Here are seven random fun-facts or stories related to kayaking that you likely haven’t heard of.
Back in World War II, the British Special Forces first conceived the idea of using kayaks during military raiding missions and they proved to be quite useful due to the fact that they were fast, quiet and easy to fold and store when the mission was over.
Jump forward to today and you will be pleased to know that, kayaks and canoes have been used for special mission by the US Marines, British Commandos, and the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.
Some publically available examples of their use in military operations include early reconnaissance missions by the British in the 1982 Falklands War and a 1992 raid in Somalia where US Marines snuck into the country unannounced to set the stage for a full-force siege.
Arguably one of the greatest kayak expeditions you have never heard of started back in 1932 when Oskar Speck decided to take the bus to the Danube River in Ulm, Germany and start paddling towards Cyprus. Over the next 7 years he continued working East paddling over 50,000 kilometers and eventually making his way to Australia where, September 1939, he was promptly arrested on suspicion of being an enemy alien (after all, Australia was at war against Germany at the time). He was sent to an internment camp where he stayed until the end of the war in 1945.
There is no word Oskar participated in any other major kayak expeditions after the war but several artifacts including compass, personal diary and video clips he took are now on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
Image credit: wikipedia.org
Back around 1949, a young Pope John Paul II (before he was the Pope of course) was introduced to kayaking when he was working at Saint Florian's parish in Kraków, Poland.
He fell in love with kayaking so much that he quickly bought his own folding kayak (a Klepper) to take on vacations and meditation retreats. John Paul was also quite competitive and entered several downriver races including one on the Dunajec River in 1955 where his boat got a hole in it and promptly sunk just before the finish line.
Image credit: Fr. Rick's Sabbatical
John Veniaminov was born in near Irkutsk, Siberia in 1797 and knew he wanted to be a priest from an early age. Over the years he traveled between Siberia and what is now Alaska spreading the good word and it wasn't long however that he discovered the importance of becoming an expert in kayaking so he could travel solo during the summer months.
At six-foot-three inches tall, he was both imposing and highly respected by the local people for his skills. For example, there is a story of him traveling out to minister to his people in 1828. Things were going well as he kayaked his way out along the Aleutian Islands until trouble found him while he was between the Unalaska and Akun Islands. During that trip he was forced off the water twice due to storms and then almost capsized by a pod of whales. When he got back he told the story as if it was a routine trip.
He was canonized on October 6, 1977 by the Russian Orthodox Church and while "patron saint of kayaking" isn't his official title, I'm going to start lobbying that it should be.
Robyn Benincasea from the US of A currently holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest distance a woman has ever paddled in 24 hours when she paddled down the Yukon River in Yukon, Canada back in June 2011. Over a 24 hour period, she covered a distance of 371.92km (231.1 miles). Yes, she had the current helping to push her along but I'm 100% confident she went farther than you ever could.
The official world record was broken on September 24, 2011 when 1,902 boats formed the world's largest raft of canoes/kayaks in Inlet, NY. That being said, the record might not stand to much longer as an attempt to break it was just held in Suttons Bay, Michigan with 2,099 people registered. They are still waiting for the official verification from Guinness.
The Guinness rules stated that the flotilla must be a contiguous floating raft of touching kayaks held together for at least 30 seconds. The count is verified using aerial photos.
Image credit: National Geographic
Kayaks have been made with a variety of weird things over the years including concrete, aluminum and even pumpkins but I think one of the weirdest has to be the kayak manufactured from paper that came from sheep poo. Back in 2009, Lez Paylor, a partner in the UK paper business SheepPooPaper.com took an old Folbot frame and replaced the standard canvas skin with the poo paper (which had been waterproofed soy based marine grade waterproof resin).
Sadly their maiden voyage didn't inspire confidence as it started to leak within about 5 miles and they had to make a quick dash to shore.
Last week I had the amazing privilege to guide an eight-day sea kayak expedition on Lake Superior for Naturally Superior Adventures. The route started with a boat shuttle out to Cozens Cover at the eastern end of the very remote Michipicoten Island. From there we worked around the island clockwise before making the 18km crossing to the north shore and back towards Wawa and Naturally Superior Adventures. Here is the full route map (new window).
