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Strait chaser: paddle boarder looking to cross Juan de Fuca
Darren Bachiu circles his stand up paddle board just off Cordova Bay beach in a wetsuit and hood, eyeing the grey waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.
The upbeat waterman – an apt definition for the adventure-seeking surfer/free diver/kayaker – will be heading for his second crossing of the Strait in less than a month this weekend, weather permitting.
“Crossing Juan de Fuca is not an average paddle,” says Bachiu, who completed the stretch by kayak on June 21 in six and a half hours. “It was a tough crossing, swells picked up in the middle and there were some pretty good waves.”
Despite its appeal as an extreme event, few kayakers have documented crossing the Strait, though it’s certainly been done.
But there isn’t yet a record that Bachiu can find of someone paddle boarding the Strait.
“I’d love to be first. If it’s the first crossing, great. If not, no worries, just another big rip,” he said.
After the kayak crossing, Bachiu couldn’t help but think about Canadian Marilyn (Bell) Del Lascio’s famous swim across the Juan de Fuca Strait on Aug. 23, 1956. Bell was the third swimmer to successfully make the cross in 1956. She was just 18. It was her second attempt after being pulled from the water eight kilometres from shore on her first swim, a few weeks earlier.
Bachiu initially considered a swimming attempt as well, but came to the conclusion it might be too much for him, he said, after accomplished marathon swimmer Andrew Malinak was forced to withdrawl a mile short of Clallum Bay in July 2013.
“It’s funny, I kept hearing (Marilyn Bell) passed away. Instead, she is totally alive, liked my story, and now I’m even more pumped,” Bachiu said.
Reached by phone at her New York home, Del Lascio laughs at the rumours of her death. Not only are the stories false, the 76-year-old said she still swims an hour each morning, five days a week, despite a degenerative issue affecting her spine.
“My son’s boss ... was reading a plaque about me on the Marilyn Bell I ferry (the ferry travels between Toronto and the Toronto City Airport island on Lake Ontario) when someone from CBC Toronto stood beside him and said, ‘It’s too bad she died.’ My son’s boss said, ‘Really? I was with her son yesterday, and he doesn’t know that.’”
Del Lascio found Bachiu’s energy and exuberance about his attempt “awesome and inspiring,” she told the News.
To this day, she trumpets the Juan de Fuca crossing (29.5 kilometres) as her most difficult swimming accomplishment ahead of Lake Ontario (52 km) in 1954 and the English Channel (34 km) in 1955.
“People sometimes forget I failed the Juan de Fuca on my first attempt,” she said. “It changed the challenge. The challenge became as much about going back in as it was the waves, distance and temperature of the Juan de Fuca. The whole nation, my family, and the people around me didn’t know how to react to my failure.
“What was going on in my head became a new challenge,” Del Lascio continued. “It took years to realize that I had become a daughter to all of Canada. That’s how I was treated.”
Bachiu, a 36-year-old Broadmead resident, is constantly on the water in Cordova Bay, paddling out to Darcy or James islands. In his kayak, he’s travelled the Broken Islands and Gulf Islands, but has been paddle boarding more frequently including open ocean along the West Coast Trail, the Juan de Fuca Trail, all of East Sooke Park and throughout the Clayoquot Sound.
The registered nurse is afforded the opportunity for daytime adventures with shift work, starting as late as 3 p.m. at a local care facility.
Bachiu said Del Lascio’s feedback, and the names of seven people who have swam the Strait, has become added motivation as he challenges himself with a new list of adventures.
Both Bachiu and Del Lascio agree the Juan de Fuca Strait has been left alone in terms of swimming, likely because it’s so cold and marathon swimmers tend to swear against wetsuits.
Bachiu wants dearly to cross the English Channel, too, but is focused on the task at hand.
At 34 kilometres from Dover to Calais, the English Channel is five kilometres longer than the 29.5 km distance from Victoria to Port Angeles. However, the intense tides, cold water, and heavy freighter traffic in make the Juan de Fuca a daunting challenge.
“It’s funny, the English Channel seems to be regarded as the Mount Everest of channel crossings, but Juan de Fuca is bigger and badder,” Bachiu said.
Bachiu completed the JdF crossing by kayak on June 21 in about six and a half hours from East Sooke Park to Port Angeles. Tail Out Fishing’s Rick Gordon provided security as a guide, passed him food and water, and helped set Bachiu’s waypoints for the route.
Gordon has been retained again for this weekend's crossing.
“My job is pretty easy, although Darren was going too fast for me to fish, so not as easy as I'd thought,” Gordon laughed. “The key thing for me is my boat shows up on the shipping lane radar. I help Darren time his route between boats, as we had one cruise ship and four freighters come through.”
Check with Vicnews.com this weekend for updates on Bachiu’s attempt.
Successful Jdf Strait swimmers:
1. Bert Thomas – 8 July 1955 (11 hours 10 minutes)
2. Cliff Lumsdon – 17 August 1956 (11 hours 35 minutes)
3. Amy Hiland – 18 August 1956 (10 hours 51 minutes)
4. Ben Laughren – 18 August 1956 (10 hours 17 minutes)
5. Marilyn Bell – 23 August 1956 (10 hours 38 minutes)
6. Vicki Keith – 10 August 1989 (14 hours, butterfly)
7. Fin Donnelly, MP – 17 July 1994 (10 hours 15 minutes)