Kayak Chicago 10am Architecture / History Tour, Sunday 7/1/12
Tour follows standard route from North Ave location as far as confluence of Chicago River, at standard stop on west bank of confluence. Group is cheerful but due to time, heat, and pending afternoon Euro soccer match between Italy and Spain, group votes unanimously to skip main stem portion of tour. Group makes safe & easy crossing to east side of river for a last stop, just south of abandoned upright train bridge.
Group 2 comes around Wolf point and passes Group 3.
Group 3 begins return trip approx. 12:35-12:45pm.
Skies very suddenly start to darken.
Group gets between Kinzie Street bridge and the abandoned train bridge south of Kinzie Street when sudden powerful gusts of wind hit. River becomes instantly choppy with strong sustained gusts of wind.
Wind stops and scatters most paddlers in group and proceeds to blow / carry them away rapidly, some backward south and others west across river. Lead Guide directs nearest guests into wind cover between bridge bases on east bank and instructs them to stay put. Lead Guide points Sweep toward guests blowing west and then goes after weaker paddlers being blown rapidly southward.
Sweep Guide goes after 4 guests who are being blown rapidly to the west bank, across from the train bridge. Sweep Guide reaches guests on west bank and stays with them, holding onto wall against continuous gusts.
Lead Guide paddles to catch farthest south blown guest and hooks up contact tow line, begins paddling / towing north. Second farthest southbound guest comes blowing by, Lead guide hooks up tow belt line, begins paddling / double towing north. Towing 2 guests, Lead Guide intercepts last 3 southbound guests, coaches them forward and north again. It is clear that they are also going to be blown across to the west bank despite some forward progress.
A tour boat comes around Wolf point, northbound.
Lead Guide escorts weaker paddler group (5 total, 2 in tow) to west bank wall, safely out of way of tour boat. Lead Guide brings weaker paddler group north along wall through sustained gusts to reconnect with Sweep Guide and 4 guests there. After tour boat passes, Guides rally group of 9 guests to paddle north toward Kinzie Street, picking up our 3 guests waiting on east side as we go.
Very dark skies suddenly burst with lightning and immediate thunderclap. Guides rally, lead, coach and tow full tour of 12 guests north of Kinzie Street to small dock at East Bank Club for evacuation. Along the way, we pick up and guide 3 renters from Kayak Chicago and 6 renters from Water Riders. All kayaks reach East Bank Club dock and are instructed to raft together and hold onto dock / each other.
Lead Guide gets on dock and begins rapid evacuation of guests and renters. Sweep Guide remains on water, keeping group together at dock and connecting empty boats to towline (no room on dock for boats, no time / room to carry up dock ramp).
Powerful wind gusts, lightning and thunder are present and continuous.
Lead Guide continues to evacuate final guests and renters on dock - Sweep Guide sees a tandem kayak capsized with 2 swimmers back south near the train bridge and asks Lead Guide for permission to assist them. Lead Guide evacuates final few guests / renters onto dock and dispatches Sweep to assist swimmers. Sweep Guide paddles south to assist swimmers, but then a Chicago Police boat comes around Wolf Point and reaches them first, pulling the swimmers out. They are 2 renters from Water Riders.
Sweep Guide returns to dock at East Bank Club and is evacuated from the water.
Head count of guests and renters is confirmed again on land. Group is given shelter inside East Bank Club by EBC Lifeguard and instructed by Guides to stay put. Guides remain outside to maintain radio contact. Guest phones are utilized to attempt to contact Kayak Chicago, because Lead Guide's phone is knocked loose from PFD during evacuation (after phoning in evac call) and sinks to bottom of river.
A Chicago Fire Dept boat passes us headed north toward Goose Island. They shout and signal to us that there is still a boat / paddlers out on the water out on the confluence. It is difficult to hear or understand them because they are moving fast and their boat is loud. We shout and signal again to confirm that there are people / paddlers on the water. They respond in the affirmative and are gone. Lead Guide attempts to reach them on radio channel 16 to confirm but the channel is swamped with chatter and no radio contact is established before they disappear out of sight.
After confirming with Sweep Guide and EBC Lifeguard that they also just heard the Fire Dept tell us there were more people on the water, Lead Guide instructs Sweep Guide to stay with group and monitor radio, and instructs a guest to continue calling Kayak Chicago to inform the office that we are all off the water at EBC and that Lead Guide can no longer be reached on his phone.
Lead Guide heads back out on water with tow belt to assist and evacuate alleged kayakers in confluence. Lead Guide finds a derelict Water Riders tandem kayak blowing into Main Stem area just east of Franklin St, but no paddlers / swimmers. Lead Guide makes sweep and scan of Main Stem and confluence for swimmers or paddlers on the banks and sees none. Lead Guide determines that this is possibly just the capsized boat that was assisted by the Chicago Police back by the train bridge, now blowing around on its own. Lead Guide hooks up tow line and paddles back toward the East Bank Club dock / Group 3 to get off water and is picked up by Kayak Chicago Support Boat 1 in the confluence just west of Franklin St.
Support Boat 2 intercepts Support Boat 1 in confluence and is instructed to continue east and conduct a thorough sweep of the Main Stem for swimmers or any other renters / kayakers.
Support Boat 1 drops Lead Guide and derelict Water Riders tandem kayak off at East Bank Club dock.
Group 3 head count is confirmed again, along with renter count. Support Boat 2 arrives at EBC dock, after finding no other kayakers / swimmers on the Main Stem.
Support Boat 1 takes 2 Water Riders guests and heads north toward Goose Island / Water Riders location. Support Boat 2 has a cell phone and gets permission to send Group 3 guests and KC renters back to Kayak Chicago in cabs. Guests and renters are eventually given permission to take cabs straight back to Kayak Chicago and instructed by Group 3 Lead Guide to check-in at office immediately when they arrive at Kayak Chicago.
No guests from Group 3 were at any time assisted by any emergency services, Chicago Police, or Chicago Fire Dept. In addition to our 12 tour guests, Group 3 Guides assist and evacuate 3 renters from Kayak Chicago and 6 from Water Riders. Group 3 Guides witness 2 capsized Water Rider renters (tandem described above, near train bridge) being assisted by Chicago Police. No other Emergency Services assistance was witnessed by Group 3 Guides at the confluence or near the East Bank Club during this storm, but we did watch from the East Bank Club several police and fire boats pass us heading north toward Goose Island.
That's about it. After everything settled back down we stacked Water Riders boats against the wall at EBC, tied all of our empty boats together and pulled them home.
Then we busted some person for stealing a megaphone from Urban Kayak.
It was an interesting day.