July of 2012, my great friend Eric and I set off from Rockford Michigan for Tobermory Ont. and the Islands of the Fathom Five.
We set up camp at Cyprus Lake Prov. Park. What a great campground. Very clean, friendly, with large campsites. Cyprus Lake is not a real nice lake to kayak, but the central location of the park is great.
The town of Tobermory is set up for the summer tourism. Everything is very exspensive. If you want a late night dinner; you can forget it. The entire town shuts down around 9:30 p.m. I mean everything. So eat early and prepare to empty your wallet. Our favorite resturant was a Greek place called "The Princess Dining Room. It is located on the hill overlooking the town and harbour. The food was good and the service was even better.
The first day, we were very tired, so we launched from Dunks Bay and thought we would just paddle a short while. It was very beautiful and the seas were calm, so we paddled all the way into Tobermory. The fishing boats, personal boats and ferry trafic were a little intense, so we turned around and headed back. Round trip from Dunks Bay to Tobermory took about 4 hours. (We took our time) The parking at Dunks Bay is free and there is a changing station/bathroom. Not the cleanest place but again; free. The launching spot is a small sandy public beach. It is only a 50 yard carry from the parking lot to the launch spot.
The second day, we launched from Big Tug Light House. Free parking here also, but not an easy sandy beach launch. Its about a 50 yard carry, but you sort of wind around a path until you come to a protected little smooth rock sliver of a launch spot. The water in this launch spot is only about 2 foot deep, 10 foot across and nearly 20 foot long. We got in our boats by ourselves, but having an extra hand on your kayak would be easier for loading and launching.
From this point, you have a few Islands to choose from. We paddled West to Russel Island. This is a short open water paddle of about 30 minutes. As we approached the South West side of the island, we noticed a shipwreck in shallow water. Once ashore, we got out our snorkeling gear and had a great time swimming around the wreck of the John Walters. This is in shallow water (3 - 10 ft). Because this is a very protected spot, the water was bath water warm and calm.
After about an hour snorkeling and eating lunch, we got back in our kayaks and continued on. As we approached the extream West of Russel Island, we could hear the roar of the waves and the pounding of the serf. So, as we were making our way, getting hit on our sides with 3 - 4 footers, I kept my attention on the waves. But before long I began looking for another shipwreck. The wreck of the Wetmore was within reach, I could see the milk jug floating ahead and I started to focus on looking for the wreck and not the oncoming waves.
Eric was to my right about 50 yards away when I heard a big crashing sound. When I looked to my left, an 8 foot wave was cresting only 5 foot to my extream left. I was going to be hit by this baby and there was no time to do anything but brace myself and yell to Eric..."Rogue Wave!". The huge wave crashed right on on top of me and turned me over like I was simply a tooth pick floating on the water.
For what ever reason, I did not even think to roll back up, I instinctively just did a wet exit and popped up. I grabbed my kayak and emptyed as much water out as possible. Eric yelled over to me and was right at my side; brasing my kayak within 30 seconds.
I still had a consideralbe amount of water in my boat, so Eric helped me drain more out. Still, I could see quite a bit of water inside, so I grabbed my pump from my rigging and while still in the water, I begain pumping more out. I did this because the water was pretty warm and I thought I had time.
Eric soon realized that we were being pushed closer to the surf zone and rocky shoreline. He told me to get in my boat quick, or we would both be tossed onto the rocks. I wish I could have had time to pump more water out, but the waves kept pounding us on the side, pushing us closer to the rocks. I quickely pulled my spray skirt back on tight and we began to paddle again.
With the water inside my kayak, sloshing around back and forth, I had real truble keeping any control of my boat. On top of this, the waves continued to hit us on our sides. After almost being tossed several more times, we finally got around the West side of Russel Island and began heading East. Now the waves are pushing my water logged kayak from behind; lifting me and pushing me forward. Normally I love this, but with tons of water still inside my kayak, this was pretty unnerving.
I looked to the shoreline and realized that there was a small, somewhat protected inlet up ahead. We aimed towards it and was able to land cleanly. I got out of my kayak and began emptying the water out. After about a 10 minute rest, we continued on and finished our trip around Russel Island; heading back to the Big Tub lauch spot.
Once we returned to our campsite and had a nice meal, we made a camp fire and discussed the events of the day. Eric said that if I would not have yelled "Rogue Wave" when I did, he also would have been tossed. That little bit of time made a big difference. He was able to turn his kayak "head on" towards the eight footer. Also, we have been practicing rescue techniques for years and this is why it only took me about one minute to be back inside my kayak. Staying close together is so important. Even though the serf was still pounding, the water was warm enough to keep me calm. If this was Lake Superior, I would have been a bit more apprehensive. Also, having my buddy Eric by my side; holding my kayak, talking to me in a calm voice made a huge difference.
Though I was tossed around into the water like a "rag doll", we were so proud of how each of us reacted. Practice makes perfect.
Both Eric and myself have taken classes on rolling, but I tell you, I did not even think of it when I was hit. Maybe it was because I did not have time to think....I don't know.
We will still keep practing not only wet rescue techniques, but also our roll. The roll should be the natural decision. Either way, what a great day at the Fathom Five and what an exciting Eight Footer!