Kayak Escort Practice Swim

by Evan Morrison. 10 October 2010.

This morning, while 45,000 runners sweated through an unseasonably warm October morning in the Chicago Marathon, I went for a nice long swim in Lake Michigan.

I was joined in this outing by my new friend Thomas - ultra-distance cyclist, fellow Point swimmer and, it turns out, owner of a sea kayak! After a recent Point outing Thomas had suggested that if I ever wanted to explore regions of the lake outside the swim buoys, he’d be glad to provide an escort. With the last blast of summer weather, the stars were aligned - I took him up on the offer.

Thomas and his kayak live in a charming old building on Jarvis Beach in Rogers Park (just south of Evanston). I arrived a few minutes after 7am and went to the water for a temp check. With the warm weather I had hoped the thermometer might show me a ‘6.’ I did get one, but in the wrong decimal place - 56F.

I’d swum an hour at that temperature just yesterday, but this morning we’d planned a 2 hour, out-and-back swim. At some points we’d be half a mile offshore, and I didn’t want to risk either (a) having to turn back early or (b) having to be rescued. So I went with the wetsuit. It’s sleeveless, so I got a little taste of the cold on my hands, arms, and feet - but my core was protected.

In any case, the primary objective was fun; a secondary objective was getting some practice with a kayak before my 10-mile race this Saturday. Thermoregulatory practice can wait for another day.

We pushed off around 7:30am. The sun had just fully emerged on the horizon, commencing its rise over the vast inland sea. I wish I’d taken a picture, but this one from 10am will have to suffice:

Aside from the cold, the lake could hardly have been more perfect. Glassy, with tiny 2-3 inch swells to remind you that gravity still existed. With the sounds of the city muted on a Sunday morning, there was nothing to hear but the slap of my hands (and Thomas’s paddle) against the water.

The plan was simple: Swim north for an hour, towards Northwestern University. Then turn around and come back. I stowed a Garmin GPS unit in my swim cap, and here’s the story it tells:

In an hour (actually, 59 minutes), we made it nearly to the peninsula separating the Northwestern lagoon from the lake. After a 5 minute break to feed and chat, we reversed course and returned to Jarvis Beach 61 minutes later. We took a somewhat longer route coming back, so it seems I was fairly close to even-splitting it.

I also took two intermediate feeds at 30 and 90 minutes, lasting a total of 3 minutes. Remarkably, though I scheduled the feeds according to my watch, they occurred geographically at nearly identical latitudes - notice the slight “jigger” in the trace line at Elliot Park. (The “jigger” shows us drifting eastward during the break.)

A few stats:

And, just for S&G, here’s the NOAA nautical chart showing the lake bottom contours (soundings in feet):

Just… a spectacular morning. Thanks, Thomas!

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On 2010-10-12 16:36:18, Sully said:
Next time, you may want to keep the GPS in the kayak. If you slow down the cycle/averaging time you should get nice and smooth data. The map would still look the same as under the cap, but the numbers may be more accurate.

On 2010-10-12 17:07:13, Evan said:
I thought about that after the fact. Could you explain what you mean by slowing down the cycle/averaging time? I thought the trace line was quite accurate - i.e., I could even see the couple instances when I got too far away from the kayak and changed directions ever so slightly. But of course the speed data is always messed up with the swim cap method. I did all the calculations of time in water, rest time, etc., just by going frame-by-frame through the "Player" in Garmin Connect. It's pretty easy to tell when you've stopped/started moving.