or, It’s a lo-o-ong lake!
We clear the last sandbank in the delta and enter Lake Diefenbaker with strong headwinds and another growing thunderstrom on the ridgeline. We have to watch it now, for the kilometre-wide lake has a lot of fetch and the waves could get nasty. A couple of young guys in a powerful motorboat slow down for a chat. They cannot fathom an expedition like ours (i.e. sans motor), and they shake their heads in disbelief when we tell them about it. After warning us about hail, they roar off up the lake. We pull into Cabri Regional Park just as the headwind starts whipping up whitecaps.
The park is a lush, grassy oasis in the prairie, thanks to sprinklers running 24 hours a day. We hear from the caretakers that the lake is a good couple of metres lower than it should be for this time of year.
It looked like we’d be pinned down by the storm, but the wind has switched direction. We take advantage of an early start for a swift downwind sail to Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park. The timing is perfect for Sylvia’s friend John to pick us up and take us to his farm. We have lunch and a visit, and then John drives us into Swift Current for some shopping. We’re almost out of food, and this is our first restocking point.
We plan to hitchhike the 50 km back to the park, but fate gets us a ride from a ditzy, 20-year-old travelling saleswoman and her even more scattered friend. We head out with the top down and the music blasting, only to have them remember 5 km later that they have to get back to town before the K-mart closes. So we get dumped by the side of the highway, looking bleakly at each other and the empty horizon, not knowing whether to laugh or curse. For several hours few cars come by, and nobody stops for our forlorn, middle-of-nowhere thumbs. The sun has set into a grim-looking night when John, by pure coincidence, happens to drive by on the way back to his farm. We sheepishly accept his offer of a lift back to the boat.
An archetypal prairie day, hot and windless day under a cloudless sky. We lug our gear down the mud beach — a hundred metres wide due to the low water — and set out. No current now, so every metre must be earned. The navigator has an easy job of it, setting a compass course and retreating into a book, but the rower pulls up a sweat. We swap every half hour, taking breaks to soak our hats and shirts.
In the afternoon we go for a swim. The water is bracingly cool, and seems to be losing some of its silt. Even without the current we still make 38 kms. Cottonwoods are long gone now, drowned by the lake, so we camp under the bank of a half-eroded hill for a bit of shade. This lake!
Another lo-o-ong, hot day. Light winds keep us a trifle cooler, but unfortunately they’re on the nose and of no help propulsion-wise. The scenery is monotonously uniform, rolling hills covered with ranchland grass. We start up long games of 200 Questions (an open-ended version of 20 Questions) to pass the time. “Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Is it bigger than a breadbox? Real or imaginary?”
Another shadeless campsite awaits us, this one at the base of a gully. At night an intense, spectacular lightning storm passes close north, lighting up the sky and keeping us wide awake.
A horrible start to the day! Gusty wind peels off the hills to the north, so we bash our way across the lake into the lee of the land. Here, despite the calm air, cross seas and lumpy waves seem to be bouncing down the lake from every direction. We can’t figure it out. But we quickly remember that flat-bottomed boats like Ambrose Jane do not handle chop well. Cursing, oars flying, we finally pull ashore as a sudden wind blasts out of the south.
We work off our frustrations with a walk about the hills and some reading. When things settle down we set cautiously out again, and finally have a decent sail to Palliser Regional Park. We go ashore on the lovely beach for ice cream and water. As we leave the beach a fellow offers us a couple of cold beers, which we gladly accept! We tell him we’re hoping for a tailwind, and he says that in an hour or so we’ll likely have more wind than we want.
His prediction is spot-on. We have just pulled onto a snug little crescent beach and pitched our tent up beside a copse of trees when the thunderstorm hits. A ripping wind lifts water off the lake like smoke. Our mast and sail start flogging so badly we have to take them down. We look at each other with big eyes. God … if we got caught out there in this…!