By: Sarah Hartman
Photos: Haris Subacius
We determined the best route was due east toward Gary. Hugging the shore line would give us the best protection from the SW wind that was blowing between 10-20 knots (or 5-13 knots depending on which NOAA report one was reading from). We found some quality beaches that were noted for future launch/landing sites as well as several other spots that could provide shelter in the event of an emergency landing someday. We even found what appeared to be an abandoned child care facility nestled between Calumet Park and State Line power plant.
Around 11:30 a.m. we stopped at a small
gravel beach near one of the steel mills in the Indiana Harbor area that turned out to be the
access point for a tremendous rookery. Egrets, gulls, and cormorants
all shared space in this desolate outpost.
We enjoyed a delightful lunch on the retaining wall watching a ship come in to harbor. Haris treated us to some great post-lunch cookies. Afterward, the three of us split up, with Haris returning to Calumet Park in order to fulfill a commitment while Tom and Sarah explored a bit more of the shoreline.
As we were nearing Calumet Park for landing, the sky was returning to dark clouds. While loading boats we recapped the events of our 22 mile journey and came to the conclusion it had been a great day on the water. We're all looking forward to exploring more of this area on a less windy day.
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Addendum By Tom Bamonte
The heavily industrialized Indiana shoreline offers rewarding paddling opportunities, but do not expect a pristine wilderness ecosystem. This is an area of huge structures, giant piles of materials, and many stretches with unforgiving break walls and no easy landing points. An earlier CASKA foray to the area is documented here.
Indiana Harbor stretches out into Lake Michigan a fair distance. Our lunch spot on the southeast side of of the harbor area is a good spot to keep in mind when paddling this area as it is the only decent landing spot along the perimeter of the complex. This little harbor is about one third the way down the southeast side of the complex and features a gravel (industrial tailings it appears) beach tucked behind the break wall. On the chart the landing spot is just south of the "area being filled" where you can see a little notch in the break wall.
Sarah was gracious in her description of our "delightful" lunch. Lunch was good and the company was great, but be forewarned that this area is both a rookery and a death zone. We encountered numerous bird corpses, our feet crunched over bones, and we witnessed birds literally taking their last breath as the flies descended. Throw in the industrial wasteland and the spot seems at bit like something out of an apocalyptic Sci-Fi movie.
Sarah and I also got a good lesson in localized conditions and dangers on our trip back. We were aware that the wind was picking up (Dever Crib had gusts to 30 knots during this period) so we hugged the break wall as we paddled northeast and then northwest around the perimeter. The mouth of the harbor was exposed to the wind, however. When we came around the northern tip of the complex we were faced with a churning mass of reflecting waves.
As the wind impeded our forward progress, our boats lacked the momentum that helps in such conditions. Thus, we had a difficult and tricky mile or so until we were able to duck far enough into the harbor to get out of the worst of the reflecting waves. From there we crossed to the west side of the harbor to get some protection from the wind and took a break to catch our breath and consider our options.
We decided to push on, counting that the rock break wall the rest of the way would be more forgiving than the metal break wall that had thrown up the mess of waves. We were correct in our assessment and the trip back to Calumet Park was uneventful. The incident underscored for us how certain combinations of winds, waves and shore features can create situations far more challenging than each of those elements on their own. A valuable lesson.
Looking back, we might have been safer opting to stay out in open water rather than hugging the shore of the harbor complex through the chop in order to eventually get back to the mainland and hoped-for protection from the wind. The confused water extended way out from the tip of the complex, however. A quarter of a mile detour further out into the open lake to avoid this confused water with an offshore wind would have had its own risks, including being blown to New Buffalo. In the end, we managed and I was again reminded of the advice I got from Peg Cipolla long ago--"Your boat wants to stay upright."