Did you know that ships passing through the canal displace a large amount of water? And that, as gravity demands, this water must be replaced? I learned this today during a harrowing experience while kayaking in and around the canal.
I was planning to meet a fellow kayaker on the water by Bayfront Park to take in some free reggae. It was very windy from the west, straight down the canal towards the lake – gusting to 40+ MPH. I’m a solid paddler and fairly strong, so I was confident I could handle the waves, current and wind. I put in on the Park Point-side and played around at the end of the piers for awhile, riding waves and currents, crossing the canal a couple of times, and hanging out in the small calm spots right against the wall at the end of the piers.
I decided to make an attempt to get into the harbor, and made it halfway before my arms gave out and the wind won. The trip back to the end of the piers was very fast and fun. I hung around a little longer and decided make another attempt, but I had to wait for a big ship to come through. So I waited against the wall at the end of the east pier for the expected surge and wake from the ship. All was well.
Suddenly, as the ship was halfway through the canal, water started to run “downhill” from the Park Point side, around the end of the east pier, into the canal toward the harbor – basically upstream and against a 40MPH wind - as if the floor of the canal had suddenly dropped a hundred feet. My calm spot against the wall had become a fast-flowing river into (rather than out of) the canal and straight toward the ship - I was heading upstream and against the wind into the hull of the ship. I back-paddled with everything I had but was still getting sucked in, and most of the ship had yet to pass by me. Turning around and using a stronger forward stroke was not an option. It’s amazing how the mind comes awake in moments of danger – I instantaneously calculated my forward progress against the speed of the ship and I concluded that I was fucked. I visualized myself sucked under the hull and tomorrow’s DNT headline: “Duluth man drowns in shipping canal”. I actually started to pray to my particular helpers - a sure sign of perceived grave danger. I'm a sporto-adventure freak, and generally don't get too afraid of "situations", but I was really scared.
Meanwhile, throngs of tourists on the pier, ship crew members, and (most likely) the guys in the bridge shack were watching the spectacle. I was in near-panic mode, 75 or less feet from the ship, still getting sucked in, with a quarter of the ship still to pass. And suddenly a current pushed me away from the ship and around the end of the pier. I high-tailed back to the beach, sat on the sand, and took a breath.
Lessons learned: Ships displace water. Displaced water must be replaced. Ships are bigger than kayaks. When in a kayak, stay far away from ships.