What do 117 paddlers, 1 Banana boat, countless eagles and orca, and even 1 Minke whale, have in common? They all shared the waters of the Alert Bay 360 Race on the BC Day long weekend.
Our Salish Sea double "the Banana" travelled up the north coast to the village of Alert Bay, to race against all types of paddlers. The race attracted elite paddlers from as far away as Germany and the Netherlands, to compete against club racers and recreational paddlers.
The regatta gathers at the start line (Banana is at the top of the photo).
The Banana, crewed by Annette and Jennifer, was one of only two rowing shells in the race, amongst a sea of kayakers and surfskis. At 68.8 kilos and 25 ft long, we were the biggest boat in the race, up against 13 kilo surfskis. But coastal rowing is allllllll about the challenge.
The 11km course around Cormorant Island would take us through head and tail winds, side currents, forests of kelp, eagles, whales, seals and otter. Not all who started the race would finish it.
At the blast of the starters pistol, the water was churning with paddles. The Banana pulled out early with the lead pack, and proceeded to create open water between itself and the majority of the racers. By 2km into the course, the adventures unique to coastal rowing had begun. Strong winds and a side current pushed boats towards shore, into the snare of the kelp beds. Many paddlers were caught by the huge forests of kelp that trailed 100ft ropes along the surface and dragged boats to a dead stop.
Kelp beds surround Cormorant Island
Successfully navigating the kelp, the Banana pulled away from the following pack and found itself alone in the narrows between Cormorant and Malcolm Islands. Eagles stalked the beaches, while otters and seals played in the kelp. A Minke whale splashed off of our stern, reminding us that we are guests in this wildest of places.
Coastal rowing at its best
We tried to catch the current on the north side of the island, hoping for some free advantage and wave play, but could only find the edges of it. We were 8 minutes behind the Canadian champion surfski double who lead the elite pack, so for the next 6 kilometers we chased them. and chased them, and chased them.
As we rounded the final leg of the race, we could hear the cheering of the locals. The entire village had turned out with drums, rattles and horns to cheer us home. The cheers combined with the knowledge that we were in the final 2km gave us speed and inspiration to cross the finish line. The last landmark before the finish line appeared, the 'Namgis totems standing watch at the cemetery.
We crossed the line in 10th position, to our delight and the surprise of the surfski elite. Maybe next year we will find that current, and surprise a few more!
Gilakas'la (thank you) Alert Bay.