Sea Kayaking & Touring

Paddling with the woman in black

by justine-curgenven
Saturday, July 01, 2017
   Sea Kayaking & Touring
Saturday, July 01, 2017
I always said I would never paddle with Freya. Surely a serial solo kayaker with the determination and discipline to circumnavigate 2 continents would have only one way to do things and look down on anyone who joined her?
Justine Curgenven
by Justine Curgenven

   Full Bio

I always said I would never paddle with Freya. Surely a serial solo kayaker with the determination and discipline to circumnavigate 2 continents would have only one way to do things and look down on anyone who joined her? Someone who ‘raced’ around Australia would be constantly competitive, and I wasn’t even sure that she enjoyed her trips having read something she wrote about paddling with her eyes closed because it was boring.

Freya stayed with JF and I in Ucluelet in April near the start of her 3rd continent. In contrast to the “I came, I saw, I conquered” printed on her kayak when she paddled around the South Island of New Zealand, her new slogan was more understated, “The North Island” – referring to the whole of North America.

We returned home to find her smiling behind a massive salad and 2 bottles of wine. We shared stories, ate and laughed and Freya invited us to join her on the water. JF would be away for 5 out of the next 8 days but offered to drive to pick me up in a week, so at the last minute I accepted the opportunity to join such an experienced expedition paddler.

Freya - the woman in black
Freya - the woman in black

The early morning sun bathed Clayoquot Sound in golden sunlight as we launched from Tofino 36 hours later. Within an hour, we saw 2 wolves casually walking along a rocky shore on Vargas Island. A modest but disruptive dumping swell on Whalers Island put us off landing for lunch and we instead rafted up and ate snacks on the water. I learnt that this was often Freya’s preference as it saved time and energy. She would pull out small pre-packed ziplock bags with sugar snap peas, baby carrots, crackers, cookies and cheese. She offered half of everything to me, even her favorite white chocolate. I presented homemade deer jerky and smoked salmon.

Lunch Time
Lunch Time

In calmer waters, we chatted. Around rougher headlands, we typically paddled one behind the other until the sound of waves crashing on rocks had diminished. We compared my map and compass navigation with her GPS and waypoints, her long, high-capacity ruddered kayak that is based on a surf ski with my skegged Nordkapp. Freya listened to my input on route-choice and landing sites although she usually had the deciding vote, partly because I felt I was hitching a ride on her trip and I was curious to see her decision making in action. We had the occasional friendly sprint to a beach but otherwise it was a collaboration, not a competition – perhaps by the time you are on your 3rd continent, you are secure enough not to have to constantly prove you are the best!?

Our first night was spent on the Innchanter, a Boatel moored up outside Hot Springs Cove. My friend Sean, the host and fantastic chef, cooked us a delicious feast and then we all took the 2km boardwalk to the natural hotsprings in the last of the light. It was a wonderful, reviving soak with a smile-inducing view of the ocean. Of course, going naked is a no-brainer for the liberal Germans.

On day 2, we ate our lunch drifting by feeding grey whales and Freya’s calls of “Oh wonderful” made me realize that of course she enjoys these trips. Like me, she thrives on the wilderness and the beauty around her. And like all long-distance paddlers she constantly has to weigh up lingering in a beautiful or interesting spot, or pushing on to the next place as you can’t stop everywhere, even when you have set aside 8 or 10 years to paddle around a continent. Freya needs to paddle 33km every day for almost 6 months of the year to complete her 50,000 km paddle in 10 years.

On day 3, the forecast for the next few days was 35 knot winds and we elected to paddle around Nootka island on the sheltered inside passage. Freya appreciated the contrast of seeing the reflection of the steep mountains in the water, enjoying the variety her journey offered her.

With the winds came grey skies, wind and rain. Everything was damp and my choice of thin paddling thermals meant I was a bit cold when we stopped for snacks. A bit of discomfort is exhilarating and makes me feel tough, but after 4 days of near constant rain I was ready for a bit of good luck, or a hot bath! At least our Kokatat dry suits kept us dry. The wind was behind us and we used it to our advantage, surfing between offshore islands and making good speed. As the whitecaps increased around us, I caught a chunky wave and shot forwards with a big grin on my face. I glanced at Freya to see that she too was smiling during her dynamic dance with the sea.

Freya
Freya with a big smile

We rounded Brooks Peninsula, nudged forwards by a 15 knot following wind and the flood tide. Freya approached the notoriously rough headland with respect but afterwards said that she didn’t feel it stretched her. It’s sometimes the case with headlands that people warn you about. They can be very scary places in rough weather but on another day, you wonder what the fuss is about. On the other side, we waited impatiently for the blue line in the sky behind us to catch us up, and an otter approached and bit the bow of my kayak! Finally that evening the sun came out and our beach was strewn with our damp clothes – Freya’s in an ordered line and mine a bit more laissez-faire!

We paddled together for 8 days until we reached San Josef Bay, near Cape Scott. Just before we rounded the last headland, there was a patch of water where the occasional wave broke but I hadn’t seen it break often enough to figure out where to avoid. We both felt a bit uneasy when a boomer reared out of nowhere right in our path. I backpaddled out of the impact zone, while Freya braced into the foam. As I started to paddle forwards again a second wave reared up and slammed down on top of me, flipping me straight over. I think it’s the first time I’ve been capsized on a trip on the open sea (I’ve flipped in the surf zone)! Happily I rolled up laughing and we continued into the gentle water of San Josef Bay.

Freya Hoffmeister and Justine Curgenven
Freya Hoffmeister and Justine Curgenven

I enjoyed my chilly spring paddle with Freya and realized that I had had prejudices against her which weren’t true. Freya recognized that her attitude has changed in the 10 years since she started doing these trips. She has nothing to prove anymore and she wants to start paddling with more people. After so many miles of pitting herself against the elements, she realizes the next challenge is improving her people skills. She can share her considerable experience and learn from others. An experience shared can be more fulfilling. If you’d like to join Freya for a leg of her North American trip then get in touch with her.


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