From the Beginning by Heather Harbord

Heather is a founding member of SKABC (then known as VOTKA) and has a lifetime membership.

I can’t remember who told me about the kayak club meeting – Jim Berta? Dave Smith? John Dowd? It was in the basement of the Jericho Youth Hostel and when I arrived, no one could tell me which room it was in. Just as I was about to leave, someone said it might be in the basement. There I found half a dozen people sprawling on a pile of dusty mats. Rick (?) who was the president didn’t seem to have any plan of action except that there was a new kayak store opening on Granville Island and the owner had invited us to try out some kayaks he had as demos.

It turned out that most of the group had been on trips with Jim Berta who brought kayaks down to the nearby Jericho Sailing Club for evening paddles, but he had decided to leave town and wouldn’t be bringing them anymore. Dan Lewis, who put the newsletter together, and I were the only people with our own boats.

Dan had an Eskie, which was a whitewater boat with a skeg on the back. (The Sixtas and many others also paddled this boat.) All Jim’s boats were that model. I had a an Osprey from Walter’s Ski Shack in North Vancouver. This was a white-water boat designed to track. I also had a folding Granta two-seater which I had paddled in the Broken Islands.

I don’t remember what Dan put in the monthly newsletter but he mailed out at least five of them before disappearing off to clown school in Switzerland. If it hadn’t been for him, the group would have folded.

At the time, I was a member of the Vancouver Kayak Club which mainly did white water which I did too but the WKC had an annual spectacular ocean trip. A couple members had fish boats which picked us up in False Creek and took us over to Parker Island in the Gulf Islands. We arrived at midnight and used the ship’s lights to pitch our tents. In the morning, Mt. Saint Helens blew so the date was May 18, 1980. I tried to get the WKC to start a sea kayaking sub group but they rejected the idea.

On about the second meeting at the hostel, Rick was absent and Sherri Thurber turned to me and said: “This is no good. Would you please be president and get things going.” I did. We discussed names and agreed on Vancouver Ocean Touring Kayak Association (VOTKA).

I asked John Dowd to give a talk on his recent honeymoon trip in a double Klepper from Venezuela to Miami. He suggested I book the free meeting room at Pacific Press and send a press release to the Vancouver Sun. Eighty people arrived and VOTKA was on its way. Maurice Liebich from Squamish was the first Treasurer and the dues were $5?

While we were meeting in the Pacific Press room, another speaker, perhaps the second, was Audrey Sutherland, a paddler from Hawaii who had just paddled solo down from Alaska. En route, she walked into John’s Ecomarine store and introduced herself. He arranged for her to speak to us and for me to paddle her kayak which was like a pig in the water as it was the same blow-up kayak she had paddled round Molokai.

The Epting family joined the club at this time. Bernie had built two sizes of kinder kayaks for his kids and Gundy had made them wetsuits which grew with them. She also sewed colour coordinated bags for the gear they took on a three week trip to the Copeland Islands so that the kids could help load their two double kayaks. It was those kids who first created the canoe run onto the third island. Everyone since, has enlarged it. When VOTKA grew too large for Pacific Press meeting room, Bernie arranged for us to meet at Bayview Community School which his kids attended.

There was a famous meeting between Derek Bamforth, owner of Pacific Canoe Base in Victoria and John Dowd and others. This was the great Nordcapp vs. Klepper argument. Derek had told provincial government officials that only Nordcapps were safe to paddle on the sea and claimed that an accident that Jim Berta’s group had had at Rafael Point would not have occurred if they had all been in Nordcapps. I think he may have had the provincial agency for Nordcapps. John, who had paddled all round New Zealand, up into Malaysia and most of the Chilean coast, plus his Venezuela to Miami honeymoon in a Klepper thought otherwise.

John advertised the meeting and some of the locals came as he'd said we'd all paddle together afterwards, but when the locals realised that the argument was going to repeat for the nth time, they got up and said they were going to paddle. I went with them and we went round the Ballenas Is. One of the locals was a teacher and his class who had hand built their boats which were canvas over a wood frame. They were all beautifully decorated with Indian designs. It was after that impasse that we realised we had to get political and I wasn't prepared to do that so I exited the presidency and we got Gary Sixta in to cope. He had lots of government contacts in Victoria because he'd been the City Planner for Surrey.

Around this time, we used to go out to the Broken Islands on the East Weekend because it got too crowded later. This was before the park was established and while the big hut on Clarke Island was still there. A Harold went with us who was a white water river kayaker and he got scared in the big waves but tackled them well and soon got used to them. John Oldham performed a set of Tai Chi on a beach log. The rain came down in sheets so we retired to the cabin and slept in rows on the floor. Earlier in the day, we had fished and Mercia made a huge chowder on a barrel stove. I drank some water out of the rain barrel and afterwards discovered that what I thought was a log floating in it was actually a dead mink. Back at home my GP said I was OK. Phew! When we started for home, we got up at 3am and had every kind of weather in the book on the way back – rain, snow, wind, sunshine etc. I didn’t have a rudder on my boat and pulled a muscle in my neck trying to keep on course. We should have waited a day but when we reached the cars, Gary admitted that he needed to get back for work. I vowed never to carpool with him or anyone else again and always thereafter carried my own charts, compass, VHF and food so that I could stay on the beach if I wanted to.