Gallery: Hitting Three Lakes in a Day With The Great Lakes Ski Riders

Although I’m very hesitant to actually do so, what I consider one of the nicest gestures by readers and fans of the magazine is being invited to participate in several group rides and events throughout the year. More often than not, I typically turn down these offers because well frankly, my schedule makes it impossible to to attend more than one a month, and two, they’re with folks that I don’t know personally.

Now that might come off wrong, but that’s truly the case. Over the years, I’ve blindly attended events that were so poorly planned, absent of any leadership or direction, or filled with such dangerously unskilled riders that I felt my personal safety was at genuine risk. After the 3rd or 4th close call, I made it a policy to know who I was joining before jumping into the water with them.

I say all of that to set the stage for today’s event. Joe Cornett of the Great Lakes Ski Riders had been a dog with a bone. I had turned down several offers over the year, each one more elaborate than the last. Knowing I was a “car guy” at heart he promised me a waterfront tour of Motor City, stops by Henry Ford’s waterfront homes and past the many plants that built the American auto industry. OK, you got me, I thought.

That Saturday morning, we launched out of Elizabeth Park Marina in Trenton, Michigan. There was 11 of us, mainly supercharged Sea-Doos – bright yellow RXP-X’s and RXT-Xs, a pair of SVHO-powered Yamaha FX’s and my lone 2023 Kawasaki Ultra 310LX.

Nearly all of Joe’s group rode modified machines, capable of speeds high into the 70’s if not low 80’s when given glassy-enough conditions. The Kawi, on the other hand, was showroom stock, save for the Auxiliary Fuel System of my own design strapped to the elongated deck. This put my top speed somewhere around 64 miles per hour given the added 80 pounds on the rear.

With heavy fog overhead and a fishing tournament congesting the route, our group was delayed no less than half an hour. With Joe’s signal, we rode around Grosse Island to Devil’s Mouth in the Livingston Channel. The water was surprisingly turquoise and gently lulling. We headed south from Livingston Channel to Lake Erie, marking our first of three lakes.

From there we proceeded north to Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada and the old amusement park Boblo Island. The legendary resort once housed a dance hall, roller rink, carousel and other amusements since its opening in the early 1890s. Curious, I asked if we were going to stop and take a look; but Joe had cautioned me the night before that there would be no consideration of making landfall on Boblo given how haunted it was.

His voice dropped to a muted whisper as he told tales of contractors and construction workers being scared off of the island’s grounds…despite literally hundreds of people calling the island home; it’s northern end being populated with town homes, apartments and a small tract of mansions.

Leaving Boblo, we rode into Crystal Bay and followed the narrow paths into the Canadian side of Hidden Lake where the water bubbles up from a natural spring resulting in an almost Caribbean blue hue. It’s an unexpected sight to be sure. Leaving the way we came in, we cruised north again to Wyandotte, Michigan where the Detroit River begins.

We followed the Detroit River up to where we made the mistake of turning into the Rouge River, which at its end is the old Henry Ford estate. Excited to see this timeless piece of American history, I was unprepared for what came next.

Jon Repak, who I had been shadowing the entire length of the ride thus far aboard his Stage 2-tuned FX SVHO, cautioned that venturing up the river wasn’t worth the risk. The Rouge River is some of the most polluted water I’ve ever had the displeasure of sluicing through, and only a couple of weeks earlier, Jon himself had sucked up some debris, clogging his pump to a standstill.

And true to his caution, it was my turn to jamb up my pump. The invading object was a sheered-off 8-inch strip of white polyester plastic that wound itself between the blades of the impeller and the vanes of the stator, effectively blocking a third of the Kawi’s pump. I signaled to Eric Moise (owner of Monster Performance) that I was jammed and he motioned toward a small launch ramp along the cemented river banks.

I pulled the ski’s tail up on the hardened ramp and assessed the clog. Yup, I thought to myself, that nozzle’s gotta come out. Had any of us brought a long (and I mean looong) set of needle nose pliers, we might’ve been able to extract the debris out that way. But without the tools on hand, the nozzle and venturi needed to be removed just to reach it.

Before I could begin the disassembly, Joe had radioed for help and a prepared land crew quickly arrived at our location. We loaded up the Ultra on the trailer, and began operating with what tools we had before another rider had his utility tool truck driven over. Within minutes, I had the reverse bucket and linkages detached, and the venturi and steering nozzle removed.

With a pair of vice grips, the stubborn plastic was removed and the pump assembly reinstalled all with fresh thread sealant. The whole ordeal ate up nearly an hour of the group’s day to which I was sorely embarrassed, but not nearly as frustrated as Jon who was the lone voice of warning before doing so.

