Don’t like the ferry? There is another way

  • Jul. 9, 2012 9:00 a.m.

By Jeff King–Many of us like to do a bit of canoeing in the summer, but a group from Alberta which arrived on Haida Gwaii last week has taken the sport to a new level. Eight canoeists paddled here from Prince Rupert, in an epic night crossing of Hecate Strait in an open 29-foot voyageur canoe.(Check out the canoe at Facebook/haidagwaiiobserver) And it was not their first such voyage, as last year, many members of the group canoed the length of the Columbia River, and in years past, they’ve crossed the prairies from Alberta to Manitoba by canoe, following the routes of the voyageurs. Ted Bentley was the captain of the canoe. He told us the trip across Hecate Strait was about managing the risk. “We did try to talk to as many people as we could.this was not about risk, this was about risk management,” he said. As well, the crew was very experienced, with everyone in the boat capable of skippering it. “Dave and myself have done these trips across big chunks of Canada, Mr. Bentley said “three of us have been pretty much all the way a cross Canada by boat.” The crew had also done a practice paddle from Vancouver to Galiano Island in the spring, and the canoe carried a large array of safety and communications gear.They left Prince Rupert on Saturday June 30 at 10:30 am, and paddled to Stephens Island where they took a break, before heading across the strait just after 10:00 pm. The paddle from there took 8 ½ hours, at an average speed of 7.5 km/h and the crew landed at Rose Spit at 6:30 am on Canada Day. Mr. Bentley said all eight paddlers had hesitations and questions right up until the last leg.”The weather prediction was wide enough saying it will be good, even then you are heading out facing no visible land ahead of you. We were two hours into it before I realized if the weather holds we can’t miss,” he said.The only harrowing part of the voyage happened just after midnight. They had been noticing lights from several fish boats in the strait, but one started to look different. “It keeps getting bigger, it’s not going sideways, we are seeing a really big boat that is coming essentially right at us,” Mr. Bentley said. The crew made sure every light they had was on, that their radar reflector was set up, but still the ship kept coming. “We were paying a lot of attention, we had decided we’d paddle a little harder,” Mr. Bentley said. Then, about a kilometre away, its lights blinked. “When he winked his lights, we thought this is all good, and he passed behind us about a half a kilometre,” Mr. Bentley said. He said the vessel was a cruise ship, heading north, “as big as the biggest building in Vancouver lying on its side.” A highlight of the paddle was seeing bioluminescence.”I’ve seen this stuff, it was very big and very bright.You have four patches of glow on each side of the boat”, Mr. Bentley said, “you’d come in and out of it, it came and went.”By the time the canoe reached Haida Gwaii, the crew was tired, and decided not to paddle to Masset. They called their ground crew (Mr. Bentley’s wife Louise) and she and Thor Collison from Masset arrived and took the canoe and them into town. Then, the spent a couple of days seeing Haida Gwaii, before heading back to the mainland Thursday night. This time, they let BC Ferries do the paddling.The canoe crossing was likely the first in 20 years and also possibly the fastest crossing in the modern period, at 8 ½ hours.Along with skipper Ted Bentley, the crew included Brook Martens, Dave Maclure, Brian Smith, Cameron Bentley, Jay Macmillan, Fraser Macmillan, and Al Zenert. Bravo!

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