This trip was different than a typical guided trip in that each participant was responsible for their own food, camping gear and boat. My role throughout the trip wasn’t to do the cooking (they would have starved to death if they did) but rather to get everybody back home safely.
Lets cut to the chase, Michipicoten Island is wicked awesome. If it isn’t already on your bucket list of trip destinations, you need to add it. Even if you just plan on circumnavigating the island as the vast majority of visitors do, you will die a happier person (hopefully long after the trip is done).
Here is what makes the island special:
The crossing from the island to the north shore of Lake Superior was something that was always a concern in the back of our head. We had a two day window to make the crossing so it came down to figuring out which day was better. We decided to make the jump on the trips third day and cross north from Bonner Head. This meant that we only made it around 3/4 of the island but if we kept going and crossed the next day (from the east end of the island) it would mean a very strong head wind and medium seas. I believe we made the better choice and was on the water at 7am with light tailwinds. Just over three hours later we were on the north shore patting each other on the back, happy with our accomplishment.
Michipicoten Island has a long history of failure over the years. Explorers to the island had dreams of striking it rich through mining or fishing but more times than not they were sent home bankrupt. It was a very tough place to try to make a living.
Talking to the owner of Naturally Superior Adventures, Dave Wells, we figure that less than 50 people visit the island each year and we were one of only two commercial trips that will visit this year. Also, the route that we took by crossing and paddling home has only been done by about 20-25 people in the past 15 years so as you can guess, Michipicoten Island is a pretty remote place.
Due to that remoteness, if you do go, you need to make sure that your paddling and rescue skills are rock solid. There are several sand and cobblestone beaches to camp on but they can be few and far between in certain points so plan your day out carefully. Finally don’t count 100% on your VHF radio being able to access the Canadian Coast Guard in the event of an emergency. Due to the high mineral count in the rocks, there were several places along the north shore where you will be in a radio shadow and unable to get a signal. On a trip I took out there in 2007 we had a difficult time reaching the Coast Guard and had to paddle offshore about a mile or so to report in one evening.
To help out with our risk management plan, inReach Canada sent me one of their newly released inReach SE to put through it’s paces. The inReach SE is a two-way satellite communicator that allows you to send short text messages to anybody in the world from anywhere. It has a built in keyboard similar to your old cell phone so it doesn’t require you to connect your smartphone via bluetooth (though that option is there if you want). I’m working on a more extensive review but the real short review is that I was blown away by the unit. The fact I could send a note to the NSA base (or my wife) letting them know where I we were located was amazing. Even better, a couple of days I sent them a request for a more precise weather report then what was on the radio and 15 minutes later we had the response. I did find a couple quirks with the unit but I will hold onto them until I publish the detailed review. Overall, I was very pleased with it.
Should you do the trip next year? Of course you should. I would tell perspective paddlers that they should be comfortable in medium seas with 2-3 foot swells and have a firm grasp on both rescue and camping skills.
Here is a very cool short documentary that I found while researching the island. It gives a very good idea of what you can expect when you visit next.
If you want to see more photos, stop by my flickr page and scroll through the collection or click through the slideshows below.
Did you know that the mighty Colorado River used to reach the ocean but now it doesn’t due to heavy water diversion? It’s something that people have told me but never really thought about it or imagined what that could look like.
Back in 2011 a group of kayakers paddled down the Green and Colorado Rivers from source to sea and filmed the whole thing. They edited the entire 113 day journey into 3.5 minutes and called the short film, Mirror River.
Spoiler alert: it goes trickle > raging river > trickle.
I got news over the weekend that Amy and Dave Freeman finally completed their massive 3-year, 11,700 mile expedition called the North American Odyssey which included traveling by kayak, dogsled and canoe.
Back in April, 2010 they started their afternoon adventure in Bellingham, Washington paddling the entire coastline of British Columbia, then across the Yukon and eventually working their way back to Lake Superior. The last leg of the trip included kayaking to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence then down the eastern seaboard and eventually ended up at the southern tip of Florida.
