Members of the Suquamish Nation, from Suquamish, Wash. paddle to Nanoose First Nation on Monday. (NICHOLAS PESCOD/NEWS BULLETIN).

Ocean rescue needed as Tribal Journeys paddles onward

Rough waters stall canoes at Neck Point in Nanaimo

It took a little longer than expected, but the Tribal Journeys canoes made it to the shores at Nanoose Bay on Monday afternoon.

Only a handful of canoes were able to successfully paddle into the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation community due to high winds and rough seas.

The paddlers are part of the annual Tribal Journeys, which sees more than 90 canoes carrying thousands of First Nations people travel along Vancouver Island, making stops at various First Nations communities. This year’s hosts are the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations, located in the Campbell River region.

Marilyn Wandery, captain for the Suquamish Nation, who were the first to make it to Nanoose First Nation, said it felt good to be on shore, adding that the waters were challenging for her crew.

“It was very strong. We were far enough out that the coast guard didn’t turn us back,” she said. “We got to keep coming but all the the other canoes, they made them stop and go to shore.”

The Suquamish Nation began its journey in Suquamish, Wash., near Seattle, on July 21 and were in Nanaimo on Sunday. Wandery said the journey from Nanaimo to Nanoose was difficult, but thrilling.

“We were bouncing over those waves and I was steering and our rudder broke, but I’ll tell you what, it was exciting,” she said.

Although some canoes made it to Nanoose, others were not so lucky. Jerry Berry, coxswain with Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, said the conditions on the water were rough with 25-knot winds and waves as high as five feet.

“The vast majority of [canoes] got stopped at Neck Point, but those that did proceed north of Neck Point had difficulties.”

Berry said two canoes filled up with so much water that the occupants had to be rescued by his team, the Nanaimo Port Authority and the RCMP.

“In one case there were five persons in the water and in the other case there were three persons in the water and they were rescued pretty quickly by the parties on scene,” Berry said.

He also said there was an escort vessel with the canoes that began taking on water as well.

“There were 13 people aboard,” he said. “They were taken into Nanoose and the boat was assisted by the volunteer search and rescue boat and they pumped the water out of the boat.”

Berry said none of those who had to be recused sustained any injuries.

“Fortunately the response was excellent and the water was warm that day,” he said.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com