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Rowers circle Vancouver Island in 19 days

May 01 2012
Richard Tarbill, left, Adam Kreek, Jordan Hanssen and Greg Spooner in boat used to circumnavigate Vancouver Island 

Richard Tarbill, left, Adam Kreek, Jordan Hanssen and Greg Spooner in boat used to circumnavigate Vancouver Island

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury , timescolonist.com (April 30, 2012)

Olympic gold medallist Adam Kreek and four fellow rowers have spent the past 19 days living in a space no bigger than a closet, sleeping no more than four hours at a time and rowing 12 hours a day.

It was all part of the team’s ambitious quest to circumnavigate Vancouver Island.

Kreek and his fellow rowers — Richard Tarbil, Greg Spooner, Jordan Hanssen and alternate Markus Pukonen — ended the gruelling 1,200-kilometre journey in Victoria Monday after leaving the Vancouver Rowing Club on April 11.

Tarbil, Spooner and Hanssen will make the final leg across Juan de Fuca Strait, but Kreek opted to stay in Victoria to be with his wife, Rebecca, and two-year-old son Jefferson.

The biggest challenge came as the crew reached Brooks Peninsula on the northwest coast of the Island.

“We were stuck in funky currents and strong winds for 24 hours,” Kreek said. “The waves that come in reflect from that peninsula at a funny angle, so the boat really wasn’t moving. We were essentially going in circles and couldn’t make any progress.”

The team was forced to take refuge on land in the face of gale-force winds in Port Hardy and Hot Springs Cove, and took the opportunity to talk to school kids about their experience.

In addition to the physical and mental challenge, the quest, sponsored by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, was meant to raise awareness about ocean conservation.

“On the west coast of the Island, I started to see the number of plastic bottles that were floating around. We can certainly do a better job of putting things in a landfill or recycling them properly,” Kreek said.

They also took water samples that will be analyzed by the University of Washington to determine how the ocean is affected by fresh water runoff.

The silence of the human-powered boat meant the five men got a rare, intimate glimpse of West Coast wildlife.

That included eagles, a pod of gray whales and a male sea lion protecting its harem of females with a roar so loud that Kreek initially thought he was hearing a chainsaw.

His biggest message is to encourage Vancouver Islanders to get out and explore their own backyard, be it by kayaking or hiking, in order to get a true appreciation of the beauty of the wilderness.

“When people go out and experience the natural environment from that level, there’s no way they’d want to do anything to harm it.”

The fastest circumnavigation of Vancouver Island by a rower was by Canadian Colin Angus, who made the journey in just under 16 days.

Kreek said this was the first time a rowboat built to hold several people has circled the island.

Pukonen filmed much of the adventure and will put together a documentary to show at the Banff Film Festival in November.

The journey was also in preparation a 7,000-km trek across the Atlantic Ocean from Liberia to Venezuela, which they will start in December.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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