Solo or Tandem for rough water?

-- Last Updated: Jul-11-16 12:22 PM EST --

I am considering making a short canoe trip (about a mile) on Lake Michigan, from Washington Island to Rock Island (WI), later this week, instead of taking the ferry.

As of now, the weather forecast is for 10-12 mph winds. In wind and waves, am I correct to assume a larger canoe would be better? I have a Wenonah Sundowner 18, and a Wenonah Wilderness solo (15'). Is size the main factor in seaworthiness?

The larger canoe obviously gives me more capacity for gear, but will be harder to paddle alone. The solo will be more efficient, but (I assume) less stable.

Any thoughts or suggestions on which one to take (or whether to do it at all)?

This is what the state DNR web site says about the location: "Visitors may take their boats to Rock Island, but caution is urged as Lake Michigan can be hazardous due to reefs and storms... Canoes and Kayaks are popular around the island but lake conditions can change rapidly resulting in dangerous wind and waves. Early season (May and June) cold water conditions pose a special hypothermia hazard. The passenger ferry, Karfi, may transport canoes and kayaks for a nominal fee as space and safety conditions permit (that decision is up to the captain of the ferry). Kayaks and canoes can be pulled up on the shore near campsites."

I’ve always felt dedicated solo

– Last Updated: Jul-11-16 12:38 PM EST –

was more stable especially if you sit low or kneel. Those craft are more easily controlled in wind.

That tandem paddled solo will act as a big sail even if the winds are as predicted.

Examine the width at the paddling station you would use if paddling solo for both boats. I am betting that unless you paddle Canadian Style in the center the boat heeled over the width of the dedicated solo is more.
What counts is the distance between the gunwales and you keeping your head in that boundary.

Lake Michigan has been mean lately.. three deaths but seemed none planned ahead and knew of or heeded weather warnings. Its a good idea to go early..

Size is not the main factor in seaworthiness but hull shape in cross section is important. Many Wenonahs have pronounced tumble home. I prefer flare for seaworthiness. I dont know either of your boats. I have an Odyssey that we take out on Lake Superior.. solo that is one big handful.. And an Argosy which has such a pronounced tumblehome that I would never take in on any sort of big water.

Ive taken Hemlocks and Placids and Coldens on rough water(Superior and the Gulf of Mexico) but they have flare till quite high up on the hull, then a sharp tuck.. Flare deflects water downward away from the boat.

Some Wenonahs do have some flare but some don't.

If I were you…
If I were you; I would be concerned about 4 things.

  1. The wind (10 to 12 mph) could kick up some fair sized waves.

  2. The boats you mentioned not being able to effectively deal with waves, if they occur.

  3. Possibly/probably cold water temp.

  4. Being a beginner.

    If you attempt it; I’d be wearing a pfd. I’d want someone trustworthy knowing where & when I was going, and a time they should expect to hear from me. You’d notify them(in a timely manner)that you were safe & had completed the trip.

    You get about 1/2 mile out, take on water, and capsize.

    What’s your plan then?


be careful
I’ve done the crossing from the U.P. to Washington Island - in a sea kayak. IIRC most of the crossing is along reefs and shoals.

I’d suggest watching the weather and departing as early as possible, before the summer winds kick up…but then, you have to make a return run also. Doesn’t take much to stir things up in that area.

Not sure how one gets back into a capsized canoe by oneself, but I’d want to have an answer before making the trip.

Thanks for the reply. Here are the specs on the 2 canoes.

Sundowner 18: and


those are all concerns for me. My brother-in-law made the crossing in a 16’ Bell (tandem) last year, which is what has me thinking about it.

I think 10 mph is my cut off for even considering it. Always wear my PFD.

What to do in a capsize is my main concern. The route I’d be taking is relatively shallow, but that’s no guarantee. Here’s a description:

“Rock Island State Park, Jackson Harbor and “Cut”- A sandy spit or isthmus connects the south tail of Rock Island with Washington Island’s NE corner (in low water a portage may be necessary) consisting of sand, rock or fine gravel. … Observe wind directions carefully!The “Cut” is a narrow, man-made shortcut between the two islands. Swift current may flow in narrows and depths may change rapidly. Inside the Cut, headed west, Jackson Harbor offers protected paddling, launching ramps at the State Park Dock …”

pretty much as you do a solo kayak
rescue stirrup and float works to get you partway up…then you do have to bail.

But in rough weather its very hard solo with no one else around. Its best to bite the ego and make sure you have a waterproof communications device.

Knowing rescues is a fine thing that keeps you out of trouble but not all the time. Assume that you can’t get rescued without help on big water.

In your profile:
You say you are a “beginner”

Unless you have another boat with you I would advise playing it safe and don’t do it unless they called for “light and variable winds”

Something else to figure is the direction of the winds/waves.

If it is wide open water and the wind is quartering at 10 or more it will be tough to control either canoe

jack L

That’s always a good assumption to keep.

That rescue sounds tough in a canoe, if conditions were rough to begin with.

late morning
Wouldn’t be able to make the crossing until late morning, when the waves are likely to be higher, which has me leaning against doing it unless the wind forecast lessens significantly.

“Sustained” wind
Wind measures are usually given for sustained wind. So, if the forecast is for 10-12, you can easily have gusts 15-18 and higher. And on the water, I am often amazed at how strong the winds seem compared to the forecast.

I paddled yesterday when the forecast was for 8-10 mph winds. At lunch on a beach, one of our group, looking out at the waves commented that there were a lot of whitecaps, and it takes at least 12 mph before you start seeing whitecaps. There was just more wind than forecast.

So, is sustained wind the wind speed during the lulls in a blow? If so, does it mean we should regularly expect more wind than forecast?

Well I always get more
I just thought it was bad karma

And the thing that gets folks in trouble is when they DONT see whitecaps cause the wind is blowing from off shore not onshore…the waves are going away from you and not until you are in them do you realize you got into more than you wanted

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. Forecast now is for rain with 10-15 mph winds, so I’m not going to do it.

good judgement
Better to have wished you paddled something than to have wished you hadn’t…a quote I like.

A must for me when paddling anything a bit funky is having airbags in my canoe.Just a suggestion for any future exploits. They’re not cheap anymore, but beat having a swamped canoe.

still making the trip though?
IIRC the island is small but has a series of nice trails.

good quote
Yes, my takeaway is that if I have to ask, I probably shouldn’t do it!

still going
Yes, we’ll still be going there to camp for 6 days.

Paddling across wasn’t really my main goal, I just thought it might be nice to have a canoe with me while I was there for some early morning paddling on days when the water was calm.

cool stuff

– Last Updated: Jul-12-16 9:56 AM EST –

Did not know you could camp there. It probably would be nice to get further away from the mainland and Washington Island.
Enjoy your trip!

Hmmm …
Maybe I should just take the canoe to the island with me on the ferry for an extra $10. I wonder where they put it, though. It’s a pretty small boat:

$10 is $10!
(that’s not bad!)

I’d consider it. You could paddle the shoreline if conditions permit.