Port Townsend WA to Victoria BC June 4th 2015.

A few days before the start of the Race to Alaska, the weather forecast was for wind from the East. This was good news and I relaxed, confident that I could do the crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with some help from the wind. Then that wind arrived a day early and they changed the forecast for Thursday to wind from the west. And on Thursday morning the wind was forecast to be stronger from the west, against me.

The race launch was delayed by half an hour. I commented to another kayaker that we needed every millisecond to get across before we ran out of time, tide and sunlight. This was not a good delay for us. I had a string of waypoints nailed to the aether with my GPS. Each waypoint was named after the time of day I expected to pass it. These allowed me to use my GPS as a set-o-meter to tell me what direction to point my kayak in the wind and current to make my boat move directly towards Victoria. If I could maintain 4 miles an hour, I could get to Victoria before the tide turned.

Fortunately, the tide was going our way and it just about canceled out the wind. So all I had to do was paddle hard all day. Most of the day went well, I maintained 4 miles per hour and sometimes more in the tide rips. In the course of the day I passed through several rips out in the middle of the strait. Some of these may be caused by shallow areas, others by tide currents colliding from different directions. I would hear the water roaring from a distance and see white water. Then I would plow into the waves and wallow over them. One of the rips out in the middle of the strait occasionally had 4 foot waves! A guy in a light nimble kayak could have fun surfing some of these, but I was in a heavily laden touring boat and could only wallow. I heard second hand reports that the only other kayaker in the race was terrified by conditions out in the middle of the strait.

Unfortunately, the tide turned on me when I was just 5 miles from the entrance to Victoria Harbor. I started moving slower and slower and it was going to take longer and longer to do those last few miles. One of the race safety boats came by to talk to me. On board was that other kayaker who had "hit the wall", was unable to continue and called for a rescue. They also warned me about the tide so I turned towards shore. My plan was to eddy-hop along the shore against the tide. I came to ground behind what I thought was a little peninsula with a lighthouse on it. But it turned out to be the Trial Islands with a huge rip current running between the islands and shore. I ferried across this rip to shore and found the current rushing right along a rock cliff face, I could not eddy hop here and could not make progress. I ferried back to the island and tried to get around the ends, the tide was too strong. I tried between the islands and found the current roaring between the gaps. I was trapped.

The race rules gave me a day and a half to get to Victoria Harbor, I could just wait 6 hours and proceed. But I wasn't supposed to touch Canadian soil without talking to customs first. There was a procedure for doing this over the phone. So I landed on a nice gravel beach on the smaller Trial Island and got out my options. Kate DeLauriers and I had gone to Victoria a week before on the ferry from Port Angeles and failed to get this to work yet. I had paid a Canadian cellphone shop to unlock my smartphone. But it refused to take for several days, and by then we were back in the USA where I could not test it. Kate bought several different Canadian SIM cards. They didn't work in her phone and mine was not unlocked. Kate ordered two from-the-factory unlocked phones so we would be able to communicate. But these didn't arrive until the day before the crossing. So on Trial Island I pulled one of these out and it said "invalid SIM" and did not work. My unlocked smartphone with a Canadian SIM said: "Remember that MOTOBLUR application from Motorola that came with your phone? The app that connects all your social media together through your phone? The app that required you to give it your email address and make up a password? The app that you absolutely despised, so you have not used it in 3 years? Remember that password? It turns out you have to remember that password every time you change SIM cards. If you cannot, then IT LOCKS UP YOUR PHONE AND WON'T LET YOU RUN ANY APPLICATIONS." I also had a satellite phone, but it is very unreliable and can only stay connected for a few minutes at a time. Not enough time to finish a conversation with border patrol. Hopefully no-one will know I was here and I won't get in trouble with customs.

I also tried to contact the race safety boats by VHS radio to tell them I was OK and was just going to wait for the tide to turn. They never heard me. A tour boat pulled into the lee of the island near me. I tried to contact the captain to relay a message for me to the race safety boat. I figured he had a better VHF than I. He tried twice, then called the Coast Guard: "Kayaker in distress on Trial Island". AHH! The last thing I wanted was official attention! The Coast Guard called the "Bio Diversity Officer" for Trial Island (retired Cost Guard officer) and he came out in a zodiac to talk to me. It turns out you are allowed to land on the smaller island I was on (not the one with the lighthouse). I did not volunteer to him that I had not contacted customs yet. He said that not only can you land here, but you can even camp here overnight. I joked "It turns out I happen to be provisioned to stay here for two weeks!" And then an amazing thing happened: HE FIGURED OUT THAT I WAS JOKING! I later heard other intelligent things from Coast Guard officers. It turns out they are primarily concerned with SAVING LIVES and HELPING PEOPLE. What an amazing concept! Unlike the USA Coast Guard which has been militarized, wear more Kevlar on their bodies than most of us have in our kayaks and buzz around the San Francisco Bay in a zodiac with a 50 caliber machine gun on it. I for one do not feel safer.

Since I was provisioned for camping, I took out one of my freeze dried meals and made myself dinner. After only 4 or 5 hours, the tide was mild enough again for me to escape and I eddy hopped into Victoria Harbor. I made it to the stage 1 finish line (crossing the strait) at 9:00 PM just after sunset. Using someone else's cellphone I called customs and checked in before getting out of my boat. I did not volunteer to the guy on the phone that I had already been out of my boat on Canadian soil for a few hours.

Now that I have passed the gauntlet of the crossing, I am allowed to continue and do the rest of the Race to Alaska! That part should be easy, it is just paddling every day and camping every night! I can do that!

All text and images Copyright © 2015 by Mike Higgins / contact