Pigs don't paddle. But that didn't stop 2007, the year of the pig in the Chinese calendar, from becoming one of the biggest seasons on record for sea kayak expeditions. Paddlers notched immense crossings and set new speed records around the globe. They circumnavigated islands, whole countries, and most of a continent--all of which left us with a yen to find out what the year of the rat will bring. Here are some of the expedition highlights from 2007.
The 2007 expedition year actually began on December 22, 2006, when Sandy Robinson launched into the Southern Ocean planning to paddle as far around Australia as possible in one year, solo. The date was symbolic. On the same day in 1981, Paul Caffyn began his circumnavigation of Australia by sea kayak. He's still the only person to complete the entire 7,456-mile circuit. In June, while paddling between Cairns and Darwin, Robinson was attacked by a crocodile. To save her skin and her nerves, she decided to skip the crocodile-rich northern waters, resuming in Broome, on the west coast. TKUpdate
Another Australian adventurer mounted the year's most audacious and tragic expedition. Andrew McAuley was lost at sea while attempting a 1,000-mile solo crossing from Tasmania to New Zealand. McAuley endured 29 nights in the Tasman Sea, including numerous capsizes, days of 30-foot seas, and winds as high as 70 miles per hour. He was 35 miles from the coast of New Zealand's South Island when he transmitted a distress signal. The New Zealand Coast Guard received the garbled signal on February 9 and found his empty kayak the next day.
May saw two separate expeditions break the previous speed record for circumnavigating Canada's Vancouver Island. Leone Somme had finished the 700-mile trip in 28 days; Keirron Tastagh and Jeff Norville hoped to cut that time in half, paddling a bright-pink tandem kayak. They missed that goal, but still lopped nine days off the old record, and raised several thousand dollars for breast-cancer research.
Weeks later, Canadian Joe O'Blenis challenged the record using a Greenland-style paddle. He gambled that the unsettled weather patterns would reverse the prevailing winds, but Mother Nature read his bluff, pitting head winds against him for 18 of the first 19 days. Despite the difficulties, he finished in a new solo record of 23 days and 10 hours. "If I’d gone in the other direction, I’m confident I’d have been well under 20 days," he says.
The old Vancouver record-holder, Somme, was also paddling this summer, completing a circumnavigation of British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii, with Justine Curgenven and Shawna Franklin. The trio spent 30 days paddling around the two biggest islands, Graham and Moresby islands, a distance of 500 miles, in a figure eight pattern. Along the way they were exposed to a full mix of experiences: 200-year old totem poles, humpback whales feeding yards from their kayaks, huge Pacific swells, long committing sections, and huge swaths of pristine rainforest.
Canada's West Coast
Inexperienced but bubbling with enthusiasm, brothers Robin, 20, and Ben Parker, 18, paddled from Vancouver, Canada, to Juneau, Alaska, in August. The self-styled city boys from London (England, not Ontario) had minimal paddling experience before they put in off Vancouver–Robin paddled all year with the University of Oregon outdoor club, and Ben had "a couple days" on the water. No matter: the brothers made good progress paddling up the east coast of Vancouver Island to Port Hardy, at its northern tip, where they caught a ferry to Prince Rupert. Back in their boats they headed north again and spent two weeks exploring iceberg-choked inlets and remote coastline on their way to Juneau.
Far to the south, Derrick Myoleth and Taino Almestica were experiencing an equally diverse, if much more tropical, paddling experience. For 18 days in August they paddled around Puerto Rico in the path of the Ana, a nineteenth-century pirate ship. The route took them through pounding surf, oppressive heat, stray gunfire from a practice range, and Hurricane Dean. "We faced more than our share of pure, scary and exciting open water conditions, big surfs, and tight landings," Myoleth says. "Once in awhile we got lucky and found posh resorts."
Other Notable Expeditions
Abraham Levy is paddling the entire 6,800-mile coastline of his native Mexico. www.abrahamlevy.com
Four Texans messed with the mighty Mississippi, paddling from Minnesota lake country to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 2,350 miles. www.kayak4akure.com
Four Swiss adventurers paddled 310 miles along the Greenland coast (See photo essay, p TK). www.photopulse.ch
Tomer Sabag and Hadas Feldman finished paddling around the Rock on August 3. Their stats: 1,677 miles, 66 days, 10 showers. www.seakayak.co.il
Glenn Morris, Stephen Doughty, and Richard Cree knocked off the first 920 miles of their two-year, 3,000-mile Northwest Passage expedition on September 3 before returning to England for the winter. arcticvoice.org