Who: Sarah Outen & Justine Curgenven
Where: 1400 nautical miles island hopping from Adak to Homer
When: Fly to Anchorage 23rd April 2014, fly to Adak 27th April. Start kayaking early May.
Biggest crossing: 37 nautical miles
Longest distance without any people: 250 nautical miles between Atka & Nikolski
Biggest challenges: Changeable weather, strong winds, fast currents, many tidal rips, inhospitable coastline, remoteness, carrying enough food, length of trip (3-4 months).
The long volcanic arm of the Aleutian islands is somewhere I have dreamt of paddling for years. The wild, rugged archipelago draws me in for the very reasons it makes me apprehensive. Strong currents, raging tidal races, relentless winds, thick fog, long crossings, rocky landings, unchartered waters and hundreds of miles with no people. Throw in a few active volcanos, the occasional hot springs, birds, whales, remote communities and the chance to spend weeks learning to feel a part of this landscape & I can’t wait. I love exploring little visited corners of the world where nature is the indisputable boss. I’m looking forward to some beautiful paddling, meeting the people who eek out a living in remote outposts and even some long, tough, character building days. The fog, wind and rain aren’t part of the attraction, but they’re part of the package!
The pilot gives sobering reading,
“The shores are generally precipitous; the breakers are heavy and in many cases the approaches are filled with jagged rocks and kelp beds…. All passages in the Aleutian islands have strong currents. In narrow Akun Strait, the current is reported to reach a velocity of 12 knots….The weather of the Aleutians is characterized by persistently overcast skies, strong winds and violent storms… On Adak there is an average of 341 days with measurable precipitation”.
We kayaked 1,400 nautical miles from Adak island (the western most inhabited island in the United States) to the nearest road in Homer on mainland Alaska. We undertook over 20 open water crossings in remote, inhospitable seas, 1000 miles from the nearest coastguard. We carried 4 weeks worth of food as most of the chain is uninhabited. The challenging journey took 101 days.
For Sarah Outen this is part of a wider journey to travel around the world by human power. She’s had quite an adventure so far while kayaking, cycling and rowing from London to Adak. I joined her on the kayaking legs from London to France & Russia to Japan, & she’s become a great friend. Last Summer, I had a call from Sarah’s tiny rowing boat in the middle of the Pacific ocean saying winds were preventing her from making it to Vancouver before winter and how did I fancy kayaking along the Aleutian islands with her? Despite the fact that Sarah hasn’t had a massive amount of kayaking experience, she has the stamina & perseverance of 20 oxen and a positive can-do attitude that has me laughing at the direst situation. She’s been home for the last 6 months and in-between organising, catching up with friends, family and her fiancee, Sarah has been training hard in her trusty Rockpool Menai-18. Big thanks to Barry Shaw who has given Sarah many days of great coaching. She’s now rolling in the waves, paddling skilfully in currents and interpreting the dynamic tidal environment.
Preparing for a big trip takes a lot of time but we’re nearly there. We’ve been on a great survival and foraging course with Patrick & Scott from Backwoods Survival School. Caroline Knox gave us fantastic instruction and advice on dealing with any medical issues that we might encounter – from the best way to clean a wound to dealing with anaphylactic shock & stitching. Kev Robinson kindly printed 35 charts for each of us (!) and we’ve been diligently writing information on the big wad from the on-line pilot, and from anyone willing and able to share information, for example Keirron Tastagh & Rob Avery who have kayaked in the Aleutians before, & Jeff Hancock who runs Aleutian Adventure Sports on Unalaska. We’re printing tidal information from the various passes we have to cross and trying not to gulp at figures of 5 and 6 knot currents (occasionally more), all of which are not in a useful direction. We’re travelling East – the currents are mainly bounding along to the North or South, kicking up a lively sea as they go. We are taking 3-piece kayaks and they start their journey to Anchorage tomorrow in some lovely bags custom made by AlpKit.
Sarah regularly posts twitter updates here. I have a twitter account here, but am more likely to post photos on Facebook to the Cackle TV Page - although perhaps I will need to do this to on my personal page using the Iridium access point ( we still have to configure that). We will both put up blogs every so often as well – mine is here. Sarah’s is here.