Since summer is now officially gone, I thought I would try to at least prolong the memory and make my first blog post about my Summer trip to Montana...
As a life-long boater, my vacations usually include some form of sailing or boating no matter where the destination is - whether it is sailing a charter-boat from St. Martin to Nevis or tracking the Louis Vuitton cup from the deck of a catamaran off the coast of Valencia, Spain.
And so it was this summer on a trip to Bigfork, Montana near the Flathead Lake. As it turns out, the Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Continental Divide - 30 miles long and 16 miles wide - and one of the cleanest in the world for it's size. One of the two primary tributaries of the Flathead Lake is the Swan River. And it is on the banks of this river that my uncle has built a beautiful, lodge-style home with sweeping views of the river and the mission Mountains in the distance. In early July, while I was visiting, the Swan River had swelled several feet above its normal banks because of a snowfall in mid-June. Northwest Montana was blanketed with nearly 3 feet of snow - an unseasonable event, even for Montana. So the river was running fast and cold because of all the new snowmelt. In that one week I watched the snow caps on the mountains melt away to almost nothing.
With his 26-ft Cobalt in a marina on the Flathead just minutes from the house and the river running through the backyard, the boating opportunities were plentiful. We cruised nearly the entire length of the lake, anchored at Wild Horse Island for some fun hiking and beautiful views, and almost braved the freezing water for some skiing – but I chickened out – it was cold! At that higher latitude, sunset lingered long past 10 in the evening, so we had ample time to enjoy the beauty of this pristine area.
One day we went rafting on the Swan River. The neighbors kindly loaned us their small boats for the trip. They looked like mini-inflatable-catamarans. I've never seen boats like these before. A single seat is supported high above two inflatable pontoons so it's easy to stay dry in that freezing cold water. Unfortunately, there were no life jackets, anywhere on board and my uncle bristled at the idea that we might need them. (Really, in very fast, near-freezing water, we don't need life jackets?)
Working at the BoatUS Foundation has taught me that the majority of boating accidents occur on small, open boats and 90% of all drowning victims are not wearing a life jacket. Add to that the risk of hypothermia and the fast moving water and how could you possibly think a life jacket unnecessary? He finally relented and I ran over to the marina to grab some ski vests from the powerboat. As an advocate for boating safety, I was not about to get on a boat with no basic safety gear whatsoever. I ended up being the only one to wear a life jacket despite my stern warning, but it turned out to be a beautiful, if exhausting, float and no one went overboard. But we were all grateful for the peace of mind and I was definitely thankful for the extra insulation.
Despite being a boating safety geek, I had forgotten the cardinal rule of cold-water boating, which is “dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature”. It was 90 degrees on land but the water was around 40. My swimsuit and t-shirt were not nearly sufficient for the much cooler temperature felt just inches above the water’s surface. Next time, I’ll pack my wetsuit. In the meantime, check out some photos from this trip below...Sunset on the mission Mountains with the Swan River on the Left and the Flathead Lake from Wild Horse Island on the Right.
- Amanda Suttles
Comment by Terri Parrow Botsford | Posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 10:11:15 PM
Wow Amanda! What a beautiful place! I enjoyed reading your blog! I can just picture you explaining to everyone why they needed lifejackets too! You're a good roll model!