Sunday, June 6, 2021

Paddle on all you Dames (at Sea)!

Don’t over estimate the importance of taking a day to rest and recoup when doing a long distance canoe trip (I call it Endurance Canoeing!).  My break began on early Thursday afternoon when I arrived at the Ft. Peck dam and ended yesterday morning when Rod Gorder dropped me off to resume my trip.  In between, I made a run to Glasgow, MT, with Rod and his wife, Diane, to restock my food pantry, had a couple of really good meals, did laundry and repacked my bags, and took in the opening performance of Dames at Sea at the Ft. Peck Theater.  The show was hands down one of the best ensemble performances I’ve ever seen and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  If you get a chance, go see the show!

The ideal early Saturday morning departure was delayed a bit by Diane’s biscuits and gravy and my procrastination while sipping coffee and shooting the bull.  I had a great time with the Gorders and cannot thank them enough for all their assistance.  Once again, this trip has been my ticket to meeting some amazing, kind, and generous people.

Yesterday’s (June 5th) float wasn’t much to talk about.  Below the Ft. Peck dam the current is strong and the water clear and cold.  Rod told me to be on the lookout for the barges that were used to build the dam and later abandoned downstream.  I passed two of them and it was an interesting look at the history of the region.

By late afternoon the wind had picked up and I started to think wouldn’t it be nice to be using my sail?  I had removed and stowed it during the portage and in anticipation of the free flowing stretch of the river I’m now navigating.  My initial thought was that the river current would push me along and the sail’s function was to assist with crossing the reservoirs.  Then again, why not use the sail, gain some needed practice, and see how well it works for river travel?

During my lunch stop I pulled the sail and outriggers from their under deck storage and reinstalled them.  The wind was fairly light when I returned to the river and the sail’s use limited.  Glancing behind me to check on the outrigger status I noticed the sky was getting inky in color, a sure sign that a thunderstorm was brewing.  A quick check of the weather radio indicated that it was time to get off the river and make camp.  Of course, that’s always easier said than done, especially in a stretch of the river where the only cuts in the high banks are occupied by irrigation pumps.  I eventually located a spot and by the time I unloaded my boat and started to set up the tent it was raining.  I finished quickly, threw in and joined my gear to wait things out.  After about an hour the rain stopped allowing me to make dinner followed by going early to bed.

The Highway 13 bridge
The National Weather Service had issued a Wind Advisory for Lake Ft. Peck for today starting at 6:00 a.m.  When I exited the tent around 6:45 a.m. the winds were already blowing at 20 mph.  I broke camp, packed the canoe, and departed into a strong NNW wind.  I had camped on a bend in the river that faced northward and I was padding into whitecaps coming back at me against the current.  Within a few minutes the river returned to its eastward flow and with the wind now to my back I popped up the sail.

And then it happened…everything clicked, the entire trip fell into place.  All those months researching and planning and preparing came together and off I went; a happy paddler on a magic carpet (actually canoe) ride.  For the entire day the wind was at my back and blowing steady and strong.  The sail rig performed beautifully and I made steady progress.  I quickly learned to read the GPS display to anticipate when the river would change course and bring the boat directly about into the wind.  I then dropped the sail to the deck, clipped it in place, and assumed paddling.

The sail is clipped to the deck when not in use.
I easily made it to Wolf Point, MT, and continued on to the Highway 13 bridge where an excited young boy waived from shore yelling “hello Mr. Sailboat.”  My plan for the day had been to start looking for a campsite at 6:00 p.m. knowing that the search usually takes a good 30 minutes.  I was on such a great run that I decided to extend the day another hour.  The Weather Service prediction was that by 6:00 p.m. the wind advisory end as the mild conditions returned.  They were only off by 15 minutes!  At 6:30 p.m. I finally located a decent campsite on an island.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good day. 😛 

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