Audrey Sutherland and her inflatable kayak

What Every Kid Should Be Able to Do by Age Sixteen

"Go simple, go solo, go now.” These are the words that propelled paddling legend Audrey Sutherland through numerous kayaking adventures during her 94 years of life. The epic free spirit, who died in 2015, believed that security came not from money but from building one’s own skills and unlocking one’s own courage.

"Go simple, go solo, go now."

Audrey Sutherland urged people never to wait for the right moment to travel. “What we most regret are not the errors we made, but the things we didn’t do,” she once wrote.

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Sea Sculpture

Shumagin Islands, Home of Storms and Fog

by Stan Chladek

Expedition Members: Ron Monkman, Richard Kocher and Stan Chladek.

June-July 2004

In June of 1741 Vitus Bering, the Danish explorer in the service of the Russian Imperial Navy sailed from Kamchatka southwest and subsequently west to discover Alaska, making landfall between the mouth of Copper River and Cape Suckling. After turning east to discover Kodiak Island he later landed at a group of mountainous islands off the coast of Alaska Peninsula. The crewman of the ship Saint Peter, named Shumagin, became very sick and was taken to shore with hope that his heath would improve. He died a day later, apparently from scurvy, and was buried at the narrow isthmus between the ocean shore and an inland lake, on the island which is known today as Nagai Island. This archipelago of 22 islands, located near the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula (about 280 miles east of Dutch Harbor on the Unalaska Island) was named Shumagin Islands in his honor. He was the first in a long list of Russians who died during their more then 120-year occupation of Russian America.

Like the Aleutian Islands toward the west, the Shumagins were originally inhabited by Aleuts. Their lives were totally based on using kayaks, baidarkas, for hunting sea mammals and fishing, since the treeless islands provided very little subsistence. In pre-Russian times, there were probably twelve native villages on six main islands (Unga, Popoff, Korovin, Simeonoff, Chernobura and Nagai). As the times passed, the villages dwindled, partly due to losses from civil strife, partly due to Russians, but mostly due to ravages from Kodiak Islanders (Koniags), who launched long distance kayaking forays from their home far northeast.  In the twentieth century there were only two settlements left and after the village of Unga was abandoned in the sixties, only one settlement exists today, Sand Point, inhabited by both native and white population.

Studying the charts of the Islands indicated that all the ingredients of an interesting sea kayak trip should be there: remote islands with exposed coasts and steep topography, and long lines of cliffs intercepted with infrequent beaches. We could expect some protected areas in large bays, and most often we would be exposed to the swells of the open North Pacific. We anticipated similar weather as on my last expedition to the Aleutian Islands: that means wind, fog and rain and more wind. We thought that perhaps conditions could be a little milder, since charts did not indicate too many tidal currents. In fact, the tides were relatively small (only about 8’ in spring). As it turned out, the weather was indeed similar as at the Aleutians, with the famous williwaws (katabatic winds) viciously blowing quite often and quite suddenly. The Pacific beaches turned out to be more gradual then those on the Bering Sea, thus enabling us to get good surf rides and much easier landings and launchings. Also, there were more protected bays. However, the frequency of rain and fog even exceeded our rather pessimistic expectations!

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Eastern Team

Circumnavigation of Easter Island

by Stan Chladek & Nigel Dennis

Why Easter Island? The world’s most remote island is a small speck of land, some 2,600 miles from the South America mainland, 1,200 miles from Pitcairn Island and a thousand of miles west of Tahiti. Towards the  south, nothing  but countless miles of the virtually empty Pacific all the way to Antarctica. The swells roll unhindered all the way from New Zealand, and summer trade winds blow incessantly from the east. This, together with the inhospitable coast of  spectacular black lava cliffs and reefs, make the island a true kayaking challenge. This daunting coastline is broken by only two small beaches.

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Aunt Kathy Goes Downeast

Aunt Kathy Goes Downeast

Fourteen thousand years ago the mile thick ice over the Canadian Maritimes began to withdraw toward the North Pole exposing vast new and raw lands. Within a few hundred years, forests returned, rivers cleared their course and the richness and grandeur of this amazing coastal area began to blossom. Multitudes of birds, fish and land animals thrived in this rich new coastal system. This bountiful environment enabled early Native Americans to begin flowing into the magic of the Gulf of Maine where they were able to prosper for over 9000 years. 

In the later part of the last millennium, Europeans invaded the forests, waters and islands of the Gulf of Maine and the harvest and plunder of this area’s wealth of timber, fish and fauna began. The majestic hundred-foot canopy of the climax forest was cut down, the massive schools of herring were encircled in large nets and the birds and animals harvested for people living far away. All of this resulted in the decimation and displacement of the Native Peoples from their coast to allow room for the Europeans and their fishing and timber industries.

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Team of sea kayakers on Aleutian Islands expedition

Aleutian Islands Expedition

by Stan Chladek

Expedition Members: Brian Day & Stan Chladek 

EQUIPMENT USED
  • Kayaks: Nordkapp Jubilee 3 piece sectional by Valley Canoe Products
  • Paddles: Lendal crank shafts
  • Dry Suits: Kokatat GoreTex
  • Tents: Bibler/Black Diamond

The Aleutian Islands are a remote archipelago stretching in a great arc from southwest Alaska to Siberia. Located at the collision of the relatively warm Northern Pacific Ocean and the frigid Bering Sea, the island’s bad weather is legendary, with frequent fog, gale force winds, and rain. Thus the islands have been called the "Birthplace of Winds" or the "Cradle of Storms". The islands were the home of the Aleutians, perhaps the most accomplished ancient native kayakers. These hunters of the stormy seas had to be expert kayakers in order to survive in the vicious seas and render their livelihood from them. Their hunting machines, the baidarkas, along with West Greenland kayaks, were the most advanced and efficient water crafts used by natives. The baidarkas were used for fishing and hunting various sea mammals including, incredibly, whales. Early Russian observers - because it was the Russians who in the 18 and 19th century colonized the islands - remarked on the extreme seaworthiness and efficiency of the baidarkas as well as on the high skills of the Aleutian kayakers. The Russians virtually enslaved the Aleuts and forced them to hunt sea otters from the baidarkas, whose pelts they traded with the Chinese. This wholesale slaughter of sea otters in the 19th century led to a virtual extinction of this animal along the northwest coast of America. The Aleuts suffered an even worst fate at the hands of the Russians and through the infectious diseases such as small pox introduced by whites. The last straw for these people was a forcible relocation during World War II by the US government when the Islands were attacked by the Japanese. So today, only a small remainder of the once proud natives remain on the islands which are part of Alaska.

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