Site logo

Salish Sea SUP Crossing

Stand Up Paddle Salish Sea Crossing | #SALISHSUPX

Salish Sea SUP Crossing 2017 Debreifing

As we were taking the 6:20 am Ferry to Nanaimo from Vancouver David Jianu turned to me and asked " What do you see when you close your eyes when you get to Pipers Lagoon?" I turned to him and said "I see swell, choppy water, windy conditions and clouds". He told me I was ready. I really needed to hear that.

Before I get into all the details of the crossing I feel I need to address the elephant in the room. What happened and why did I end up paddling pretty much solo. There have been several guesses, rumours and statements made and I hope that I can clear that up with at least how I saw it.

Originally the crossing was scheduled for July 8th and because some very special friends wanted to do the crossing the date was not working for them so I agreed to change the date to July 22nd to accommodate them. This meant having to change many of the details that were already booked and confirmed. It should also be noted that on July 8th there was very little wind and temperatures were perfect. Anyhow, I get past that and its now July 10th and we are going to have our first team meeting. Not even 5 minutes into the meeting a paddler suggests paddling from Squamish to Vancouver (S2V) instead of the crossing because it allowed us to take shelter. Basically it was easy to pull over or stop if we needed to. To me that was taking away from the challenge and we were giving up before we had even started. If anyone knows me that is not my motto. I entertained that idea only if we had not secured a support boat. I managed to secure a boat through a good friend of mine a few days later so as far as I was concerned the subject of S2V was dead. As a father, husband and organizer of the crossing safety was paramount and I'm not going to mess with mother nature. If conditions were not ideal on July 22nd we would move the crossing to another date.

Its now Thursday July 20th and the idea of paddling from S2V is back on the table because some do not see favourable conditions. I suggest moving it to Sunday but this paddler in question says thats not going to work either. The conditions compared to the last 3 years were the best. We went back and forth from Thursday morning to Friday afternoon on N2V vs S2V. Having paddled the Strait the past 3 years in a row my experience was being challenged very aggressively by someone who hadn't paddled neither N2V or S2V. I have even paddled from Horseshoe Bay to Squamish and knew enough that paddling in the Howe Sound going from Squamish to Vancouver was ridiculous. Overall the conditions forecasted for either were no better than the other. I felt we would be cheating our donors, sponsors and especially the foundation we were challenging ourselves for. Late Friday morning I was about to give up and say yes to S2V but I decided to call Colin who is the regional supervisor for Marine Search and Rescue (RSMS) to see what he thought. After speaking to him he confirmed the forecast looks pretty good for N2V however the wind may not switch until later than forecasted to. Challenging but very likely the head wind would diminish by late afternoon.

When I asked Colin what he thought about paddling from Squamish to Vancouver he thought it was strange we would consider that direction. With cold air coming down the slopes and forecasted inflow it would have been not a good idea. Yes S2V offered places to pull over but I really believe we would've called it quits before even hitting Horseshoe Bay. I even spoke to Norm Hann who is one of the most experienced and respected watermen and he too confirmed Nanaimo to Vancouver is the way to go. I relayed all of this to the team as a final bid and still I was ignored. By Friday afternoon I was beside myself on what was happening to the team and frustrated to say the least.

As the organizer of this event I allowed this to spiral out of control and had to put my foot down and made a decision that we were paddling Nanaimo to Vancouver even if I had to do it alone. We would take the 6:20am ferry and would be checking the forecast right to the last minute when we got to Pipers Lagoon where we were launching from. The Salish Sea is very unpredictable and requires constantly checking the forecast to the very last second. Based on the forecast it was deemed best to go later in the morning and take advantage of the long daylight hours and that is what I did. I gave the team a choice to "take it or leave it" and laid out the schedule. I knew by Friday afternoon there is a good chance I was going to be doing this paddle solo and was completely freaked out. One of the paddlers from the team did come all the way to Pipers Lagoon. He made his decision of not going at that point. I told him he has to be 110% sure he can do this. I totally appreciated him coming because he was also the one that took back the Truck and Trailer saving me hours the next day. You know who you are and thank you so much.

Rewind a few days back, DJ had asked me if he can come along for our crossing and I told him no. After shutting him down, the day before the crossing I went back to him and asked him to join me as the team had completely fallen apart by now due to one paddlers actions. He's paddled it unsupported in the best and worst of conditions. Without hesitation he said Yes. On the day of the crossing the forecast lived true and Squamish to Vancouver ended up being an inflow the entire day! It would have been like driving your car up a oneway street if we had done S2V. This made me feel more confident that the correct decision was made.

Anyways, there were few other things but I hope this helps explain how I ended up paddling solo from Nanaimo to Vancouver with an amazing support crew.

Now about the crossing itself.

