Sunday, May 27, 2012

Milwaukee Urban Water Trail

"Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit." Brooks Atkinson

Urban Trails

Milwaukee is a 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Sturgeon Bay. I have been curious about paddling the Big city for years. I was taking someone to the Milwaukee airport on Sunday, so as long as I was going, why not bring the boat and do an Urban kayak tour?

After dropping my passenger off, a nearby Duncan Donuts was calling my name, so I stopped for a muffin and donut. There is an observation parking area on the North side of the airfield and I went over there to eat watch aircraft and look at the Milwaukee Urban Water Trail Map, trying to decide where to launch. A white pickup with kayak racks was sitting a few cars away. After finishing my snacks I wandered over, introduced myself and asked if he knew where a good launch was. He paddled the area quite a bit and knew the area well. Skipper Buds on the Kinnickinnic (KK) River was good and had free parking/launching. He also liked the Bruce Street Ramp, there was a fee, but it was in the center of the paddling areas. I had been looking at Bruce Street anyway and he confirmed that would be a good place to start. On the way to Bruce Street, I drove past South Shore Park on Lake Michigan and stopped for a look. Lots of free parking and a nice beach to launch from….about a 200 foot carry from the street to the launch. The beach I would launch from was covered with Zebra Mussels, but no beachers to bother. I’m not picky about launches, basically if I can walk to the water, it will work for me. I will keep the South Shore Beach in mind for another time.
The Bruce Street Boat Ramp in Milwaukee, WI
When I arrived at Bruce Street…it is a small two lane concrete ramp with limited parking. There is a cost…$6.75. You can wade into the water to enter the boat if you don’t want to launch off the ROUGH concrete, which is what I did. I am paddling a fiberglass Sirius, which has its share or scratches and try to not abuse it if I can avoid doing so.
Resting on a log at Bruce Street

I did not have a particular destination in mind, I just wanted to see the area. I paddled South toward the KK River…Industrial is the word to describe the scenery. Steel walled docks, many different ships, tugs and barges.
Toward the Kinnickinnic River
After a mile or so I turned into the KK River…the scenery was more desolate, old dock materials and commercial buildings…graffiti…I continued up river, under the Lincoln Ave bridge and into Baran Park. The river now had green space with a natural shoreline, comforting to see. I made a short landing to adjust the GoPro mounted on the foredeck. I changed it from video to still shots and moved it aft of the cockpit, taking a photo once per minute. I swear there was a beaver house on the bank where I landed…a several foot high mount of sticks and mud about 10+ feet in diameter…beavers in the middle of a city? The next bridge at Chase Ave was inhabited, a squatter had a well hidden tent behind a piling and camouflaged with brush.   Shortly after the I-94 overpass the river is concrete lined and shallow…time to turn around…. Back tracking downriver, past partiers at Pier Milwaukee and Skipper Buds.
Southwest Marine Restoration

A security Guard at Southwest Marine motioned me over as I was photographing an old CG buoy tender sitting at their dock. The guard told about an old wooden boat that was going to be refloated on Monday…they had been restoring it in a floating dock. During WW2 it was used as a mine layer/spy boat disguised as a yacht and used behind enemy lines. After doing some research I didn’t find the name of this boat, but several boats of that type were built in Milwaukee during the 20’s at a Shipyard called Fabricated Shipbuilders for AMPS, the Army Mine Planter Service . At the next bend I was back in the industrial turning basin. Several tugs from the Great Lakes Towing Line were rafted up together.

Some tugs from Great Lakes Towing in Milwaukee, WI
Great Lakes Towing names their tugs after the US States and they are scattered over the ports of every Great Lake. Often a visitor to Sturgeon Bay was the Barge Integrity, blowing water out her forward ballast tanks and her tug, G. L. Ostrander, sitting in the notch.
Boat Recovery...powerboat style
After pumpout, use a forklift
Just South of the launch at Bruce Street the Coast Guard and a local Salvage Company were pulling a sunken powerboat from the water…maybe they had hit one of the many logs and pieces of debris I’d seen all day…only one side of the launch was usable because of several large tree limbs sitting in the eddy at the bottom of the ramp.

