, and followed TG down toward the blue stairs...and (with Eroc on my shoulder), I shredded the shiz out of several head and a half waves at his "fabled haunt"!! It was ON and as we got farther away from the jetty the waves rapidly increased in size...by the time I caught a wave at the drainpipe it was double head, jacking and peeling, just refusing to close out; and we still had more than 20 miles to go....

TG had set the pace as he is so often to do...I kept his kite in sight and followed on down the coast with the power plant puffing in the distance...everything from here on was purely mystical; the utter silence in between the waves, which were separated by a hundred yards of silkiness; the roar of the crashing waves as they pounded in my wake; the brightness of the sun as it peered through the heavy clouds; the sight of that bright blue kite appearing between the rising mountains of water....it was an out of body experience for me as we continued on down the coast....

It was easily the biggest I had ever seen it on Lake Michigan, and you absolutely did not want to go down...There were two "breaks": huge sets would break over a half-mile offshore and would continue to reel all the way to the inside (100 yards) and then reform into 10 to 12 foot waves breaking top to bottom, still reeling.....As impressive as the sheer size was the fact that there were no closeouts, the waves were hinging along the shoreline; there were no waves breaking on the inside sandbars, just the initial wave that began breaking way offshore and continued all the way to it's sandy demise...

The thing that made these conditions so manageable was that there were simply no close-outs...you could kick-out of a wave, you could go around a breaking section, you could easily chicken-jibe due to the vast distances between waves...Once we hit the power plant, which is about 8 miles into the dwndr, the waves were mast-high plus...not rolling swells, but breaking waves...there were times that I was heading down a wave at full throttle and only going half-speed, due to the rate of water flowing up the waveface...that is a sensation very familiar to me from my days windsurfing mast-high conditions on Maui. This was the first time I have had that feeling kiting Lake Michigan.

TG and I paired up soon after the power plant and continued on down the coast, at times well on the outside, sometimes shoreline skipping on the inside; and at other times picking an outside bomb to latch onto...we each got washed a few times on some "smaller" ones which heightened our awareness, but never got rolled by the monsters...By the time we passed Roadside, it was survival kiting due to the sheer size of the waves; and we adhered to the old adage "safety first". I began to stay well ahead of the lip on breaking waves and would ride the shoulders for what seemed like a mile at times....12, 15 bottom turns as drawn out as I could, all the way to the inside...

We passed Hagar Park and the side shore conditions had given way to side-on and a strengthening current...we set our sights on the St Jo lighthouse as it came into view in the distance; the sun had come out again from the darkened clouds and "lit that puppy up", it was shining bright red and white on the end of the pier miles away.

The last several miles found us well on the outside. The angle of the shoreline and the long jetty at St Jo were really jumbling up the inside and the waves were tumultuous; and we wanted to be far off the jetty when we went around it....As we came around to Silver Beach the waves instantly cleaned up, and the wind suddenly became more side than side-on (a phenomena very common to Silver). Although we were "spent", we caught several waves at the jetty and continued on down to Ursula's, below the Outpost Sports. It was heaving and thumping down there, though "smaller" at double-head high, it was soooo clean and predictable, cause they just weren't closing out....we caught a couple more together just a hootin' and a hollerin' at the tops of our lungs.

We landed the kites, in tandem, and looked at each other with that look that needs no words to accompany it....a look that just says "well done my friend"...we were utterly exhausted!!!! Several folks in cars and vans had watched us finish "in style", and stopped by to see where the hell we had come from; they were flabbergasted when we told 'em...a coastguard boat had set up right offshore to make sure we made it in safely, don't know where they came from or for how long they had been following us, we saluted them with a two hearted ale, and signaled them a "Thanks buddy", as they pushed back toward the jetty.

As TG and I de-rigged and swapped stories of AWE, Kuau excitedly ran around the beach with all the flying sand and dousing spray...Exhiliration filled us both to the brim, we were overflowing with LIFE, RESPECT and LOVE...that's really what it is all about anyway ain't it?

We thawed out on the drive back to Da Haven, half in revelry, half in silence; practically spellbound....when we came into South Beach, the waves had subsided a bit and the wind had let up some, but I decided to rig up the 7m again and show the BIG LAKE my gratitude. TG offered to pick me up at 18th, bout 6 miles down the way, and off I went back to the Blue Stairs...back to the dream...with the sound of the elephants marching in the distance slowly receding...

Thanks to TG for the pick-up at 18th, the monumental downwinder to St Jo this year, the spectacular day at Silver two years ago; the countless downwinders, the endless suds, the many adventures we have shared both on and off the lake....that is what you want in a downwind partner....someone you can count on, someone you trust, someone whose company you cherish; someone you will lay it on the line for, and someone who will do the same for you...never take the lake for granted, always be prepared, and pick your bros wisely...respect the downwinders!!!

DW and I logged around 700 shoreline miles this year, probably in the neighborhood of 2,000 total miles on those downwinders. There were some breakdowns, some aborted missions; many shorelines in all types of conditions, with a myriad of kiters tho we have our "core crew"...next year we are gonna make another run at that elusive 1,000....so if you catch us smiling, you will know what that grin is all about; and if you hear those elephants marching, be assured we will be travelling thru the mystic, somewhere along the shores of Lake Michigan, somewhere out there amidst the flying sand, snow and spray!!! :D
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Re: Da Haven to St Jo w/ DW...Nov 22, 2013

Postby Eric A. » Sun Nov 24, 2013 2:51 pm

Most excellent post!
Nuff Respect!
All I can say is WOW.
The pic of Ursalas you sent me was BIG.

You and TG have earned the 2013 Hardcore Shed award!

Those are conditions I simply fear. If it were 75 degrees....maybe...just maybe.....but WOW....20 degrees...Just Wow!
Dedication to say the least.

I have to second your comment on TG.
He IS the ultimate mariner.....one who I would go into the fire for.
I have always felt safe when he is nearby.
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Re: Da Haven to St Jo w/ DW...Nov 22, 2013

Postby IVO » Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:05 pm

what a story West,thank you for that!I felt like I did that stretch with you guys,sooo vivid..

Still feel goosebumps,when we were going around that St.Joe jetty when was breaking big last year and I thought Im gonna bale,because i couldnt feel my fingers anymore,scary..must have been crazy this time.. :shock:
Kajun Rule #1-Never try to teach a pig to sing.....It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.
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