Not long after I arrived on Baranof Island, I found myself in a canoe training for a 10.7 mile (nautical miles) paddle in the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, I was not alone, but, with 13 individuals who I did not know. 13 people in a canoe would appear to be a survival at sea moment unless it happens to be a Tlingit Warrior Canoe.
The Tlingit Tribe had different canoes for different uses.
Head Canoe: A large ocean-going canoe that was up to 70 feet long with a large prow and stern, used for long voyages and warfare. As trade flourished along the Northwest coast, this type of canoe became less prominent.
Northern Canoe: Designed for long journeys over open-ocean. It had flaring sides and a rounded bottom, designed for buoyancy and speed; the beam was from 5 to 9 feet and ranged from 40 to 60 feet in length.
Small Canoe: 10-20 feet in length used for local transport and fishing.
The canoe became a visual symbol of community.
Tlingit Phrase: Aadéi yanal.á!
English Phrase: Steer toward it!
Tlingit Phrase: Yindei naytsóow yee axáayi.
English Translation: Push your paddles way down.
The Sitka Sound Ocean Adventure Race was created in 2007 and was the year that I participated. Entrants used kayaks, rowing sculls and two Tlingit warrior canoes. Most of the competitors were from Sitka, but there were participants from Juneau, AK, Salt Lake City, UT, Coeur d'Alene, ID and one from Adelaide, South Australia.
Our course of 10.7 nautical miles seemed like a long ways. Thankfully, no hills! It was not the longest course, which was 17.7 nautical miles, 20.4 statue miles.
There were nine finishers in the long course and twelve in the 'sprint' event.
Not talked about much, but our key competition was Kaasad Heeni Yaakw'. This was the 'real' Tlingit warrior canoe. Made of wood and much heavier and slower than our vessel. Not sure of our construction material but it was lighter and faster.
Our Tlingit warrior canoe Toowu Latseen would cross the finish line in 2:52:14 coming in fifth place (short course). This canoe is owned by Southeast Alaska Health Consortium (SEARHC). Toowu Latseen means Inner Strength.
The 'Kaasad Heeni Yaakw' is the Sitka Traditional Canoe Club's boat and means Canoe From Indian River. They finished eighth in 3:04:22.
Later, we would hope on the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry system) to enjoy the Kake Dog Salmon Festival in Kake, Alaska and race once again. This time it was only one mile, but the weather was threatening. Storm arose just as we got to the start line.
A crazy time on the ocean, but we would conquer the seas and our warrior canoe competition.