On the night of October 19, 2009, Doug Winter went missing on Lake Superior while out kayaking. I waited a long time to write this blog and it is still kind of difficult for me to compose my thoughts. Doug was a friend and kayaking companion. Somehow, writing this post means that I am admitting to myself that he will not be coming back, and that is a hard thought to come to terms with. When someone disappears, I guess it is only natural for us to start channeling our inner Sherlock Holmes trying to come up with answers to the mystery. I too, have come up with no less than five possible scenarios, all plausible, based on the information we have so far, but I don’t intend to share any of them. Because Doug went out alone and did not come back to tell us, we will never know for sure just what happened to him. Unfortunately, that also means that the lessons we might learn from this tragedy will probably be limited as well.
Since we can’t really use this story as a cautionary tale, I would rather focus on Doug, the person, and what I remember about him. I first met Doug when he came into Laacke & Joys to buy his first kayak from me. He bought an inexpensive 13-foot recreational/touring kayak and a cheap paddle. I remember warning him that this was not a kayak for Lake Michigan. I found out later that Doug took that kayak out several miles into Lake Michigan on his first trip. He told me that it was a really scary and dumb thing to do, and when he got back to shore, he decided he better take some lessons. That was when Doug became my kayaking student. Very shortly after taking some lessons, he upgraded to a real sea kayak, started amassing some decent gear, and began to show up for Sunday morning paddles at South Shore. He was still a beginner and his skills needed work, but he got pretty mad when someone bluntly told him so (Sue, you know who you are). When he vented his anger to me, I calmed him down and helped him realize that in her way, Sue was trying to help him. He eventually got over it, and got down to the serious work of trying to improve his skills, taking classes and getting help and advice from the more experienced paddlers in our Sunday morning group. As time went by, Doug became one of the regulars in our paddling group. He helped out at Laacke & Joys Paddlefest as a safety boater on several occasions. He introduced us to “Sven’s” in Bay View where we still often have coffee and brunch after kayaking. He was a driving force behind the October campouts in Door County, something that our local kayakers hadn’t done since back when John Browning still had his outdoor store and hosted a campout at Point Beach. Doug loved to take photos. Some of the best pictures I have of myself in my kayak were taken by Doug. He was generous to a fault. All of us that paddled with him can probably name a handful of times when Doug insisted on picking up our check for coffee or breakfast. It was totally unnecessary, but he wanted to thank us in some way for helping him along in the sport of kayaking. Doug had a cat. He would always have a new story to tell us about “Fuzzy”. He was a skilled carpenter and craftsman. He built a kayak for himself, but then got burned by a bad batch of epoxy that never cured and left his masterpiece permanently “tacky” to the touch.
I will miss Doug, but I think I will try to remember him with a funny story that another one of his friends told me recently. Years ago, when Doug lived in Shawano, he had an old Thunderbird that somehow got stuck in reverse. For two weeks he drove that car all around Shawano backwards. I guess that sometimes you need to move forward by looking in the rearview mirror.