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'Sometimes you have to wait for the calm'
Rough weather frustrates Yk boaters

Sarah Ferguson
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknife boaters say erratic weather conditions are making smooth sailing difficult this summer.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ryan Helep is a Yellowknife fisherman who was out on the lake on Saturday. He says the windy weather conditions this summer have made fishing difficult. - Sarah Ferguson/NNSL photo

"There have been some radical shifts in the weather when I've been out on the water and it can catch you by surprise," says Yellowknife resident Wayne Guy.

"I got stuck in some hairy weather a few weeks ago; two metre waves, and 25-35 knot winds but we made it out OK," Guy said.

"You learn to read the sky, but even then, sometimes it's hit and miss"

Guy says another issue he faces when out on the water is access to accurate weather reports.

"When you get out to the east arm (of Great Slave Lake) you are pretty much cut off from the (marine weather) reports, which can make going out on the water frustrating sometimes," he said.

"It's hard to tell what the weather is going to be by the time you get out there"

"The high winds we have been experiencing out there this July are unusual too- normally we don't see them until late summer," Guy said.

"The marine forecasts (for Yellowknife) are usually for the middle of the lake and the open water; with the cliffs, islands and coastlines around the lake, there are lots of variables that make the weather hard to predict when you're closer to the shoreline," says Environment Canada Meteorologist Yvonne Bilan-Wallace.

Ryan Helep is an avid Yellowknife fisherman, who went out on the lake for the tenth time on Saturday. "The wind has been ridiculous this summer; the unpredictability of the weather has been a problem- it changes all the time," he said.

Pierre LePage is one Yellowknife boater who has profited from the windy conditions on Great Slave Lake, but even he admits that the weather he has experienced this year has been unusual.

"I'm into sailing which means I love the wind; still, there has been more of a northeast wind this summer, and that is considered rare in July," LePage said.

"You usually don't see a northeast wind on the water until the fall comes- it's really weird," he said.

"Winds are always shifting when low pressure systems go through the area- the weather is just being weather," Bilan-Wallace says. "However, there have been studies suggesting that more storms are making their way into the Arctic these days, and the weather can be very unpredictable," she said.

Pietro DeBastiani is a boating safety instructor at the Great Slave Yacht Club and a power boating enthusiast. "There is a theory that the high winds we are experiencing here on the lake have to do with (Arctic) climate change; more warming spells and more snow in the Arctic have changed the wind conditions here," DeBastiani said.

"All you can do is be patient and wait for the right window of time to travel on the water," he said.

"Sometimes you have to wait for the calm"

"It's been especially hard for the people who don't have flexibility in their schedules and can only go out on Saturdays and Sundays- nearly every weekend this summer has been windy so far," he said.

"It's hard to predict the weather conditions on the lake because there are so few reporting stations in the area, and not enough data to make accurate predictions when it comes to weather on the lake, said DeBastiani. "We have a reporting station in Yellowknife, one at the Lutsel K'e airport and then the next one is in Baker Lake; I think the forecasts by Environment Canada have been quite accurate, considering what data is available to them," he said.

"A satellite phone or radio is very useful for more remote areas of the lake, where you don't have access to the weather forecasts as readily," he said.

"If conditions turn rough, it helps to know the environment and spend time with charts and maps, so that you know where the safe anchorage points are around the lake are- places you can pull into if the weather turns bad," DeBastiani said.

"People need to adapt and roll with what's happening with the weather here- I always say if it's windy and you have a powerboat, try switching to sailing."

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