Lina Augaitis on Crossing the Salish Sea
If you asked any of us why and how we got to be part of the crossing, the typical answer was through Simon Whitfield, a Canadian sport hero and retired triathlete who’s new to the sport of SUP. He brought together 10 paddler friends to cross the Salish Sea from Downtown Vancouver to Downtown Victoria—not an easy feat for the most elite of paddlers, and a pretty darn amazing feat for those who don’t paddle much.
Our group members have some pretty amazing backgrounds, not only in SUP, but in life as well. Some of the athletes’ backgrounds include Olympic Gold medalists, pro triathletes, top level swimmers, athletes that rowed across the Atlantic, world champions, people who had accomplished other amazing adventures on SUPs, and just amazing people all around. It was cool to come together to promote Canadian’s Men Health and complete an amazing paddling journey.
Day 1 was expected to be the toughest day, with the longest distances and strongest currents. It indeed was the most difficult day: 12 hours, 70km, strong currents with and against us, side chop, etc. It was also the first time the 11 of us were all paddling together. Challenges would arise.
We were sent off from First Beach on English Bay at 5am. The water was calm and the temperature perfect. We got to Point Grey quickly and efficiently, and it was there that we took our first break before the BIG crossing. Things were looking good. Everyone was on track and together. We were all excited, in good spirits and ready to get the crossing done before winds and currents would make it more challenging.
We aimed for Dionisio Point on Galiano Island. I was happy to have the support boat with us; with all the boat traffic, it could be a very scary place to be on your own. The safety boat was able to make calls to other boats to let them know we were there paddling across the shipping lanes.
The current was on our side for half the crossing, but westerly winds gave us a pretty steady side chop. We all felt the effects of paddling mostly on our left sides, but with strong minds and the desire to keep moving, we made good ground. Everyone did such an amazing job of bunkering down and dealing with the conditions, enjoying the fact we were doing something very special that few people ever do. For me, it was too cool to paddle this crossing, as I have taken endless ferries across and always wondered what it would be like to paddle across.
As we crossed, the water temp decreased all the way to Victoria. Unfortunately for me, my hands started to blister, which was new. My blistered hands proved to be slightly annoying for the remainder of the trip. It caused discomfort and therefore affected different parts of my upper body as I was adjusting my grip to avoid the pain in my hands. It was worse at the beginning and after breaks, but once I was in my rhythm, my mind would forget about them for a bit.
We made it to the tip of Galiano by noon, where we took a well-deserved lunch break before taking on Porlier Pass. We didn’t see any wildlife throughout our crossing, but it was beautiful.
After looking at the strong currents of Polier Pass and wondering if any of us could paddle through the boils, rocks, and crazy currents, Mike Darbyshire was the only one that managed to paddle through at the max current of 8.2 knots against us. It was crazy to see close-up how the boils were forming, and the quickness of the current. I just stood there for a while, watching in amazement. Jack also explored the currents on his prone board, but couldn’t punch through.
The rest of us hiked around the point to skip the worst of the currents. What the next four hours entailed was, frankly, pretty heart wrenching and mentally difficult. We paddled so hard against such a strong current that we were making very little ground at 2km/hour. The current was fierce and our muscles were tired. We all paddled close to shore, but still, the effects of the current were very strong. The last 20km along the coast of Galiano were especially tough and we really had to dig deep—both physically and mentally—to push through to Montague Harbor.
Luckily, we made it to Montague Harbor with smiles on our faces and plenty of light left. We enjoyed our accomplishments in good company, with delicious food.
After a killer sleep, I was ready to conquer Day 2. Post-breakfast, it was all about getting onto the water for a 9am departure. Our first crossing from Montague Harbor to Prevost Island was easy, calm and beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking around and just taking in the beauty of the islands and ocean. It was a very freeing.
As we passed Prevost Island, the winds started to pick up as we headed alongside Salt Spring to the tip of Ruckle Provincial Park. Boat traffic increased a little and we could see the ferries out in front. We continued past Portland Island and smaller islands, where Jack [Bark] had the luck of having a baby seal jump onto his paddleboard. He didn’t touch it, but let it enjoy the board, then join its family in the water.
We stopped for lunch and a little break in the sun with a view of the town, Sidney. Post-lunch the crossing over to Vancouver Island was intense with lots of boat traffic, waves, wind, and current, but we made it. We followed the coastline to our campsite at Island View Beach, and the paddling was pretty easy from there on.
We agreed that our priority was to make it to Victoria Harbor in a safe manner on the final day of our expedition. In order to achieve this, we agreed to leave earlier than the original plan to beat the predicted high winds and potentially bad weather. So, a 4am breakfast and 5am departure was the plan. It rained throughout the night, but at the critical moments of getting up and getting breakfast, the rain had ceased for a bit.
We dressed warmer with neoprene, toques, booties, and gloves. We were eager to start paddling, as the predicted winds were going to make it a tough leg. The paddle to the first major point was rough, with a lot of side chop. We had to push.
Once we rounded the corner, luck was on our side as conditions improved. We happily paddled past the Discovery Islands, then past Trial Islands and onto Clover Point. At Clover Point we expected the toughest conditions, but our timing was perfect and we were ahead of schedule. We eventually rounded the Harbor walls and that was it—we stuck together as we cruised into Victoria Harbor to meet the few fans and workers that managed to get there 5 hours before our scheduled arrival. We were greeted with signs, coffee, and hugs. It was perfect.