With the pump freed and the Kawasaki operating at peak ability, we sped back out into the Detroit River towards the Ambassador Bridge headed for Canada. Here the river roiled into an inky black wash of 4-foot cross-chop. Eager to push the Ultra, I pinned its throttle and maxed out its trim. Only Jon – a former motocross rider and master mechanic – kept pace, the two of sprinting underneath the Ambassador Bridge all with the downtown Detroit skyline on one side of the river and Casino Windsor on the other.

As the river narrowed, boat traffic multiplied exponentially and churned the already tumultuous water into a minefield. Jon led, leaping the wakes of massive yachts as they passed by. With my fuel rack, I decided against any acrobatics, and zigzagged the wakes as gracefully as a drunken rhinoceros.

The remainder of the group were well behind us, so the two of us proceeded on to Belle Isle, where we waited to refuel at the marina. Jon and I had an unspoken agreement that we were going to ride hard regardless of the circumstances, and being that I was something of a guest I felt obliged to deliver. Throughout the day, he inquired how fast I was going to which I’d say “55” or “63” and he’d shake his head in disbelief.

I explained, Yeah you’re seeing faster speeds than me but you’re in the air half of the time. I’m keeping up with you while consistently running low 60’s because I’m always hooked up. The Kawi almost never leaves the water while the Yamaha is almost always airborne.

This was no more proven than after we fueled up and proceeded into Lake St. Clair (the second lake in our trifecta). While certainly cleaner water and impressively blue, windblown white caps whipped the lake into Pacific Ocean-levels of surf. Local rider, Brian Ciechanoski on his RXP-X took the lead.

Before really hitting the rough stuff, Brian pulled us over by the more well-known Ford Estate. From there, Brian charged hard and cut a path through the middle of Lake St. Clair, headed towards the Cattail Trails in Muscamoot Bay and Canadian Straights. Here, Brian pinned his Sea-Doo’s throttle and led us through the grassy trails.

I won’t say that the big Ultra was a little out of its element, but it took quite a bit of body English to get the Kawasaki to roll on its inside rail to manage some of the corners we took. Trimming the nose down and dropping a knee into the footwell was mandatory if I didn’t want to park the gold LX into the weeds.

After a quick buzzing from a friendly seaplane, we headed to Harsens Island where we refilled again and pressed forward through Lake St. Clair and entered the St. Clair River. The river’s waters calmed and the group’s speed increased, with Jon and I leading the way. Thankfully, Jon had the route mapped because I certainly had no idea where we were.

We cruised all the way up the St. Clair River stopping occasionally to regroup and study the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. We were headed in the opposite direction and carried on. With throttles pinned again, we entered the opening of Lake Huron (our third and final lake) and were absolutely floored by the conditions we found.

Lake Huron was absolutely gorgeous. The waters looked identical to the tropical blue of the gulf running along Florida coastline. Glassy rollers beckoned us to race the last 17 miles towards our goal. Jon’s FX SVHO screamed as it skittered along the lake, the big Kawasaki’s roots-style supercharger howling as it gave chase.

With a slightly modified prototype of The Watercraft Journal’s Auxiliary Fuel System strapped to the back, I never once dipped below three quarters of a tank on the fuel gauge this whole trip. Only now, as sprinted toward Lexington, Michigan where the launch ramp marked our finish line did the fuel meter dip closer to half a tank. It didn’t matter, we were almost home.

The rock outcropping of the marina’s breakwater came into view. I coasted into the No Wake Zone, happy to have ran the entirety of the day entirely wide open and standing on my own two feet. Most rode sitting down, and only Jon and I rode like the devil himself was chasing us.

Jon idled up to the dock where I was tying up and nodded with approval; “Well, you proved a stock Kawasaki can run with a modded Yamaha in the rough. Looks like you made a believer out of me.”

While that might’ve been true, the cost of doing so was high: two GoPro mounts had broken, one taking yet another camera to the bottom of Lake St. Clair with it. The nozzle of spray sunscreen was smashed to pieces, spraying a good portion of the can all over the glove box. A pair of Windrider sunglasses were smashed in the process too. And all of the contents stowed in the front bin that weren’t in a dry bag were soaked all the way through. Oh yeah, and I think I sprang my wrist in the process too because it swelled up like a balloon that night.

…But on the bright side, not one water bottle bounced out of the cup holders and the Auxiliary Fuel System kit never once failed me or even backed off of its mounts – all the while another brand’s very expensive cargo rack loaded with dual 6-gallon Sure Can broke free from the back of a FX Cruiser and sank to the bottom.

All in all, Joe delivered on an incredibly challenging – and thereby thoroughly enjoyable day. True to his word, we had zero whiners or complainers; a group of hardened riders who pushed through some serious chop, riding across three lakes and two rivers, touching two countries and totaling 238 miles.

Huge thanks to Joe, Gabrielle and the Great Lakes Ski Riders for showing me an awesome time. If you’re looking for a group who actually deliver on a challenging ride and are as well organized as any race director, you’ll be hard pressed to find a finer group than these boys.

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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