Several canoe groups are paddling down the Inside Passage to Wrangell for the Shakes Island Rededication event this week.
Two canoes traveling from Juneau hit bad weather and rough water on Saturday. One canoe was lost.
Both canoes left Juneau on April 24th. They were each accompanied by a support boat.
The Raven canoe belongs to the One People Canoe Society and has paddlers from several Southeast communities and Washington state.
The second canoe is from the Sealaska native corporation and has a Yakutat-based crew.
Alicia Chilton is on the board of the One People Canoe Society. She’s also a paddler on the Raven Canoe.
“On the third day of our journey out of Juneau, we headed out. We knew the weather was bad so we decided not to paddle that day, and we towed the canoes out. It was a little rough at the beginning and then it really began to pick up,” said Chilton.
She said the weather report showed some rough water in Seymour Canal and Stephens Passage. But they were not prepared for how bad it would get.
“We watched the raven canoe start to fill up with some water. We ended up hitting some waves that were 10 to 12 feet and there was no way we could stop to bail out the canoe in that rough of seas,” said Chilton.
Chilton said all the paddlers could do was stand on the deck of the support boat and hope for the best. She said the crew keeps their paddles under the seats when the canoe is being towed. About 15 paddles were swept overboard.
“When we went to turn, the line slacked in, and all the water from the back of the canoe rolled forward. And that’s when she just went down and the line broke. And we watched her drift away from us,” said Chilton.
She said it would have been too dangerous for the support boat to stop and go after the canoe.
Several other boats in the area, including at least one fishing tender, raced to help the crew.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, the same thing was happening to the Sealaska canoe. It too broke its tow line and was washed away.
The lost Raven Canoe was spotted on a rocky shore where it had beached itself. It was retrieved safely at about 2pm on Saturday.
The Sealaska canoe was found about two hours later.
The plan was to tow both canoes to Kake, where they could be inspected for damage, repaired if necessary, and sent back on their journey.
The Raven canoe made it. The Sealaska canoe did not.
During the recovery, it broke its tow line for a second time. It is still missing.
The Raven canoe and its crew arrived in Kake late Sunday afternoon. Gianna Willard is one of the paddlers.
“The boat ride was really rough. By the time we finally got to dry land we were all really exhausted and really hungry. And Kake welcomed us with open arms. They had this huge potluck spread for us. There were people greeting us with coffee at the door to warm us up. It was just a really warm welcoming. We were really glad to see it,” said Willard.
The Sealaska crew made it to Kake as well.
And, Chilton said, everyone is coming together to make the best of a harrowing experience.
Kake resident Mike Jackson and the crew of the Sitka Suicide Prevention canoe, among others, are loaning paddles to the Raven crew to make up for those lost overboard.
The Sealaska crew has found a new home.
“What’s happening now is that the Juneau and Yakutat crewmembers—we’ve got a total of 18—will be rotating through the Raven canoe. So Juneau and Yakutat are combining into one now,” said Chilton.
The Raven canoe is expected to arrive in Wrangell waters on Wednesday.