Anatomy of a Training Zone

Saturday, 23 December 2006


I do about 99%+ of my time paddling on the Great Lakes which is fresh water. I get teased by some of my ocean paddling friends who seem to feel that paddling on the lakes is only for Children; holding no prospects for fun or excitement.

For all you naysayer’s, welcome to the Western Gap, Toronto, Ontario. This little bit of water is where a good amount of our white knuckle paddles take place. The inner harbor for Toronto is accessed by two little gaps cut out of the island named the Eastern and Western Gaps.

The Western Gap has a really wicked reputation for kicking up huge water for the little sailboats that try to navigate her on a Sunday afternoon. All the local sailing books print a warning to avoid that area during a SW wind anytime it blows faster than 10 knots.

The reason is simple. Water is blown into the funnel shaped area with solid cement walls causing the water to refract back and forth with nowhere to escape. It is not uncommon to get 2 foot wind waves anywhere outside of the gap but 4 foot refracting waves within the little defined area.

This turns out to be a really great training area because paddling through it on a windy day; you need to have really, really loose hips and a good brace. The waves come from every direction at very unpredictable times. It isn’t uncommon to go up with a wave, pause, go up a bit more then drop down a bit, back up a bit then finally drop all the way back down to the bottom of a trough. It sometimes feels like a little elevator out of control.

The area does have its dangers (besides the waves). With the solid cement walls (4-6 feet high) there are very little areas to get out if you had to. But on the plus side, the crazy vortex of chaos ends really quickly as soon as you get outside of the gap.

We welcome anybody who wants to try to run the gauntlet. We were out today (December 23, 2006) with a SW wind of 20 knots gusting to 35Kn. It made for perfect surfing into the gap then some great white knuckle paddling until we busted through to the other side. During the mess the refracting waves bounced up to just under 5 feet with the majority of the wind waves being 3-3.5 feet. Everything was over our heads to it was at least 3 feet. Here is a good article to estimate wave height and how to keep it from turning into a fishing tale (unless you don't want to).

Speaking of waves, I recently stumbled on this fantastic website that explains many wave characteristics. It was great for explaining the science of wave formation.

For those interested in exploring the Toronto Harbour, you can do so via Google Earth. I have attached it here

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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