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Oct
26

Adventure on the low seas: outrigger paddling in Victoria

The Slackers enjoying coffee and biscotti shortly before the portage adventure. I am cut off at the far right of the picture...

If you happened to be driving along Victoria’s Gorge Road last Saturday and saw six people hauling an outrigger canoe down the street – that was my team. Here’s the story:

We belong to a recreational outrigger group called The Slackers that paddles out of the Go Rowing club headquartered at Garbally Road on Victoria’s Gorge waterway.  The Gorge is a narrow inlet that connects Victoria Harbour to Portage Inlet. Sometimes we head north up the Gorge to Portage Inlet, sometimes we head south to the outer reaches of Victoria’s beautiful inner harbour.

Last Saturday the club director warned us the tide was against us if we were planning to head north past the Tillicum Road Bridge.

Victoria: home to one of Canada’s two reversing falls

Not many people know this but Victoria is home to one of Canada’s two reversing falls under this bridge. The Hallmark Society, a Victoria historical group, describes it thusly (I always wanted to use that word!):

The reversing falls [is] a tidal phenomenon located at the narrowest point in the Gorge Waterway. During certain tides large volumes of water attempt to flow through a narrow, shallow opening, creating a “reversing falls” with a current of up to 6 knots (11 kilometers per hour/6.5 miles per hour) and up to 5.75 feet (1.75 meters) difference in the water level on either side.

So, knowing the tide was about to turn against us, did we take the safe route and paddle to the inner harbour? No! Of course not! Despite the guidance of a retired Canadian naval captain and a steersman who makes his living working on fishing boats monitoring the West Coast fishery, we headed north.

My theory is that because Rick, the retired naval captain, lives off Gorge Road, he wanted to take advantage of a delivery of coffee and cookies from his wife, who hadn’t paddled with us that morning.

Our boat mates enjoyed the coffee and biscotti but when we tried to traverse the Tillicum Bridge narrows on the return leg – it was a no go. Despite three valiant efforts and lots of additional caffeine, we just couldn’t get through. The tide was dropping and it was getting steeper and harder each time.  We’d have had to wait for two hours – in an area bereft of restaurants or bars – for the tide to change.

Our intrepid crew therefore proceeded to scan the nearby shore looking for a landing point from which to stage a portage. Despite my repeated suggestions to head to the beach at the nearby headquarters of the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club (VCKC), they continued to scout locations along the shore, which is bordered by a short but steep embankment.

I guess they don’t do a lot of portaging in Canada’s navy or her fishing fleets.

Now, I have substituted for a VCKC women’s team – where they always launch the outrigger from the shore – and I knew there was no way we were going to be able to haul that sucker up any kind of embankment. However, I am firmly in the grip of “mental-pause” so I forgot to mention to my captains that the club has a wheeled dolly that facilitates the launch of these vessels, which are deceptively heavy for all the ease with which they can flip when they’re afloat (that’s another story!)

Fortunately, our fearless leaders eventually – reluctantly – decided that perhaps we should try the nearby VCKC beach so we pulled ashore, commanded the dolly and proceeded to heave the canoe up the steep driveway and down Gorge Road, through the busy intersection at Tillicum Road.

“We got tired of paddling,” I explained to a bemused pedestrian.

I have to credit Victoria drivers. We may be a city of terrible drivers but we are a city of terrible,  patient drivers. No one seemed to bat an eye – or at least honk a horn – as we slowly proceeded through the intersection to the south side of the bridge.

From there we slid the canoe down the bank, through the brambles, over logs, and finally gently tipped it over the bank onto the muddy shore. We heaved the dolly onto the boat, clambered aboard, and proceeded back to headquarters, tired but triumphant.  This took a lot more energy than is conveyed by those elegant sentences! I was still tired the next day!

Our retired naval captain had left a cryptic phone message with the club to explain that we’d be “a little bit late, having been unavoidably detained.” The club director was on the phone when we arrived but she saw us haul the dolly toward the parking lot, so I can only imagine what went through her head as we quickly slipped away.

We may call our team The Slackers but let me tell you, we got our exercise that day!

Another adventure on the low seas of Victoria!

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