For many, coastal kayaking provides a different vantage, opportunities to view the vast expanse of a large water body, a cliff face that could not be seen from shore, or a costal city’s skyline. On July 9, 2011, four modern-day urban kayaking explorers went looking for their own unobstructed views of the industrial area occupying the shore of the far southwest corner of Lake Michigan. Our reward was lunch at an uninhabited beach, at least by humans, known as Gull Beach.
Tom Bamonte, Tim Philosophos, Wendell Martin and I met at the Calumet Park boat ramp (a designated Lake Michigan Water Trail launch site) at around 7:00 a.m. Tom, Tim and I were paddling in sea kayaks, Wendell in his Va’a outrigger canoe. It was my first time witnessing an OC-1 on the water. I think Tom, Tim, and I all enjoyed paddling alongside (or in my case behind) a different craft and inquiring about paddling techniques and strategies. Wendell willingly shared details about his boat and demonstrated various paddling techniques.
Wendell Martin in action
After we were on the water, we identified what we thought was the entrance of Indiana Harbor, which is located on the northwest side of what Tom described as the industrial carbuncle. The carbuncle is located on Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline and juts out on a northeast axis. The harbor occupies a small portion of the carbuncle. According to the most recent version of the NOAA chart, the carbuncle is home to LTV Steel and Inland Steel and includes stacks and ruins. The outer portion of carbuncle, again according to the chart, is being filled, presumably to expand the steel plants that currently occupy it.
Several landmarks tracked our voyage to Indiana Harbor. The old State Line power plant was the first landmark. Along the way we also saw the two casinos that are located on Indiana’s shoreline. Tom and Tim discussed whether a casino paddle was in order and we imagined sidling up to the blackjack table in a drysuit.
We reached the Indiana Harbor after an hour or so of paddling. Paddling into the harbor, we were greeted by the mocking laughter of hundreds sea gulls. Although we hoped to witness an incoming barge, none entered the harbor. Instead, we only heard and felt the loud thunderous booms that echoed from the steel plants.
Opening of Indiana Harbor
Our lunch stop was still about an hour paddle away, so we pushed on, skirting the break wall that contained the carbuncle. The break wall seemed to be interminable as it curved slightly for several miles. The break wall was also corrugated, leading to irregular reflecting waves produced from the passing powerboat wakes. We quickly realized that paddling near the break wall in rough conditions could be very challenging
The break wall finally gave way to a small inlet about halfway down its length on the southeast side of the carbuncle. As we paddled past a pier and into the inlet, the water was a turquoise green. An uninhabited beach, Gull Beach, lay just inside the inlet. It was readily apparent that we were unwelcome guests in this secluded spot. Sea gull cackles erupted as we pulled our boats onto the shore.
There was an eerie silence as we scanned the beach and its backdrop. An outhouse located nearby and fishing rod holders on the pier provided reassurance that humans had at some time in the past been to this spot. The sea gull carcasses littering the beach, however, led me to believe that this was not a place frequented by sunbathers.
After lunch and rounding the southeastern end of the carbuncle, we set a direct course for what we thought was the opening of Calumet Harbor. Not long into our return paddle Tom noticed a large barge approaching from behind. Because we were paddling in the shipping channel, this came as no surprise and forced us to readjust our course to the south.
Upon returning to our put in and after contemplating our paddle, Gull Beach was burned into my memory. While its mystery was no more, it whetted my appetite for future journeys to lesser-known destinations, industrial or otherwise.
By Gary Steinbauer
Photos courtesy of Tom Bamonte