On toward the Milwaukee River…most of the old warehouses in the Third Ward have been converted into riverside condos with dock space. Milwaukee has done a cool job revitalizing the waterfront…it is clean, with a public walkway most of the way I paddled.

Canoe/Kayak launches have been incorporated into many of the docks near the restaurants and have steps down from the street, making it easy to stop for a meal. I don’t know what they have for sreet parking,  but support for all types of watercraft access and use on the Milwaukee River was exciting to see.

It was comforting to see a 5mph or no wake zone in the entire river and basin…most of the tour and personal boats I encountered were not moving any faster than I was.
Blurry photo of Tug Barry...sorry I was caught in a gust of wind

Last fall when paddling in Sturgeon Bay the Tug Barry motored in from Green Bay and headed through town…now it is docked in the Milwaukee River. I enjoy paddling in the swells and waves of Door County, but over the year I have paddled its 250 miles of shoreline several times over…this is just an interesting change of scenery and it is good to know that downtown paddlers have good support from the City of Milwaukee. I continued through the tall reflective building and past many waterfront restaurants, trying to not fixate on the wonderful tempting aromas…the donut and muffin I had before paddling was wearing off….I wish I had brought some cash!
Laacke and Joys on the Milwaukee River
Laacke and Joys was having a watercraft demo day, with kayaks, canoes, music and food at their waterfront store…It was nice to see many other yakkers on the river. A first time paddling couple in a canoe kept trying to ram me….3 close calls…not on purpose, but from lack of control. It was kind of funny and plastic boats don’t do much damage, we all had a laugh. At the next bridge I turned back downstream arriving at the Bruce Street about 3pm. A 3 hours sightseeing tour of about 10 miles. When given a chance away from structures the southerly wind was blowing over 25, so I’m glad there was shelter today.

Maybe Urban Tours are on the calendar this Summer

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It’s Just A Rumor

In mid-April...I went lookin' another boat and saw an ad for a Current Designs Rumor on

I contacted he owner and made arrangements to try it out. He lived a few hours away so I drove down on a Sunday afternoon in mid April for a test paddle.

Nice, looking traditional lines…16 feet by 19.75”. Tried her out on land and the cockpit was narrow. It was only 14.5” wide by 24" long. They call it a modified ocean cockpit. There was some light chop with about 1.5 to 2 foot waves on Lake Winnebago. I didn’t want to scratch the hull on the rocky beach, and so waded out into a few feet of water and cowboyed in. A little dicey with the narrow cockpit and narrow beam. As I slid into the cockpit, the backrest folded down onto the seat and the spray skirt was caught under me as well. With the cockpit only 14” wide there wasn’t much room to get a hand down to the seat and pull up the backband and skirt, especially doing a balancing act in the choppy water. Anyway I managed to get everything in place and paddle around for 30 minutes, did a little surfing, tried the skeg; found a few breaking waves to blast through near shore went up and down wind. I liked the way the boat handled. It wasn’t too unstable with that narrow beam, but I kept thinking about the narrow cockpit. That could present problems during a reentry and roll or a paddle float entry, especially if it was rough. Even landing/launching on a beach with breaking waves would be tough getting out quickly. I did not want to just run up on the beach and jump out as the boat was basically like new and it wasn’t mine, so I popped the skirt before landing and managed to get out just before the beach. Well sort of fell out. I had a Valley boat with an ocean cockpit for 20 years…that cockpit was several inches wider, but shorter and for me it was easy to enter or exit…anyway I passed on the boat for the cockpit. If I had bought it, I’d replace the cockpit with a keyhole type. It is still in production, but with that small cockpit, I can't imagine it sells very well.  The dealer Ross bought it from had it in stock for over a year.  Now I'd like to try a Romany.