By Conor Mihell
Canadian brothers Russell and Graham Henry’s sea kayak journey across the Caribbean has been an expedition of opposites: Daylong crossings on windy, current-laced waters with crash landings on boulder beaches, and a layover on Richard Branson’s private island. Whereas most northerners go south in the winter for a little R&R, the Henry’s 2,485-mile expedition from South America to Florida is shaping into a bona fide epic. Recently the brothers traced the coastline of Puerto Rico (pictured below) to the Dominican Republic, preparing for the longest open-water crossing of the trip, a stout 90-miler to the Turks and Caicos.
We caught up with Graham Henry over the holidays for an update.
We expected to be facing brutal headwinds from the northeast, but in reality it has been pretty darn good. The strong winds are just picking up now. That’s convenient because we’re basically heading west.
On land we have been having an absolute blast. We have now been through 21 countries or territories and it’s hard to describe how nice everyone has been to us. We’ve been put up at luxury hotels for free, hosted for day-cruises on catamarans, and being welcomed into people’s homes. When we set out on this trip our biggest worry was the intangible of our interaction with people. While we still have a little chip on our shoulder, it’s wild how trusting we have become and how much we are getting out of it.
The close calls though have thankfully been few and far between. Landing on the Island of Redonda (a giant rock between Guadeloupe and Nevis, pictured above) was definitely the worst decision of our trip. We had some of the biggest seas of the trip crossing onto a giant boulder field of a shoreline. We crunched out boats up pretty well but thankfully not our skulls. The only way off was to push our boats and swim out through the surf after them and we were pretty rattled after the whole ordeal.
The crossing from Anguilla to the British Virgin Islands was 75 miles and took us 18 hours. We had plenty of wind pushing us across but the same wind made it hard to relax and refuel, so it was definitely a tough one. Thankfully we had a couple days of rest on Richard Branson’s new private island (though we never met him), staying with an engineer on the project.
I suppose the crossing to Culebra Island is worth mentioning as it was pretty bonkers. Easily the biggest seas either of us have paddled in. A massive curling wave exploded next to Russ in the open sea and knocked him around for a while before he rolled back up.
Recently we crossed the Mona Passage. It is notorious water and the currents are described as simply strong and variable. They sure were strong and pushed us around a bunch. While we split the crossing up with Mona Island in the middle, the 47- and 44-mile stretches kicked our asses and we are sure glad they are behind us.