Rowing through the Salish Sea was a history lesson for Ryan Hashagen and Heather Longfellow.
The Portland, Oregon, pair started out in early August on a rowing adventure that took them from Anacortes in Washington state to Thetis Island and back — all in an 18-foot plywood dory that the 36-year-old Hashagen built while in high school.
Hashagen, who build tricycles for selling ice cream, said he felt the trip with Longfellow, 29, was “echoing” elements of the past.
“As someone who grew up in the Salish Sea, I have really cherished reading the histories of the settlers and the First Nations who have long inhabited the area,” he said, adding that he was raised in the Puget Sound area.
“It’s fascinating to travel at a pace similar to how the region has been travelled for so many years.”
The trip began on the B.C. Day long weekend with a three-day row from Anacortes to Sidney, Hashagen said. Once there, he and Longfellow made a foray onto dry land, visiting Salt Spring and then hitchhiking to Tofino.
“We hitched right off the Vesuvius ferry and had immediate luck with a series of kind and generous drivers,” he said.
Longfellow said it took two days to make it to Tofino.
After that, it was back to the boat for another five or six days of rowing. All told, Hashagen and Longfellow covered about 175 kilometres on the water.
Hashagen said his boat had previously been on another lengthy trip that included time in Canada.
“I took it one time a little over a decade ago from Bellingham to Ganges on Salt Spring,” he said. “This time I had Heather join me and with her on board, we were able to paddle quite quickly and rode the tides.
“She even made a little sail that we were able to deploy a few times.”
Longfellow said the two-metre by 1.5-metre sail was made out of a thick canvas curtain emblazoned with hand-painted barn swallows.
“We patterned its shape from the top of a much larger jib sail,” she said.
There was no shelter on the boat, but the weather on the trip co-operated so none was needed.
“Spectacular weather,” Hashagen said. “The wind was glassy calm. The tides were our biggest influence, just making sure we were timing the current correctly.
“The days would range from a few hours of paddling to 10 hours in the boat, sitting there together going as far as we could.”
Longfellow said she had a number of highlights when it came to wildlife along the way.
“Frolicking baby river otters on the northern tip of Coal Island facing Goudge Island. Spindly crabs climbing up eelgrass and kelp beds. A cosmos of jellyfish surrounding our small craft in Stuart Channel.”
Hashagen said he and Longfellow spent only one night sleeping on board, anchored in Ganges Harbour.
“We were mostly using the B.C. and the Salish Sea marine trail campsites,” he said, praising the marine-trail system.
“It was a constant resource for us,” he said. “It was a wonderful facilitator of travel like this. Every day we were pulling it up on our phones, really planning our trip.”
The pair took turns at the basic duties on the boat.
“One of us would be at the rowing station using two oars and then another would be using a canoe paddle in the stern and we would switch out positions,” Hashagen said. “I would row for a while and she would row for a while.”
The canoe paddle served as both a rudder and an added mode of propulsion, he said.
Hashagen took plenty of pictures, and has posted some of the best on social media.
“It was just a way to share with friends back home in the States and all my family up north, as well.”
On the trip’s return leg, Hashagen and Longfellow once again reached Anacortes but this time took the ferry from Sidney.
“We were able to literally just put the boat on a skateboard and take it onto the ferry.”
Skateboards served a dual purpose on the trip, he said.
“Heather and I both brought skateboards with us so we could travel around when we were on shore, but then it also doubled as our boat trailer, when necessary.”
Hashagen said he has a strong family connection to B.C.
“I’ve always straddled the border a little bit,” he said. “We definitely do share the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, the Salish Sea.
“Victoria and the Gulf Islands hold a special spot in my heart just for how welcoming they are, the geography of it, the tidal influence.”
He said he would have liked the trip to take longer.
“We were quite hesitant to go home,” he laughed. “If it wasn’t for life and work and whatnot, we would have loved to stay.”