The past 3 years we have always done the crossing in June. The problem with June is not only is the wind unpredictable, but in the Strait the temperatures can be cold and unpredictable as well. If we can remove one of the elements it would give us a higher chance of crossing successfully. We also have longer day light hours which I wanted to take full advantage of. Last year when we had to turn around I told myself I wanted to remove the overnight element because it would allow a little more flexibility if we had to call it. I believe it was the best decision because paddling up to Sunset Beach during sunset after being on the water for close to 12 hours it was absolutely surreal and having all my friends, family and supporters on the beach just took it over the top.

The perfect crossing conditions would be "0 to 5 knots ESE in the morning with a slack tide to start, winds becoming WNW 5 to 10 knots by early afternoon and increasing to 10 to 15 knots by late afternoon. Winds diminishing to light by evening" You have a better chance of winning the lottery. There is no such thing as perfect conditions for the crossing. There is doable and not doable conditions based on your skill and mental capacity. There will alway be a fight either the first 30km or the last 30 kms if not during the whole crossing. Even if you had downwinding conditions from Nanaimo to Vancouver it will push you too far south and your legs would be destroyed by the time you reach the middle of it. This is the type of paddle where you have to check yourself before you wreck yourself no matter what the conditions are.
strait of Georgia forcast
4:45PM I filed our Safety and Float plan with the Victoria Coast Gaurd, Marine Search and Rescue, and BC Ferries. 12 Hours before the crossing weather was almost as forecasted. I knew I would have to work hard for the first 30kms and my body and mind was prepared for that. I checked in again with Norm the morning of. The forecast called for winds southeast 5 to 15 knots becoming light Saturday afternoon then becoming northwest 10 to 15 Saturday evening" When I started paddling the wind was blowing minimum 15 knots and the current was pushing south. It was more easterly and with the little bit of south in there it allowed me to not have to course correct too much because the current was helping out a bit. I still had to paddle on my left more than on my right but it wasn't as bad as the first year I did the crossing where I paddled on my left pretty much 80%. The winds started to die down around 2:30. I stopped twice during the paddle to recheck the forecast. Because of the weather system I was worried something may change but we were good.

The right equipment is paramount in for this type of challenge. I have a Fanatic Falcon 2015 board that has great amount of volume in the front with a pintail in the back. The fin I used was the Futures California Downwind. The bull nose shape with the extra volume upfront helped in pushing over the on coming swell without the nose diving. I was standing well above my carry handle to keep the wind from throwing the nose around too much. Because it can get pretty big out there I don't like my tail being pushed up either and the pintail allows it to sink in a little releasing it nicely. Being a lightweight the swell would lift up my tail too much if it was square so with this board I can stand as far forward possible when required without losing control of the tail. The board also has just enough of a rocker as well to handle the crossing conditions. I was super comfortable on it. I strapped my marine compass to the front handles and also had a cell phone and GPS Velocitek speedometer attached. This is the first time I was using a compass on the crossing. Because in the past I relied on the experience of others like Norm I just followed but this time I was plotting the course. Purchasing the compass was the best decision I made. When you stop your board gets turned into the wrong direction very quickly and its very easy to get disorientated. I would just take quick glances at the compass to realign myself.
I wore my Virus compression tights and a rashgaurd under my clothing. When you are standing for so long and trying to stay balanced the leg compressions help a lot. On top I wore a Viakobi hi-vis PFD. Its the first time in a long time i've worn a life vest and it felt super comfortable. I wore it for about 75% of the crossing and took it off at one point and switched to my belt PFD because I was getting to warm. The Vaikobi has a rear pocket for my hydration pack which I had filled with 2 litres of water. I kept a snack in the front pocket but would mostly grab food from the boat when I want to eat. In total I drank only 3 litres of water. We had enough food for 24 hours on the boat. We had about 20 litres of water, 3 large cans of coconut water, my wifes delicious energy balls, cantaloupe which we gobbled down, beef jerky, electrolytes, apples, oranges, and few other things to snack on. I burnt just over 4000 calories and unfortunately only consumed about 2500 calories. I definitely should have increased my food intake and was starving when I got to the beach.