The expedition was a partnership with their non-profit organization, Wilderness Classroom whose mission is to “increase students' appreciation for the environment while improving core academic skills by introducing students to the wonders of exploration and wilderness travel through live, web-based expeditions and school assemblies.”
We interviewed Amy and Dave last year just before starting the final leg of their trip.
If you are looking for an adventure this summer you should consider joining me on Lake Superior as we circumnavigate the extremely remote, Michipicoten Island (map link).
The Michipicoten Island Expedition (as we've dubbed it) is being organized by Naturally Superior Adventures and is an 8-day sea kayaking adventure for intermediate paddlers looking for a challenge yet still want to be under the care of a guide.
The plan is to take a 60 kilometer boat shuttle from Michipicoten Bay out to the mystic Michipicoten Island. We will then circumnavigate the island, make the 18 km perpendicular crossing from Bonner Head to the mainland, then eastwards along the Superior Highlands shore before finishing back at the NSA base in Michipicoten Bay, a total of about 140 km over the eight days.
Michipicoten has a very interesting cultural history. Once shunned by First Nations peoples as a place of malevolent giants, Michipicoten Island became one of Ontario's most promising sources of copper and an easy access point to Lake Superior's seemingly endless bounty of fish in the early 1900s. Since then, the copper mine and fishing village have been abandoned. All that remains are old mine shafts, ramshackle buildings and flourishing populations of woodland caribou and beaver. Throw in a couple of lighthouses and a few shipwrecks, rugged shoreline and you've got everything all wrapped up in this island expedition.
For those who have always wanted to do a trip on Lake Superior but shied away from a fully pampered guided trip, this is the adventure for you. It's unique in that it's designed as a self-reliant expedition so all members of the group are responsible for their own food & gear. I won't be cooking for you but I'm quite happy to bring you a cup of my famous poor tasting and burnt coffee in the morning. My role in the as leader will be to provide logistical support, local knowledge, a safety net and completely made-up stories of my time living with a pack of wolves.
Because it's a self-reliant trip in a very remote an inaccessible part of Lake Superior participants need to make sure they have a strong level of both kayaking skills and wilderness camping experience.
Michipicoten Island is an amazing place and completely unique to the rest of Lake Superior. I had the opportunity to visit back in 2007 and have wanted to return ever since.
The dates of the trip are Friday, August 2-10th. There is a floating price scale depending on the number of participants so for example, if we have 3 people the price is $1190 but that price drops to $750 if we get six people onboard so make sure you get a buddy to come along. Of course taxes are not included in those prices.
Check Naturally Superior Adventure's website for all the details and feel free to contact me or NSA with any questions you may have.
It's going to be wicked awesome.
Back in 1930 UK explorer, H.G. Watkins (the guy in the photo above) gathered a team together to see if a new air route between Britain and Canada could be established rather then flying across the dangerous ocean. The proposed route was to cross the Arctic via the Faroes,
Along with figuring out the route, the 14-man team had a goal to map the very poorly understood Greenland shoreline as well as gather climate data of the icecap of
All in all the year-long expedition was quite a success and it have some slow times allowing the team to take some kayak lessons from the local people living in
The footage below was captured in the summer of 1930 and shows members of the expedition in the last half.
Two interesting observations from the film; first, it’s clear towards the end of the footage, it’s team members rolling and playing around in the boats so they must have had enough time (and willingness to get wet) to actually learn how to roll. Could these be one of
The second thing I realized that even 82 years later, as soon as a group of kayakers who can roll get together somebody always wants to organize some sort of synchronised rolling demonstration.
Of course not everything on the expedition went smooth. During the winter of 1931, Augustine Courtauld volunteered to live solo at the weather station in the interior of
Freeze Frame has a better description of his adventure then I could ever make up:
Having left his spade outside [the station], Courtauld had struggled with the snow, it had filled both the exit and the openings into the snow house and stores. He had also been troubled by the loss of paraffin from two slightly punctured tins, this resulted in a shortage of fuel and as he also ran out of candles he had to spend some time in the dark. He also ate his meals uncooked so that the limited supply of fuel could be conserved to melt drinking water.
More info and fantastic photos can be found here.
