This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Umbrella Sailing a Rubber Raft

I received a message recently from a reader interested in umbrella sailing, and he shared with me memories of sailing with his dad years ago on a rubber raft affixed with an array of umbrellas and of the fun he had doing many cruises on Lake Washington.

Since most of us are locked into winter for the next three months or so, I thought that I would like to share this memory that Zach Jackson offered of his adventures in umbrella sailing. It may be another example of how nearly all of us can experience the fun of sailing without being wealthy owners of sleek cruising sailboats berthed at the yacht club. The following is a sort of “every man” type of sailing, and I like the story.
Hi, Jay,

I recently googled "umbrella sailing," curious to see what would come up, and I found your blog entries on umbrella sailing in your kayak. I wanted to share with you my own umbrella sailing experience, though no kayaks are involved.
Umbrella Sailing - Getting Underway.jpg
In the mid-'90s, when I was still in middle school, my late father and I used to like to go for leisurely floats down a few local rivers in an inflatable raft. We'd drop our bikes off downstream, drive up to the put-in, cruise down, and bike back to the car. This was all well and good, but we found the long sections of slow-moving water terribly boring. One somewhat breezy day, we found that the umbrellas we had brought along for shade could be used to move the raft around a bit, could hurry those slow bits along if the conditions were right. After trying this out on a few occasions, we decided we would step up our game and try the experiment not on a river, but on our local Big Body of Water, Lake Washington. Sure enough, as long as the wind held out, we were able to sail across the lake pretty well, as long as we stayed within about 15 degrees of downwind. But we had a problem - sailing across the lake was a bit more tiring on the arms than we'd hoped for, especially when the breeze was particularly brisk. Something had to be done.
Umbrella Sailing - Installing Trampoline.jpg
"Something" came in the form of a plastic piping superstructure/mast system that could hold three umbrellas and provide a central trampoline for leg-shading and for additional storage capacity. The umbrellas had wooden dowels attached to the ends for easier steering, and could be detached or attached while underway to accommodate changing wind conditions. It was rather ungainly, but all told we could move at a fairly good clip. I'll defer to my father's account of one of our most exciting adventures:
Umbrella Sailing - Adjusting the Masts.jpg
Last summer [1999], a Harbor Patrol boat thought he could cut across my bow because . . . well, it’s only a raft. I shouted for him to get out of the way, but before he could back up, I smacked his craft amidships. No damage was done, but we exchanged words – mine to the effect that I always supposed the Harbor Patrol was supposed to prevent accidents, not precipitate them – and his words of chagrin and apology, “Nothing like that’s ever happened to me before.” Then he added the words that made everything OK, words to warm any sailor’s heart. He said, “I underestimated your speed.”
Umbrella Sailing - Last Minute Prep.jpg
All told, I think we traversed Lake Washington at least a dozen times, and those days spent on the lake are particularly fond memories. I've attached some photos of our ungainly craft, the See-Worthy. I haven't gone umbrella sailing in at least ten years, but your articles have me thinking of taking a shot at it in a rudder-equipped kayak - it sounds a lot more useful, and you're not so helpless when becalmed!

Cheers, and happy sailing!

Zach Jackson