Paddling the Calm Before the Storm

I wondered why the parking lot at the boat launch was empty.

All day, I knew that it was predicted to rain late that afternoon, and all day I planned to get out on Lake Champlain for a short paddle. Yet I didn't pack up a boat and gear until around 4pm; the time after which there was an increased chance of rain.

Port Henry Boat Launch

No matter. There wasn't a hint of a breeze at our house, only a few miles away from the boat launch in Port Henry where I planned to put in. A few drops of rain on the calm lake surface would be fine. My boat IS waterproof, after all. And for a bonus, I could take some pictures of the lake to post on my many social networking platforms to show off the landscape.

To make it more interesting, for this outing, I selected a kayak that I had never paddled before; my husband's Jackson All-Water. It is a hybrid that can navigate whitewater and tour flatwater, and is less than ten feet long. This smaller boat fits INSIDE our van, so I didn't have to deal with straps and roof racks on this solo outing (read: without my husband there to carry stuff).

So I drove to the New York State boat launch in Port Henry. It's a convenient place to launch - and not just because of the obvious inclusion of that word in its name. There are floating docks alongside the ramp for easily dropping your kayak in and boarding, and there's plenty of parking. The latter was an understatement, as I looked around and mine was the ONLY car there.

I could see to the south that the trees were rustling in the wind. So much for the calm waters I had expected. Nevertheless, I carried the kayak and paddle to the dock, donned my PFD, put my camera in a dry bag and got in the boat. I pushed off into the flatwater of the sixth largest lake in the nation. Though the water didn't remain "flat" for long.

This kayak had a drop-down skeg, I was instructed, so I pulled the little string that dropped the fin at the back of the boat into the water so that the boat would track straighter (one leaves it concealed inside the hull for easier whitewater turning flexibility). The wind was coming from the southeast, and so I headed into it, directly toward the Lake Champlain bridge at Crown Point, which I could see in the distance.

My plan was to paddle south into Bulwagga Bay, not too far from shore to the east of the Village of Port Henry itself. Bulwagga Bay is huge - I had navigated around it on skates, skis and in a motorboat over the years. I have to admit that it seems a lot bigger from the cockpit of a human-powered watercraft.

Taking pictures sideways

Once I left the protected area of the boat launch, it was apparent that the wind was increasing in velocity. I took my camera out of its dry bag to take the pictures you'll see here, but every time I did that, the boat spun around in the wind and tipped on the increasingly big waves. So I carefully, in a panicked manner, placed the camera back into its protective pouch and paddled south beyond the pier a little bit into the bay just to the east of the village.

This was what my husband and I called "surfable" water, in which the waves are so big that we purposely paddle into them so that we can turn around and paddle fast enough to catch one of the big waves and "surf" as it pushes us back. This hybrid boat was actually a good one for this type of paddling, so I did a couple of short laps south, then surfed north, then paddled south again to catch the waves going north back toward the boat launch.

Surfable Lake Champlain waves

I felt a few drops of water on my face, and assumed at first that it was splashed water from my paddle - but it was sprinkling rain. It was definitely getting darker as storm clouds approached. I had only been out in the water for a bit over a half hour, and I hadn't really GONE any distance, what with all the surfing. But I was suddenly aware of how alone I was - not a fisherman or other boater in sight for miles spanning from north toward Vermont and south toward the bridge. So I decided this jaunt was over and headed back toward the take-out.

As I got closer to the boat launch area, I took another picture of the hazy view looking south, and though the waves were smaller on this side of the pier, the boat still wanted to spin around when I didn't have a paddle in the water. (This wasn't a good time for me to post to Instagram.)

I headed back to the protected boat launch area and disembarked, just as it began to rain in earnest. The little boat was light and really good for navigating the big lake waves. As such, I fully intend to take it out "surfing" again; but I'll definitely l bring along a waterproof camera for the occasion!

Tiger Muskie
La Chute Paddlers' Reward