The Forces of Nature are an 8-man team of six veterans and two civilians on a challenge starting May 1st to paddle approximately 2000 kilometres from Anacortes, Washington to Skagway, Alaska. Their unsupported expedition has been in planning for four years, starting with a possible expedition in the Amazon in 2020, but all expeditions stalled during the ‘Covid’ years.
The cause, Team Forces of Nature, are raising funds for is the ‘The Not Forgotten’ charity, whose programs these team members have personally benefited from. Since 1920 this charity has supported wounded and disabled veterans to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing and confidence, which in turn, helps provide
the foundations of a normal life with their families and friends. The team hopes the completion of this 90- to 100-day challenge will be an inspiration to other veterans with personal injuries or disabilities.
If you happen to be on Saltspring or Thetis Island in early May, you might see the team pass by enroute, in three Kirton Inuk doubles and two single kayaks, accompanied in certain places by BC Marine Trails members. We are hoping to have experienced paddlers coach the team through one particular series of rapids. Overnight stops are planned according to average daily distances, weather, and other factors. I believe you will be able to track the team through their website once the journey begins May 1 st . The BC Marine Trails will cover the team through Facebook and our newsletter.
Back in 2022, the BC Marine Trails (BCMT) assisted the Forces of Nature team with route and trip planning for this expedition, meeting a few times throughout the year online. The team soon ran into a fairly serious problem. Shipping kayaks from the United Kingdom to Washington State was very cost-heavy. Starting in 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in significant cargo delays and the world was at a crawl into the next year. The cost of shipping boats to the United States approached the cost of buying boats there! We were pleased and honoured to help the team with locating suitable camping locations and discussing the potential and known obstacles to be faced along the route, preparing them, in part, for their journey.
The team Skipper, Cayle Royce, was seriously injured in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED in 2012 and lost his legs above the knees. But this Inside Passage trip is not his first adventure. He’s rowed across the Atlantic twice, skippering one team, and putting in 95 days at sea in a rowboat. He’s the first
amputee to row an ocean more than once!
Neil Heritage, 2nd in Command, is also a double above-knee amputee. Neil was deployed in Bosnia and lost his legs during a suicide bomb attack. He rowed across the Atlantic in 51 days and has successfully climbed the Matterhorn. These guys are all amazing athletes and have worked hard to raise considerable funds for their challenge.
The 8-man team’s preparation has not been easy. Other team members have a variety of injuries from head wounds to PTSD and viral induced paralysis. Fortunately, one of the team members is a medical doctor so they are in good hands. Talking a little more personally to Cayle, he states his challenges are more on land than in a kayak. Walking on uneven terrain with heavy loads will be a considerable challenge.
Because they cannot fit their prosthetic legs into the kayaks, the amputees paddle in short prosthetics called Stubbies. This essentially puts them at knee height for the duration of the trip and allows them to enter and exit a kayak without getting hooked or caught up on anything.
Inside the kayak cockpit itself, Cayle has modified his Rockpool Taran. Initially, we suggested a locally built kayak from one of our world-class manufacturers in BC like Seaward and Delta Kayaks (a BCMT business sponsor!!) that are popularly used by paddlers and guides. But with the modifications needed, the work had to be done in the UK. Neil will also be modifying a single Kirton C-trek 18. Both men created a steering plate for their craft to use the rudder because the standard pedals are unreachable. This steering plate also gives him something to push against whilst paddling, making for a more stable and comfortable paddle.
Most boaters know you wait for slack water to minimize problems traversing currents or rapids. Kayaks are slower than powerboats so timing becomes even more critical when faced with a long set of currents or triple currents in one circumstance. The team will be equipped with VHF radios, handheld inReach satellite communications and other tools.
The BC coast is a world-class destination for paddlers. The Inside Passage route – a term also loosely used to talk about the entire distance from Washington State to Alaska – will take the team past some extraordinary coastline and into some interesting rural communities. Additionally, the team will have wildlife encounters with whales, bears, waterfowl, birds of prey and otters.
To support Team Forces of Nature we sent letters to many coastal First Nations, introducing the team. They come to BC respectfully and hope to visit locations where First Nations’ history is displayed and shared. Recently, BC Marine Trails was nominated for an award for its reconciliation work. We have engaged over 30 First Nations on the BC coast over the past several years, sharing site data and working on visitor guidelines for conduct while traveling through territories.
Search online for Team Forces of Nature: The Inside Passage to read more about their lives and goals. The BC Marine Trails board and volunteers wish them the very best. Good luck and enjoy our beautiful shorelines!
This team was supported by part of the Trails Development Committee team: Paul Grey, Steve Best, and Nick Heath.