Raider Nelson, Canoeist, Passes On.
By Ralph Frese
It seems like yesterday when
Raider walked into the Chicagoland Canoe Base after participating in the
annual DesPlaines River Canoe Marathon, declaring it was not enough of a
challenge for paddlers and that we should create a real one like
paddling across Lake Michigan
! I tried to point out that there would be serious risks involved but he was determined to find a way to minimize the risks.
Raider began to organize the event starting at the beach in New Buffalo, Michigan
and ending at the 95th Street beach in Chicago, a distance of 43 miles.
As a safety precaution, he arranged for the local Power Squadron to
escort paddlers across. I was intrigued, like everyone else, by the
opportunity to actually cross our lake and planned to use my 34 footer
and a crew of volunteers. I cannot recall the exact date but it was in
the late 60s. A medley of paddlers and craft assembled on the beach at
New Buffalo at dawn, my 34 surrounded by racing and folding kayaks and
aluminum and fiberglass canoes. The waiting escort vessels were seen
offshore. We started out heading westward on a calm lake and New Buffalo
disappeared from view behind us. Soon we were all separated and for
about four hours we could not see any land. It gave us the reality of
how vast Lake Michigan actually was. Our escort boats vanished from
view. They evidently got tired of the slow pace paddlers were setting. I
was told later by those behind me that standing in the stern of my
craft made me the only visible guidepost in sight. I was amazed at
seeing a huge bumblebee alighting on our craft for a rest and wondered
how he had managed to fly all that way with those short wings of his.
Heading in a westerly direction, we eventually spotted the Hancock
building on the far horizon and rejoiced that our goal was in sight!
Then a crew member recalled that you could see it from fourteen miles
out and we dreaded the thought of having that distance to do yet. Behind
us we heard someone singing the Lithuanian national anthem and passing
us was my friend Al Vosylius and his buddy in a Klepper folding kayak.
We made a landfall late that day after 10 1/2 hours and rejoiced in
having Lake Michigan allowing us to cross safely. Not everyone that had
started out made the crossing, a few turned back shortly after
launching. And Raider, who had crossed with his son, made plans for next
The following year, I was on finish line duty and
remember that the first canoe in was a Sawyer Cruiser, a Lynn Tuttle
design, and a favorite marathon racing canoe at the time. Fifteen
minutes later, a friend and his grown son from Chatham, Illinois came in
with one of my 18 1/2 foot bark canoes. The next to come in was another
Cruiser with a racing team like the first, using the banjo blades which
were in vogue at the time, and ten minutes later, one of my 17 foot
Canadiens arrived with a couple of teen agers from Desplaines. Both
Cruisers were decked bow to stern but the other two came across open as
they were dryer hulls. A number of solo kayakers and canoes followed.
The lake was choppy and we heard that there were rain squalls that
obliterated any attempt at directional orientation and no one thought of
bringing compasses. After that crossing it was decided to recreate the
next race parallel to the shore for safety. This was the first Shoreline
Raider was true to his Viking background, not afraid
to try something new. He provided a set of memories for me that I will