Update: Upon further investigation, I found out that expedition leader, G.H. Watkins went back to Greenland in 1932 on a second expedition which would sadly end in tragedy for him.
During both the 1930 and 1932 trips to Greenland he spent a lot of time with the local people becoming quite proficient at kayaking. In fact he fell in love with the activity and people so much that the expedition was one of the first to make use of indigenous techniques and methods. He and his men were so at hunting seals from a kayak that they planned on not bringing any food for their 1932 expedition but rather live off the land completely. At the time this was completely unheard of especially by citizens of British society who looked down at the people of Greenland as savages.
Sadly the method of travel for the expedition wasn’t to come about as Watkins drowned in his kayak while he was out hunting on his own one day.
G.H. Watkins legacy to polar exploration was a real shift in mindset in how future expeditions are carried out; as well he planted the seeds of respect for the local people. It’s best described on the very fascinating site, Freeze Frame:
This expedition marked a real shift in the way explorers viewed indigenous technologies. Apart from following in Nansen’s footsteps in adopting the sledge and snowshoe designs [Watkins] adapted from Inuit versions during the periods in which he overwintered with them, few explorers had wholeheartedly examined and embraced Inuit survival techniques. Watkins’ final expedition, for which the food source was based entirely upon Inuit hunting methods, marks the start of changing views with regard to the Inuit and their techniques.
If you are an adventurous soul living in the
The Kukri Adventure Scholarship is a brand new program aimed at providing up to £20,000 in funding to help get your trip off the ground. Along with the cash you also get a pile of free gear as well which is fantastic.
Entering into the contest involves first coming up with a fantastic idea then making a short two-minute video to sell the idea to the judges and the public on Facebook.
The cool thing about the scholarship is that your level of expertise or fame isn’t a factor in winning but rather your ability to think up a good adventure, able to carry it out and bring back a good story to tell the world.
Ask ten people who live in Ontario where the best places are to go kayaking and you will probably get ten different answers. The opportunities for sea kayaking in Ontario are virtually endless and deciding where to go can be a bit daunting if you don’t already know the area. To help you get started, check out dealchecker. They can help you find the kayak or canoe holiday (as well as flights to Canada) that you are seeking.
Ontario borders four of the five Great Lakes which is one of the reasons it’s such a fantastic place for sea kayakers looking for adventure. Generally speaking, the two best lakes for sea kayaking are Lake Huron (in particular Georgian Bay) and Lake Superior. Both locations offer hundreds of miles of undeveloped shoreline and crystal clear water.
Georgian Bay is one of the classic Ontario destinations for sea kayakers. It’s an area known as the 30,000 islands and a huge amount of the shoreline is still undeveloped giving you the wilderness experience you are looking for.
The geography of Georgian Bay is very unique. During the last ice age that area of the Canadian Shield was scraped down by the retreating glaciers leaving behind campsites made of solid, smooth bedrock. This makes the area a perfect spot for kayak trips as you are not camping on sand or mud and the shoreline is free of weeds for swimming. Those are all good things in my book.
As far as trip routes to paddle in Georgian Bay, you have lots of options. The jumping off point for most people is at the many marinas just outside of Parry Sound. You can leave from the marina in Snug Harbour, Dillon Cove or Point au Baril for example and from there either paddle north or south along the shoreline. If you are looking for less people, plan your trip to get out to the many off-shore islands along its length. There will be a lot less boat traffic and cottages out there.
Getting to Georgian Bay isn’t that difficult for international travelers as you can fly directly into Toronto and a hire a car from a car for the 2.5h drive north to Parry Sound. From there you can access several outfitters who offer everything from boat/camping gear rentals all the way up to fully guided trips. Talk to White Squall Paddling Centre, Black Feather or Learn to Kayak. Wild Women Expeditions is a unique business that runs woman only trips out of the Georgian Bay area so you should contact them if you are looking for that sort of thing.
When it comes to sea kayak paddling locations in Ontario, the north shore of Lake Superior is the undisputed king and often voted as one of the most beautiful places to paddle in Canada.
