Getting up too early on Saturday has great payoff
By Paula O’Kray
Last Saturday I did a few things I never do on a Saturday. The first thing I did that I never do is get up before the sun did. I am not a morning person, except for when I’m camping. Then I get up with the sun, because the whole forest gets up with the sun, and you simply can’t sleep in with all that chirping going on.
But last Saturday I got up, actually out of my bed, at 5 a.m. OK, OK, it was 5:10 a.m. But still.
I stumbled to the bathroom half asleep and did everything rather quickly, because I knew I would be in a baseball cap and sunglasses all day, so no point in working too hard on that stuff. I loaded up the car, crowned with my bright yellow kayak, and hit the road on schedule.
I was driving into the blinding morning sun, and of course, it was right where the sun visor couldn’t quite block it no matter how I positioned it. That was probably a good thing, since I can’t fall back to sleep with the sun in my eyes. I cranked up the radio and sang my way down the road.
I found my way there pretty easily. Besides, when I got close, I started to see other vehicles crowned with kayaks and figured we were all headed to the same spot. We were. At 7:30 a.m. I was at Bomier Landing in De Pere, registering for what’s called the Tall Ships Paddle.
Every three years the Tall Ships come to Green Bay. There is a big festival to view and tour the ships and even enjoy a sail on one, if you’ve got that sort of money. This opportunity was a little different, though. It offered an eight-mile course from De Pere to downtown Green Bay to see the Tall Ships, and a chance to paddle right up next to them. I had to be there.
As a kid, my dad took us to many shipyards and ship museums when we were on vacation with our little travel trailer. I grew to love ships, trains, airplanes and automobiles as much as he did. So there was no way I was going to miss this chance to sail in the same waters as these elegant ladies of the sea.
After registering and dropping my gear and kayak off on a grassy slope with dozens of other colorful kayaks, I drove my car to the Metro Landing, eight miles to the north. There was a shuttle to take us back to the starting point, and as I was gathering my things out of the car I met another lady who was also paddling stag. Her name was Nissa.
We introduced ourselves and decided to be paddle buddies. Nissa told me all about past Tall Ship paddles on the shuttle. She knew a lot about the ships and where they were from, and a lot of other logistics about the festival. Back at the landing, I made a few other friends until it was time to put in, and we helped each other get our boats in the water and paddled off.
Shortly after getting our boats wet, we approached a lock. I had seen many locks before but never from the inside, in a kayak. About 120 paddlers headed for what seemed like a very small lock. I was intrigued. Lining the sides with our boats first and holding ropes to keep in place, the lock slowly filled with kayakers at all sorts of angles, along with a handful of stand-up paddle boarders.
It became impossible to use paddles, so we resorted to holding on to each other’s boats to maintain position. Being in such close proximity, many conversations were started waiting for all the paddlers to get in. Gloria, who had an inflated pink flamingo on her kayak, was busy blowing very big bubbles while she waited. I liked her right away.
We lowered so slowly I barely noticed, since we were all chatting away at this point. There were quite a few people on the top of the lock taking photos of us, as we were quite a spectacle, and many people called out to us throughout the day from shore to ask what the big event was.
When the front doors of the lock opened, everyone cheered. We all made our way out and continued along the Fox River, spreading out and moving along at our own pace. We passed some really beautiful homes and scenery, not to mention old rusty train bridges and freighters, and enjoyed an occasional conversation with people walking and biking along the shore.
Nissa kept me abreast of where we were on our route, and how far we still had to go. I took a break from paddling once in a while to eat some of the snack I had brought, string cheese and pretzels. Nissa had brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
When we got close to downtown, people on the shore seemed very excited and interested in our colorful kayak parade, smiling and waving and wishing us a great day on the water. It was also exciting for us, because we could begin to see the tall masts ahead, just beyond the final bridge.
As we went under that final bridge, seeing the array of ships before me, I choked up. My dad would have loved to have seen this, and during that brief moment, I really missed him. My excitement quickly took over, however, as I paddled up to the first ship.
We were told to stay 100 feet from the ships, but no one seemed to be obeying that rule, so I figured I would get as close as I could until somebody squawked and then claimed I was bad at estimating distances.
The first ship was a Viking ship that Nissa told me had actually sailed from Norway. It was full of amazing detail and was fairly small compared to the others. It must have been amazing to sail here on her. The second ship in line was the quintessential pirate ship. I couldn’t get enough photos of the rigging, it seemed to go on forever. And here I was, 20 feet from her port side!
The next ship was smaller but very elegant, with an anchor that was bigger than my car. I was having a wonderful time just drifting past all these lovely ladies and snapping away. The bay was filled with kayaks, jet skis, motor boats, police boats and, of course, the Coast Guard. People were posing for photos everywhere. There was even the world’s largest rubber duck there for some reason, but I have to be honest with you, it’s not really made of rubber. Cute, I guess … a weird, menacing sort of cute.
Eventually I came to the end of the ships, and it was time to finish the paddle. As we headed toward the take-out point, I spotted another tall ship heading in from the bay. It was beautiful to see it underway with full sails up, and after getting my kayak out of the water, I ran over to get a few shots of it.
It had been a full day for me, quite an adventure. I had made quite a few friends by the end of those eight miles and was tired but happy. There’s nothing that centers me more than fresh air, sunshine, water, and lots of smiles and laughter. I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again next time the Tall Ships come to town. Join me?