Editor’s Note: Paddling on the US’s Great Lakes is just epic. We asked Ken Lambrecht from Madison, WI to tell us his story from the Lake Ontario Crossing, held earlier this summer. If you don’t know Ken, you might be familiar with his Adventure Cat, Bug, who is an accomplished paddler in her own right! Here’s Ken’s recount of his adventure with Jared Munch.
This is a weekend SUP race/adventure story involving two crazy upper midwestern USA boys. Okay, so I am not exactly a boy, and Jared is 24 but hey, we are all kids when we are on the water, right?
Jared and I were among the first to sign up for the inaugural Lake Ontario Crossing , a 32 mile race patterned after and billed as the Molokai to Oahu (M2O) of the midwest (N2T, if preferred course chosen!) We met at the inaugural Lake Superior crossing race in 2014 – the Lake SUPerior Rendezvous – as we are both drawn to adventure and distance SUP events. We traveled separately to the N2T venue, Jared from Duluth and Bug, my adventure cat and me from Madison. We met in Niagara on the Lake (NOTL) a lovely little town on Lake Ontario’s south shore and the Canadian side of the Niagara river.
An Auspicious Anniversary
NOTL was the preferred starting point of the three possible crossing start locations. Coincidentally, our arrival date, Friday September 9th, was the anniversary of the first official swim crossing by Marilyn Bell, a 16 year old girl who completed the 32 miles in 12 hours in 1954, the year I was born! Standing on that shore a month earlier on a racecourse, scouting trip with fellow Madison Surfcat, David Gould, had given me pause. On a clear day one can easily see the Toronto skyline and imagining swimming that distance was beyond comprehension, but a SUP crossing, depending on conditions, well possibly! During the summer after signing up I had regularly imagined what it would be like if I had to downwind for 6 to 7 hours. That resulted in many Great Lakes training weekends instead of my usual midwest course race weekends and some interesting night and daydreams, some of them pretty, some not so much!
Change of plans – sort of
The race had a two-day window (Sat/Sun) September 10 and 11th . The week before the race weekend brought very unstable weather created by tropical storm Hermine. The call went out on Thursday as promised by race organizers that the race day would be moved from Saturday to Sunday based on thunderstorms and unstable weather predicted for Saturday. On Friday it was finalized that even Sunday’s weather was not conducive to running a safe crossing for those signed up so instead a course race was set up in Toronto harbor for Sunday morning. It was a fun and challenging 18 mile course along the Toronto coastline which Jared Munch took 2nd in under four hours and I was 6th in just over four hours.
Jared and I both have crossing every Great Lake on SUP’s on our bucket lists. Jared is no average paddler, being honored by SUP Magazine as adventurer of the year in 2015 following his solo and unsupported circumnavigation of Lake Superior…1350 miles in 49 days! I got hooked on adventure SUP racing following my surfski buddy Greg Greene and his gang around the Washington Island Canoe & Kayak Race, being the first to circumnavigate the 25 miles on a SUP in 2012.
Having our heart set on a bigger adventure, we discussed a plan with race organizer Rob Kavcic to do an “after crossing” on our own. He was very supportive, being a two time crosser, but he was unable to join us. My prearranged escort, Capt. Richard Nowina agreed to escort Jared and me across unofficially Monday on his beautiful sailboat Seascape, a Catalina 36. Capt. Dieter Takiev with a beautiful little 24 foot sailboat boat named Lazarus similar to my J22 sailboat Bugaboo (guess where that name came from!) also agreed to be there for the launch and first section. Both are members of the Dalhousie Yacht Club in St. Catherine’s, which is about 20 miles from NOTL – a gracious and friendly group of sailors.
We set out from Port Dalhousie on the south shore at roughly 8:45 AM on Monday September 12th, a beautiful, calm and sunny day.
We paddled at a reasonable, but not killer pace, roughly 4.5 mph. Capt. Richard regularly stopped to refuel us, ask how we were doing and keep our spirits up – something Canadians are so good at!
We swam at least hourly, took pictures and generally had a great time enjoying the beautiful Lake Ontario water which was a balmy 72 degrees surface temp, after a long warm summer.
We could see the magnificent Toronto skyline the entire time and as the race directors had warned it seemed deceptively close even when we were just halfway across.
We finished the 32 miles in just under 8 hours and landed at the Toronto Windsurfing Club- its members were great to share their beach with us.
Fueling, hydrating and resting for a four hour race then passing on post race celebration beers to rehydrate, refuel and rest for the next day, not knowing how my recovery would be as a master age paddler. Navigating Toronto traffic three times in two days even though Capt, Richard had warned me repeatedly about it!
Other than mother nature not cooperating for organized crossing… none, except of course missing the shared adventure with racers who were signed up and sharing another crossing with fellow “Lake Superior crossers” Anya & Debbie who weren’t able to make this one. Oh, and last but not least, as I know her fans will ask… did Bug cross too? Unfortunately, no, as my close sailor friends, support crew, and Bug caretakers from Madison, Laura and Mark had to cancel after official crossing cancelled. She can’t wait for her next opportunity to cross a Great Lake!
Equipment/Sponsorship details: Jared is sponsored by C4 Waterman and rode a 14 foot Molalo. I rode a Hovie 14 foot 27 inch GT specifically made for Great Lakes/coastal paddling.
Besides the fantastic company that Jared, Captains Richard & Deiter and fellow racers were, I got a great history lesson by seeing Fort Niagara and Fort George, and enjoyed the wonderful vineyards and fruit stands everywhere along the south shore! Playing in a most interesting wave garden with David a month before race that was created by a 7 mph current of the Niagara river and a westerly wind was great fun. Most significantly, getting to intimately know the amazing water resource we share with our Canadian neighbors has re -inspired me to tackle my goal of completing a 50-mile crossing of Lake Michigan next July or August. Jared and I hope to bring awareness to “shutting down Line 5” – a state of Michigan issue involving an expired lease on a 63 year old oil pipeline that lies under the Straits of Mackinac, which would have disastrous and international implications if a leak occurred.
So many people to thank! First and foremost Captains Richard & Dieter who made our crossing possible, safe and fun. Also to Rob Kavcic and Dan Michaluk, the race organizers who have crossed multiple times on SUP and prone and are committed to sharing their experience with others safely. Thanks to Larry Cain for his interest in the Line 5 awareness efforts.Thanks to all my paddle friends who helped ready me train and mentally prepare, especially Greg Greene, my adult lifetime comrade in adventures who always helps me cross those T’s!
We met so many fun people along the way, and fellow paddlers who we look forward to seeing again next year at the crossing or at another SUP adventure!