The one thing to keep in mind is that paddling along Lake Superior is not for the faint of heart. With cold water and big waves due to high winds, you need to plan a trip on Lake Superior like you were planning a trip on any ocean. You should have fair bit of experience kayaking and camping if you are planning your own expedition. That being said, there are lots of excellent locations that beginner can visit when accompanied with a proper guide to help out.
At the East end of the lake international travelers can fly into Thunder Bay and use that location as the start for adventure with many excellent trips along the north shore. Sleeping Giant Provincial Park or Slate Islands are both excellent places to go with a guide.
Another very nice place to paddle that is also logistically easy to get to is Lake Superior Provincial Park along west shore between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie. Lake Superior Provincial Park offers a coastline that is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) long which is a very nice 5-7 day paddle. Just remember that the shoreline has several sections of large cliffs or inaccessible shoreline so make sure that you stay off the water when the wind is blowing as it can get very rough very quickly. June and July are the calmest months so plan your trip during that time.
There are several outfitters on Lake Superior who can help you with logistics including gear/boat hire, vehicle shuttles, or guided trips. Contact Naturally Superior Adventures, Superior Outfitters, Caribou Expeditions or Wildwaters for more information.
As you can see, Canada offers an unbelievable number of paddling opportunities and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. British Columbia, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia all offer amazing destinations as well. If you are interested in a canoeing holiday there are so many rivers in the interior of Canada that you can’t even count them all on one hand.
Top photo credit: DSCN0339 ep | Eric.Parker Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic / CC BY-NC 2.0
Bottom photo credit: Lake Superior Provincial Park | Andrea Schafferhttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_CA / CC BY 2.0
Mad River Canoe is partnering with Dave Cornthwaite, a British adventurer, who is on a mission to complete 25 journeys, 1,000 miles each, by non-motorized means. The total distance of the 25 journeys is equivalent to the length of the circumference of the Earth around the equator. For Dave Cornthwaite’s next Expedition1000 adventure, Swim1000 Missouri, Cornthwaite will swim 1,000 miles on the Missouri River in 50 days starting in Chamberlain, S.D., on August 10, and ending in St. Louis, Mo., in late September 2012.
Mad River Canoe will supply Cornthwaite and his team with a Legend 16 canoe to haul gear and provide a stable platform for filming the expedition. Cheri McKenzie, Chief Marketing Officer for Confluence Watersports, said this: “Mad River Canoe is excited to be supporting Swim1000 and Dave Cornthwaite’s team. The expedition reflects the spirit of exploration that Mad River Canoe embodies, and we are honored that Dave and his team chose to incorporate the MRC tradition into this inspiring wilderness adventure.”
In addition to the canoe and film crew, Cornthwaite will be accompanied by a team of six stand-up paddle boarders and a small carbon fiber raft that he will use to tow and push his personal gear. The team hopes to complete 20 miles a day for 50 days.
All proceeds from the Swim1000 segment will go to CoppaFeel!, a charity that raises money for breast cancer education. By the time the Expedition1000 team is finished with all 25 expeditions, they hope to raise £1,000,000 through donations for charities, including CoppaFeel! To date, the team has raised £500,000 through private donations.
To learn more about Mad River Canoe and the Legend 16, visit www.madrivercanoe.com.
About Mad River Canoe:
Some say that a mischievous rabbit founded Mad River Canoe (read about it here). We’re not saying for sure, but when Jim Henry built the first Mad River Malecite in 1971, he was inspired by the Micmac Indian legend of a rabbit whose confidence was a powerful asset when backed up with innate abilities. Confidence, aptitude, innovation and results guided the beginning of Mad River Canoe and they persist in the brand and its boats today. For nearly 40 years, Mad River has devoted itself to the craft of building a better canoe, not for the glory, but for the results. Until you can get on the water to feel the confidence of a Mad River Canoe yourself, check us out online at www.madrivercanoe.com.
If you have ever wondered what it’s like to kayak or row across the ocean here is a clip that give you a very good example of what to expect.
This is a short film about Bhavik’s several attempts to row across the Atlantic from Spain to Antigua without a motor or sail. The total distance was 6393km and took over 100 days to complete.
Who knew it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns out there in the middle of the ocean?
Bhavik’s website: bhavik.com