Catching up with Theo Jones

This time last year, we wrote about an incredible group of eight men who were making their preparations for a formidable challenge. They were heading out to the west coast of North America to Kayak the Inside Passage – a gruelling 2,000-kilometre paddle through treacherous passage. However, it wasn’t just the waters where the dangers prevailed…

We followed up with team member and navigation officer Theo Jones to learn more about their memorable experience.

A person looking at a paper chart in the woods

How did the challenge go and how was the experience?

Theo – Like any endurance challenge, the satisfaction and enjoyment comes in the form of discomfort and struggle. The sense of achievement was certainly earned by the time we reached the finish line. I think we all underestimated how hard living rough (in the woods) would be. The kayaking element was relatively easy. Once the boat was loaded and moving, it was a case of simply paddling. The toughest part of our day-to-day was moving the equipment up and down the beach, up to 400m, over soft sinking sand or slimy seaweed-covered boulders or razor-sharp oyster beds until finally reaching the top of every beach whereupon we inevitably would find a mass of tree size driftwood.

It took 6 blokes to lift one kayak from the water’s edge 40m up the beach where all the kit was unloaded into bags and then walked to the campsite. This was tough enough for the 6 guys with legs – without legs, Cayle and Niel would have to move the same distance. Their efforts throughout the duration of the challenge are incredibly hard to describe to anyone. The simplest of tasks would be debilitating for most, but these two just got on with it, whilst in constant pain from the chafing stumps, being wet from the waist down as they had to jump out of their kayaks still in the water, having to work so much harder to get up to the campsite.

A couple of men lifting a kayak over driftwood

 

The further we got up the coast, the more challenging the camp spots. Using folding spades and saws to create space to fit our bodies between rocks or trees. It was awesome to be a part of this process, watching the lads working together, and working hard at the end of each day, making sure everyone had a comfortable space to pitch a tent. 

The Inside Passage is a truly spectacular arena. As we proceeded north, the topography grew, as did the wildlife. The weather became more extreme, starting with glorious sunshine for the first few weeks, which turned to fog and driving rain; there was nothing like packing away a campsite in torrential rain for the fourth day in a row, everything was saturated by the second day. By the last 3 weeks, we were paddling past icebergs and regular fog banks. The fog, although calm, brought its own challenges when trying to navigate. What a great experience in trusting one’s abilities and equipment. Setting off on a 3-mile crossing between islands in thick fog was obviously nerve-racking but very exciting, especially when motorboats were appearing out of the gloom.

A person in a kayak

Did you have any highlights in particular?

Two aspects of the trip stand out as highlights. People and wildlife.

As we made progress along the route, people had heard about us and kindly decided to come to any resupply port we were heading to. They offered us a place to sleep, dinners, their vehicles, and their time driving us around to resupply or help repair our equipment.

We all spoke about this and how this sort of generosity wouldn’t really happen at home, inviting 8 complete strangers who happened to be very hairy and even more smelly into their home. This repeated generosity made the trip happen!

The wildlife was absolutely incredible. Getting close to wild animals, be it river and sea otters, wolves, black bears, whales, fish eagles, a mountain lion and all the small stuff in and around the water, was surreal!

Cayle had a hysterical moment when sitting on the water’s edge waiting for the tide to turn so we could pass through a particularly rough stretch of water. He heard the movement of pebbles behind him. As he said, “Alright mate?”, whilst turning his head to see who was there, he was met face-to-face with a river otter that was standing on its hind legs investigating this intruder, a double amputee, thick bearded man in a brightly coloured dry suit. Its surprise and confusion were equal to Cayles! At the sight of one and other, both parties jumped, and the otter bounced away returning to its burrow leaving Cayle laughing to himself.

A person in a kayak in front of an iceberg

You’re usually in charge of navigating a superyacht. What was it like to navigate this journey, and to do so in a kayak?

Navigation & Tides

The Inside Passage, in parts, is a complicated stretch of water. At its full strength, the tide creates 100ft whirlpools and huge tidal rips. There are sections of the coast that are open to the Pacific Ocean, causing large seas. Our daily passage plans were detailed and at times complicated due to the severity of the tide and open coastline. I’m very happy to say we didn’t get lost or have any close calls.

We would attempt to start paddling going with the current. For much of the route, we were in channels running between islands. The current would hammer through, which either gave us extra flow or stopped us in our tracks. If the flow was slowing us, we would play the game ‘find the eddy’, the counter current. This involved moving to the centre or the outermost edge of the channel.

A kayak with a paper chart on it

Did you have any other challenges to think about?

Team Dynamics

Although for the most part, we were all happy out there, spending 90 days on an expedition takes its toll on the mind. Of course, there were blowouts but never anything too serious. I honestly think the lads can be proud of how they handled themselves out there when dealing with fatigue and the stress of the mission.

Food delivery

We had a particularly tough time in trying to get the kit, boats and food to the start line which delayed the start of the trip by 10 days. This was incredibly frustrating and caused an unnecessary amount of stress. Organising an international expedition was always going to be tough and stretch everyone but researching where to buy new boats, more food and camping equipment in the States was a very sad moment. Fortunately, we only had to repurchase the food as the kit and boats managed to get to Seattle.

On Land

As I said before, humping and dumping the kayaks and kit up and down the beach was exhausting. The risk of injury was therefore increased. When a kayak is fully loaded it weighs up to 200kg. When walking over tough terrain, it becomes even harder.

How much did you raise from the challenge?

We raised £139,793 for The Not Forgotten.

Is there another challenge on the horizon?

There has been some chat about rowing the Indian Ocean but having spent about 5-years planning the kayak adventure, I can’t see any new adventure being planned in the near future. The body and mind are still feeling the effects of Alaska.

A couple of people lying on the ground next to a dock

A huge thank you to Theo for answering our questions and providing the imagery for this article.

Donate on the Just Giving page

Previous post Next Post