When talking about our Ikkatsu Project and the act of paddling the open coast of Washington, this is usually the first question we’re asked: “How dangerous is it?”. Seems like it should be an easy question but it’s really more difficult to answer then you’d think. We don’t want to overplay the risk involved in paddling the open coast, giving the impression that we’re trying to hype our project, nor do we want to underplay the risk and inadvertently encourage those not ready for the challenges. Where to find the balance?
Certainly we take the usual precautions: PFD’s (or whatever the lawyers are having us call them these days), drysuits, helmets, VHF radios, etc. We have years of experience as both guides and instructors, but this is the Pacific and this section of the coast is called The Graveyard of the Pacific for a reason. Starting with the USS Peacock, part of Lt. Wilkes’ United States Exploring Expedition which ran aground on Columbia Bar in 1841, this coast has been claiming ships and lives on a regular basis.
In our first two segments of the trip, we’ve paddled by a recent wreck of what appeared to be a commercial fishing boat, the wreck of the USS General M.C. Meigs, and two shipwreck memorials dedicated to their lost crews. And those are the ones we know about and could see. The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has an excellent page covering the history of shipwrecks within its boundaries. A very sobering read.
And despite it being summer we’ve had drama while paddling. During our first leg, paddling south of Cape Flattery, we were met with a particularly large swell. Due to a slightly loose skirt I had borrowed from Theresa, my cockpit started filling with water. Finding myself racing down the face of a particularly steep wave, I started braking in an attempt to keep from pitchpoling. As the crest swept under my boat I braced one way only to capsize in the other direction. Luckily I rolled up, but to say I was puckered would be an understatement.
So back to the question. Is it dangerous? I think the best answer I can come up with is that anytime you’re on the ocean you can’t afford to be complacent – not for a moment – or she will claim you, and even if you do everything right there is always risk involved. This trip is no exception.