Kayaker’s journey around Vancouver Island crashes near Tofino

Randy Chatterjee was in good spirits Monday evening despite having just experienced a potentially perilous end to his attempt at kayaking around Vancouver Island.

The 52 year-old Vancouver local was headed from Tofino to Ucluelet when a combination of swell and chop hammered his sea kayak and dunked him in the ocean.

He said the weather had looked decent when he set off from Tofino that afternoon but he quickly found himself getting batted around by waves coming at him from both directions.

 â€œI got to this big rock band between Tofino and Long Beach that goes for about two nautical miles…waves hit and bounce off the rock and come back at you,” he said.

“I literally had what felt like the wash of a big motorboat coming at me from the rocks at the same time that the swells were coming at me from the other side. I was leaning into the swell to my right and I got hit from my left…I spun around and couldn’t roll, couldn’t get back up, so I just bailed out.”

He was able to climb back into his kayak but realized he had cracked one of his paddles and was dangerously close to the rocks.

 â€œI was about 30 metres away and every 10 seconds a swell would carry me another two or three metres closer to the rock,” he said.

“The worst part was definitely feeling that if I went over, and I couldn’t get back up fast, I would just be slaughtered by the rocks…It just felt like this is too close and I don’t really want to say bye to my kids or my wife yet. I got in the boat and I was able to maneuver at least a nautical mile to a beach I could sort of land on but I was getting brutalized by waves.”

He made it to the beach and decided against continuing on his journey

“I got the boat to the beach without breaking it…at that point I realized my charts were completely soaked and I had a broken paddle and it just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

“I realized that I could try it again sometime if I don’t kill myself this time.”

Chatterjee began his adventure from Port Hardy on June 17 and hoped to paddle around the entire Island in 11 days. 

“I have the speed to go 50 nautical miles a day and the endurance to keep that up if I can paddle in water that kind of allows that,” he said. “If I could do 50 everyday then I could do it in 11 days.”

He said the crashing end to his journey was not enough to scare him off the ocean.

“I’ve been kayaking long enough to know that days like this are not that common,” he said. “I’m alive to try it again.”

Part of the reason for his trip was to document the wildlife, vegetation, and rock formations around Vancouver Island as well as raise awareness and interest in keeping this natural environment intact.

“I’m pretty concerned with what’s happening in the economy of BC; it’s moving increasingly towards just resource extraction,” he said.

“We’re going to lose it at some point and it’s going to get pretty brutal if we don’t keep what we have, and try to keep things as natural and as pristine and clean as we can.”

His voyage was also an effort to bring attention to the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary and Coastal Trail vision.

“Marine sanctuaries are protected areas where elevated standards of conduct protect and restore natural animal populations, habitat and water quality. Pollution to waterways is reduced and eco-tourism revenues are multiplied,” according to the group’s website.

“Far exceeding related costs, Marine Sanctuary recognition and implementation gives rise to profound social, cultural, scientific, historical, ecological and economic benefits.”

Anyone looking for more information is encouraged to visit www.salishsea.org.

Chatterjee said he has been inspired by the marine sanctuaries he has visited.

“They just blow you away. There’s such an incredible abundance of life and activity that you just won’t forget it,” he said. 

“It’s something that’s live, it’s something that’s sustaining itself, and that’s what I see missing in the Salish Sea and pretty much the entirety of the lower mainland of British Columbia.”

He hopes to see British Columbians start taking better care of their waters.

“My biggest concern is actually just the raw waste that we dump into the ocean,” he said.

“Almost nowhere in BC has secondary sewage treatment, let alone tertiary which most of the U.S. has already…I just think we have nothing but a cesspool for waters. Would you feed your fish at home sewage? That’s what we’re doing.”

 

Andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca