Completing the First-Ever SUP Circumnavigation of Bermuda – Part 1

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This is the story of the first nonstop SUP circumnavigation of Bermuda, attempted by Christian Shaw and Gordon Middleton of Plastic Tides. The brutal overnight effort resulted in plenty of type II fun, a great campfire tale, and the world's longest Ocean SUP race – The Devil's Isle Challenge.

By Gordon Middleton of Plastic Tides

At 6:30pm on May 5th 2015, Christian Shaw and myself set out to attempt the first nonstop SUP circumnavigation of Bermuda. For days prior, the wind was blowing a gale and no such attempt could be made. But with an opening in the weather we took our chances. Stepping aboard my LIVE Watersports catamaran SUP with 40 miles of hard paddling ahead of us, I knew I wouldn't be leaving it for the next—what I guessed would be—16 hours.

The year prior, we started Plastic Tides together to raise awareness of plastic pollution and to encourage adventure and exploration. We were in Bermuda for the second time to fight the issue on a new front: plastic microbeads from cosmetic products. This included lots of outreach, school visits, presentations, social media—the gamut. Our schedule was packed full for days to come, so the only chance we had to circumnavigate the island was to start in the evening and paddle through the night. We hoped with this schedule a number of our friends and followers would see us off and receive us.

We left the shore. In the back of my mind I had the nagging feeling that I wasn't ready. Christian had just returned from an intense ski tour in the French Alps and before that a winter of surf and kiteboarding in Hawaii. I had been in that cold, stiff hibernation that comes with living in New York City during the winter. I hadn't been training. I just sort of "showed up" as they say. The first few strokes I felt rusty, my muscles weren't ready to work yet. After getting into the swing of things, my muscles warmed up though and I started to feel strong. I felt good, like a haze had been lifted.

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From the aquarium at Flatt's Inlet, we headed toward Fort St. Catherine at the northern tip, choosing to paddle clockwise around the island with the prevailing currents. The section after Fort St. Catherine—St. David's Head—is known as the most treacherous so we hoped to have some light remaining. The wind forecast showed a decline later in the night and the wind that remained would ideally push us south along the shore. Stroking on, we took too much time posting to social media and catching some video for later. It put us behind schedule, but there was simply nothing for it. Without posting on social media, our circumnavigation would become only a personal challenge, nothing more. While the personal challenge is still a reason to try, Plastic Tides is about changing the mindset around plastic use and consumption, and without the awareness of our followers we would fall short of that goal.  We want to show that we're serious about the issue at hand, and that we're willing to put ourselves at risk to fight the problem. So, we took photos and wrote copy as frequently as we felt necessary and posted them across our platforms.

Looks of perfection can be deceiving in Bermuda when the wind's howling 20 knots as it was for part of Middleton and Shaw's journey around the island.
Looks of perfection can be deceiving in Bermuda when the wind’s howling 20 knots as it was for part of Middleton and Shaw’s journey around the island.

Behind schedule we rounded the horn as night fell. The full moon wouldn't rise for another hour, so we relied on our other senses and kept a wide berth of shore. The bow and stern lights we had bought that day quickly paid for themselves as a few boats went speeding closely by. The night was exacerbated by something we hadn't expected – the forecast was wrong. The wind had picked up slightly instead of falling off and heavy, disorganized chop layered over the four-foot ground swell bouncing off the cliffs. Even on our catamaran boards, stability quickly became a thing of the past. During the day this chop would be no problem, but in the night, everything changes. You can't anticipate. Instead, you react. Your muscles have to stay tense and ready; you're cautious to stroke hard; your eyes strain and your brain is on overdrive. I felt a wave of uncertainty flow through me. We couldn't have even been a quarter of the way and I could barely stand. I had to ask myself, was this such a good idea?

Continue the story of the first-ever SUP circumnavigation of Bermuda in Part 2 of this three-part series, releasing next week.

The 411 on Plastic Tides.

The Devil’s Isle Challenge: Bermuda’s first major SUP race

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