You are currently viewing First Woman to Solo SUP 160 km from Port Hardy to Winter Harbour: “Be Courageous!”

First Woman to Solo SUP 160 km from Port Hardy to Winter Harbour: “Be Courageous!”

My 60th birthday was already in the rear-view mirror, and 61 was just one month away. As a thalossophile, I was ready to embark on a dream of solo SUPing around the northern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

A solo trip of this magnitude requires courage, passion, planning, perseverance, and the ability to stay positive. Preparation for this trip took years, with days of training on the ocean, testing myself in all conditions.

One day I completed a 46-km trip plan—launching in the dark and paddling through two passes. When I finished this nine-hour paddle, I remember throwing my arms up in the air and yelling “I’ve got this!” I knew then that my dream was going to become a reality—I cannot explain the feeling, but I will never forget it!

It was now time to find the weather window. July 7, 2023, was the day everything seemed to line up. Mother Nature herself stood behind me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, whispering “It’s time”.

Nervous and excited, I drove myself to Port Hardy, a lovely spot on the north end of Vancouver Island. I went straight to the coast guard station, left my trip plan, and carried on down to the launch. I had a 4 a.m. launch planned for the next morning.

Day 1—Port Hardy to Nahwitti Campsite: 51 km, 10 hours

I launched from Port Hardy at 5 a.m., in the early morning light, with fog and calm waters. Paddling on the inside of Duval Island along Goletas Channel, I saw bears, loads of sea life, and gorgeous coastline. I passed Shushartie Bay, which was an option for my first night out, but decided to keep going on to Nahwitti.

Launch Day

I carried on around Jepther Point, and headed right into turbulent, boiling waters, with two-meter swells all around me. I was at Tatnall Reefs. I missed the tide change! The late launch caught up to me. I paddled as hard as I could for 45 minutes, getting nowhere fast, trying to get past the jagged coastline to the pebbly shoreline. I barely made it. I walked with all my gear to the Nahwitti Campsite and found an amazing spot to set up camp beside huge old-growth spruce trees and rugged, west-coast beauty. I was feeling so blessed.

Day 2—Rest Day

My first night camping was filled with thunder and lightening. I tossed and turned, but got a few hours sleep. I woke at 4 a.m. feeling calm. There was thick fog. I waited to see if it would dissipate or not. I was comfortable here being hugged by these old-growth spruce trees and enjoying a wonderful cup of coffee, with the sound of the ocean and pebbles rounding their edges. I had a ten-day supply of food, and adequate water with me. As a solo paddler, I needed to load my gear on the board in the ocean. I remembered my stern tying from old sailing days. I gave that a try. Using my anchor and a log, I prepared for the next day as a big eagle came by and let go all over my tent. “This must be a sign,” I thought to myself!

Front of Board Loaded

Day 3—Nahwitti Campsite to Guise Bay: 51 km rounding Cape Scott, 10 hours

I woke up at 4 a.m. to a round clearing in the fog that allowed me to see Cape Sutil, approximately 3 km away from my tent. It felt like a gift. I knew I had to go. I quickly packed up.

My stern tie launch was a huge success. I rounded Cape Sutil and headed west towards Cape Scott, where I encountered 2-meter swells. I could see Cape Scott in the distance. Along the coastline were beautiful rock outcroppings with white crashing waves, and above me were beautiful clear skies. I realized I had to paddle offshore at least a kilometer to avoid any backwash and chances of hitting unseen rocks. I was now paddling the unprotected west-coast waters where there can be unexpected conditions. I had an unknown sense of calm, but all senses were on full alert.

As I made this journey, otters, dolphins, sea lions, and seals greeted me. Two whales met me just past Cape Sutil and kept me company all the way to Cape Scott, where beautiful white sandy beaches became visible and were options for pullouts. Cape Scott came closer and closer. Within minutes I would be rounding one of the most challenging and rewarding parts my trip. The swell was still at about 2 meters, the tide and current were with me, and there was no wind. This was a perfect scenario. I felt confident to go.

I made it! I rounded Cape Scott and arrived at Guise Bay. What an incredible feeling; so very difficult to put into words.

Camping at Guise Bay

Day 4—Guise Bay to Raft Cove: 28 km, 6 hours

Another great launch at 5 a.m. this morning. Beautiful conditions. I rounded Cape Russell and crossed the mouth of San Josef Bay. Large swells kept me in and out of sight of land until I got to Gooding Cove, keeping far from shore to avoid the Rowley Reefs. The wind came up in the early afternoon as predicted, and I arrived with a crash-surf landing into Raft Cove. Ta da!! Another epic day! Fantastic, amazing day! Sunshine, sea life, and ocean swells!!

Dinner at Raft Cove

Day 5— Raft Cove to Winter Harbour: 30 km, 7 hours

I left Raft Cove with a perfect launch at 7 a.m. and arrived in Winter Harbour at 2 p.m. There were big, rolling swells as I rounded Cape Perkins, making great time. A solid trip plan today, with Mother Nature on my side! Lots of fishing boats; the crews all cheering me on and telling me I was crazy. As soon as I arrived at Winter Harbour Marina, a nice cold beer, a hot shower, and the most welcoming folks I could have asked for, awaited me. The perfect end to my epic, solo journey!

What I learned:

Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire, and don’t ever let anyone tell you, “You can’t!” It’s never too late. If you have a dream, you just have to bite off one bit at a time to get there. I encourage you to “Be courageous!”

Mary Wakefield

Mary Wakefield finds her passion as a part-time SUP Guide in the Comox Valley BC area, mainly doing one-on-one training and expeditions with women at all levels, helping them manage fear and become courageous. She spends most of her time outdoors—paddling, mountain biking, sailing, and hiking with her German Shepherd, Indie. When she’s not outdoors, she can be found creating nature-inspired jewellery with gemstones and other mediums of art at Studio Skanda (, where she’s the founder and CEO. You can reach her on Instagram at marywakefieldadventures.