Dave paddled the Strait for the first bit and majority of the last part of the crossing. Having come back from leg surgery and paddling for the first time on the Infinity it made for a challenging situation for him. Regardless however his stoke helped a tonne. I paddled and fought hard for the first 40 kms. I'd been on the water for about 7 to 8 hours by now. I knew there were people on the beach and it was about 6:00pm. The wind had completely stopped. I was feeling great and I had enough in the gas tank to keep paddling. We decided to have a little fun with his wakeboard tower. The next 10 to 15 kms was one of the best experiences of my life! Dave grabbed onto the ski rope and I grabbed on to his leash. As far as I knew water skiing on a paddle board hadn't been attempted yet so I was excited. I mean who's even gone water skiing in the Strait of Georgia let alone SUP skiing. We started out slow at 8kph, Tony slowly took it up to 15, than 20. Being throttle happy he spiked the speed up to 32kph!! Because these boards are super buoyant there was very little drag on the boat compared to just a single skier or wakeboarder. We. Were. Flying! My forearms, grip, and legs were done after this. Dave was riding the boats wake and I was riding Daves wake. It was perfect. It was a little scary as well because when Dave would fall of the board.. .guess what, I'm still moving fast and with a downwinder fin on there were some close calls. When he wiped out he stayed under water as long as possible. Next year we are taking helmets and knee pads because this is a must do especially if we get flat conditions towards the end like we did.
We SUPskied up to around the shipping lane and decided it was enough. We were cold from the speeds were hitting and was getting hit hard with the salt water from head to toe. The last 15kms or so of paddling allowed us to get warmed up again. People usually ask what we do if we have to go to the washroom. You end up being so tense that No2 really doesn't happen. Your body locks up. But peeing you either jump in the water or stand on the board and go in your shorts. After skiing and being pummelled by the salt water I had to go. It was the most excruciating pain I had experienced in my life.

I don't cry. When I was a kid my parents used to try to find ways to make me cry because they thought there was something wrong with me. I think that may be changing as i get older because in recent memory I can only recall crying three times. Once when my sisters heart had stopped several years ago. Second at my good buddy Scotts wedding from a few years ago and then when I was paddling up to sunset beach and saw my family and friends paddling up to me. I cleared up the salty discharge out of my eyes before I touched land. I absolutely loved seeing everybody that was on the beach, Many people had come and gone throughout the day as well and I greatly appreciate that. Thank you so much to all of our friends that helped on the beach setting up and taking everything down. Thank you also to Paul Kendal our photographer/support and Tony McKillop for boat support and keeping the tunes going especially when we were literally in the middle of the Salish Sea and for cranking Bon Jovi "Livin' On A Prayer" (we're half way there). I absolutely could not have done this crossing without your help, energy and crazy laughs we had on the water.

At the end of the day the crossing was successful and it was another year of learning, we raised some money for Tabitha Foundation and also raised awareness for the cause, no one was hurt other than some feelings and everyone had fun at the beach.
All Photos by Kendall's Clicks

Full compliments of photos here: Part One and Part Two

Salish Sea SUP Crossing 2016 Debreifing

I would like to take this time to answer any questions or concerns about our attempt to cross the channel yesterday. It goes to show how challenging and arduous crossing the Salish Sea on paddle boards can be. Having crossed from Nanaimo to Vancouver successfully the past two years it was a very tough call to make yesterday.
Even with all the advanced weather data, back door access to environment Canada's forecast information, it demonstrates the unpredictability of the Georgia Strait and what mother nature may throw at us. It also goes beyond the weather and you have to take into consideration the size and dynamics of the group and how quickly paddlers can become separated in any given situation. Trying to paddle hard through the wind with your head down it is not uncommon to separate yourself from the pack by 2 or 3 km's in open and windy seas.

When we set off at 4:30 we were immediately greeted with moderate north winds creating challenging side chop for the group. These conditions were a far cry from the light to variable winds that were forecasted for the morning. Regardless, the group pushed on. We were paddling on our right side for about 90% for the first 3 hours and averaging about 6.5kms p/hr. Not bad, we had covered some pretty good distance considering the conditions we were dealt with and at 18 kms into it we took a short 10 minute break. At this point were able to start seeing slivers of the Vancouver skyline. Once we refuelled our body's and started back up we could no longer see the city and the wind was blowing towards us at about 15 knots. We were starting to see white caps in the distance. We kept going for another hour and our average speed dropped down to under 2kms. In that hour we only covered 2km of additional distance. We looked up the forecast and it was about to get worst and jump up to 20 to 25 knots. Imagine being on a treadmill and its going backwards 2 times the speed you are running forward. Even if it was possible to weather what was coming for us for a few more hours, by the time the wind would have dropped down to 5 to 10 knots we would still be dealing with headwind. A few people thought it might have been the torrential downpour that caused us to turn around and it was in fact not the rain at all.

It was indeed a very tough call to make. We didn't want the situation to go from bad, to very bad, to worse. When we did turn around although most of the wind was at our back, there was still considerable side chop until we were sheltered by Gabriola island. To keep what we had to carry onto the ferry minimal as possible we had also sent all of our food and water back to Vancouver when we turned around.

The endurance, mental and physical strength and high spirits displayed by these athletes (Norman, Adam, Carmen, Evan, Geordie, Steve, Roxanne, Paul, Jason, and Kelvin) was truly amazing. The whole event was still a huge success. Paddling 40kms yesterday, and being on the water for 8+hours on the Salish Sea this was definitely no small feat and a huge achievement. ~ Harry Saini