Heavy fog ends effort to cross Strait of Juan de Fuca

PORT ANGELES — Two Victoria paddleboard riders reached Port Angeles but did so with a 4-mile ride on a boat and so were unable to complete the first officially recorded paddleboard crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Tuesday.

They vowed to try again.

Darren Bachiu, 36, and Shane Battley, 32, were plucked from the water by Rick Gordon, pilot of the effort’s escort boat, at about 10 a.m. because of heavy fog, which obscured unexpectedly heavy tanker and freighter traffic heading eastbound in U.S. shipping lanes.

“It was busy and foggy. In those conditions, you could see nothing until the last minute,” Battley said from his paddleboard in the water just off The Landing mall.

Bachiu and Battley returned to their paddleboards after a 4-mile boat ride out of the shipping lanes and completed the remainder of the distance, arriving on their paddleboards in Port Angeles Harbor at 12:32 p.m.

“It was disheartening at first,” Bachiu said.

“You have no idea where you are [in the fog]. During my kayak trip,” which he had made in June, “I could see Port Angeles the whole way across.”

The lack of visibility, including ships looming out of the fog only 100 feet away, changed the experience, he said.

Bachiu had been planning the trip for more than a month. He researched tides and weather, made a practice run by kayak and made long training runs to Sydney, B.C.

Battley, a paddleboard instructor in Victoria, had less than a day to prepare for the trip.

He said he met Bachiu at a surf shop Monday, and when he said he had dreamed of making the trip, Bachiu invited the younger man to join him.

Bachiu, Battley and their escort boat piloted by Rick Gordon of Tail Out Fishing Adventures set out to cross the Strait at 4:40 a.m. Tuesday for the 26.7-mile trip from Cheanuh Marina, 20 miles west of Victoria, to Port Angeles Harbor.

Both were traveling well, riding 10-foot swells and taking time to eat and drink, to keep up their strength and rehydrate, they said.

“We were surfing a lot of it,” Bachiu said, and noted that the big swells and wind made the trip more difficult but faster.

Everything was going well until they reached a point just beyond halfway, when a long line of massive ships happened to intersect their path at just the wrong time, he said.

Gordon’s boat was equipped with radar that allowed him to see the tankers to keep the paddleboard riders from being run over by the massive ships that ply the Strait’s waters.

“They were coming up on radar all around us. Rick was getting stressed,” Bachiu said.

Gordon plucked the pair from the water and transported them about 4 miles to a point outside of the shipping lanes, where they chose to resume the trip on paddleboards.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Adelie, an 87-foot “marine protector class” cutter, was in the channel near the paddleboard riders but was not within sight in the fog and did not contact Gordon, Bachiu said.

Bachiu said he contacted both the U.S. and Canadian coast guards before his departure.

The two riders emerged from the fog in Port Angeles Harbor at about 12:15 p.m., just as the MV Coho was approaching to dock.

They waited in the harbor, just off the Port Angeles esplanade, for the Coho to back into the pier, then made the last push to the protected inlet between the Black Ball Ferry Line terminal and The Landing mall on Railroad Avenue.

There, they spoke to a few people who observed their arrival, then transferred their gear to Gordon’s boat for the trip back to Canada.

The pair still hope to become the first paddleboard riders to attempt to cross the Strait on the surfboard-like craft.

It will take about a month or two before they recover from this attempt, and they must wait for favorable tides — and weather.

“It was ill-advised,” Battley said of their decision to challenge the wind and fog that engulfed the Strait on Tuesday.

Both said they are exhausted and plan to take it easy for a while.

“When I get home, the only thing I will be riding is my couch,” Battley said.

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