The Great Lakes Aren’t Great, They’re TERRIFIC!

I had never visited the Great Lakes before coming aboard (see what I did there?) the Boy Scouts of America and within a few weeks I was sailing Lake Huron with Scouts, Venturers and Sea Scouts on the Lake Huron High Adventure Cruise (featured in the May 2013 issue of Boys’ Life magazine).

Sometimes the weather was idyllic.

And sometimes it was… oceanic!

Later I got to see a little more of Lake Huron and a glimpse of the Upper Peninsula (the “U.P”) covering Livonia, Mich. Troop 889’s trip learning to sail the Retriever as part of Michigan Crossroads Council’s Great Lakes Sailing Adventure (Boys’ Life, April 2018)

Both were outstanding trips with wonderful people. We got to see and experience a lot of things, learning to sail being the biggest part. Well, the participants learned to sail. I concentrated on taking pictures and keeping out of the way. Trust me, you don’t want me lowering a jib or hauling in a topsail or whatever it is that they do.


But the adventure published in May 2019 Boys’ Life was a totally different Great Lakes experience — like having your boots actually on the ground or in this case your paddle in the water. It was just a little more tactile, more visceral.

With the simplicity of kayaking, I felt a little more free to soak in my surroundings. Or a couple of times, drenched in my surroundings?

As always, the magazine has so such much cool material to share each month, we can only devote so many pages to any one subject. But in a blog, well, I can just go on and on and on…

For me, the biggest challenge was keeping things dry, particularly cameras. Generally, I’ve had great luck shooting from canoes and kayaks… until the Buffalo River in Arkansas swallowed a camera. There’s a blog post best not written.

Fortunately, the fantastic folks at Cole Canoe Base have this trip set up so participants don’t have to paddle with all their gear, rather support vehicles move camping gear, food and a certain photographer’s “land cameras,” batteries and accessories from stage to stage.

When paddling, I had a camera in a dry bag and another camera in waterproof housing. My camera of last resort was a waterproof point-and-shoot camera that is okay… though it did save my bacon on the aforementioned Buffalo River adventure! The waterproof housing is flexible, not like a proper dive housing which would have been too cumbersome. But the flexibility meant the plastic sometimes pressed camera buttons randomly and the lens port was always getting in the way and fogging up, even with silica packets. I found if I muttered salty comments about my gear into my PFD, no one could hear me. Very helpful.

Sometimes though the housing produced a happy accident or two with droplets and weird refractions through the lens port making some interesting designs.

Often, I would just unscrew the lens port to take photos in between splashes and waves. Other times the water was calm enough and the less calm Scouts were far enough I could risk having a good camera around my neck. Wasn’t an ideal situation, but a workable compromise. The stability of the sit-on-top kayaks was a great help.


The trip was a mix of sightseeing from the water and from land visiting some notable spots that even the Michigan-based Scouts hadn’t seen such as Munising, Miners, and Tahquamenon waterfalls, Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse and the spectacular Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Again, the organizers, facilitators and guides for the trip made it a moveable feast of experiences adapting to the weather and taking advantage of serendipitous opportunities.


And thinking of feasts, no one went hungry and everyone got a turn helping cook, devour and clean.


Of course, Pictured Rocks was spectacular…

But it was some of the quiet times too that made the trip unique such as camping on and exploring Grand Island,

Cooling off in the Tahquamenon River,

Or just some odd moments at the end of the day or before sunrise for a photographer to fool around with a camera or just watch waves lap lazily over a rock.

Thanks for a great trip on the Great Lakes!

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