........Spring 2010

My paddling partner Marty Cooperman wrote this journal entry about paddling near Detroit:

As I wrote about in "The Soo," John and I and Heike and Ron Sell from Ann Arbor, paddled and sailed for four days before being forced to return home due to gale force warnings for the next several days. The "Soo" I write of is really Sault Ste. Marie, the first word pronounced in French as "Soo." It’s the town of that name on both the Michigan and Canadian sides of the border separated by the rapids of the St. Mary’s River that connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron. The rapids were bypassed for commercial shipping by the huge locks that allow iron ore from Minnesota to pass to the steel mills of the lower Great Lakes.
While Ron remained home in Ann Arbor and John drove home to Cleveland, Heike and I decided to resume our adventures near Detroit. "Detroit?" you say, "What could you find to paddle there." A great deal, as it turned out.
Our original plan was to paddle from the Lake Erie Metropark at the mouth of the Detroit River, some 17 miles south to Stirling State Park campground on the west shore of Lake Erie. But it was high winds that day and we would be forced offshore by the landforms and by the security buoys at the Enrico Fermi nuclear power plant, about a mile out into Lake Erie. It was questionable whether the wind and waves a mile out would allow us to get back in. It was blowing a good 20 to 25 knots.
Instead we drove to the state park, got one of the last campsites (right on the water) and then drove to the more protected waters of the Detroit River to partake of their water trail. Never heard of this water trail? It’s barely in existence. But a fine kayak shop, Riverside Kayaks, gave us the planning map detailing the trail and suggested put in places.
Starting late in the day, Heike and I paddled against the river’s flow, hugging the west (mainland) shoreline to keep out of the wind’s main force, along industrial and residential sites, stopping for lunch at a rowing club’s floats. Across the channel from us was Grosse Isle, the well named biggest island in the Detroit River. The river, by the way, is very big, well over a mile wide. We then crossed east of Grosse Isle and hugged its eastern shore for more wind protection and traveled with the current to a "thoroughfare" which cut diagonally through the island, past homes with boat docks and finally back to the start. It was a good thing Heike had her headlamp as we returned after dark having paddled some 15 miles.
The next day the weather eased and we were up early. We were crossing to Canada. At the mouth of the Detroit River the crossing was only 5 or 6 miles and we set out to find a natural beach I knew of on the other side. We saw big freighters crossing our path some distance off as they sailed to other ports, and a goodly number of private boats, most of them big but considerably smaller than the freighters.
Despite rumors of arrest, fine and imprisonment for trespassing on Canadian soil without checking in with Customs, we in fact, saw no one save a family out with their dog romping on the beach. There was no Customs to report to. But the beach was nice, protected by some Canadian conservancy from the predations of private ownership, an example of which was provided as we headed up into the Detroit River mouth an hour later. Here a variety of homes with the usual rip-rap, bulkheads, and concrete slabs attempted to hold Lake Erie at bay and in the process turned a residential waterfront into a construction zone. Not pretty.
We peeked into the main shipping channels and, with no freighters in sight, set out along the Detroit River water trail for several islands in the middle of the river. At the first one a 30-foot motor boat lay beached and leaning as though it were a small skiff. A party was going on and paraphrasing the words of one of the party-goers: The fellow with the big motorboat had anchored several feet offshore only to discover the next morning that the shore had encroached a dozen feet past his boat due to the high winds blowing the water eastward, and now he was high and dry. We left as a group of them attempted unsuccessfully to rock the boat loose with one hand while holding beers with the other. Not our type of crowd. Apparently the fellow was going to have to wait there until the waters returned on their own volition.
At other islands we passed vast fields of lotus beds, apparently some of the northerly most ones in the country. They are very dramatic, the leaves refusing to be dunked and shedding water as soon as released. They were the size of large serving platters. The distinctive flowers surged up several feet in the air claiming their share of the sun.
Finally across the river we headed south, now going with the flow at the mouth, past homes, parks, and marshes and were left momentarily scratching our heads for our launch spot. At last Heike spotted the large flock of egrets which we scattered when we first left in the morning, and they, more than the indistinct marsh landscape, directed us back; 19 miles by my best estimate and a lovely, lovely day in a variety of waters.