Race Rocks Challenge

At the end of the swim season last year a good friend, Corey Teramura, asked if I could help him with a project he was working on at Pearson College. The College  is located on the traditional territory of the Scia’new (Beecher Bay) First Nation in Pedder Bay, Sooke BC. It is one of 17 global schools dedicated to uniting cultures and countries around the world through education. Corey is the Seaside Activities Coordinator and was looking to organize a group of students to swim from Race Rocks in Juan de Fuca Strait to the college in Pedder Bay. I was thrilled that he asked me and said yes! I thought it might be a great way to share some of what I have learned swimming in Juan de Fuca.

I have been visiting the college every few weeks jumping in the water with a group of seven students from around the world. Although they will swim from Race Rocks in wetsuits, I thought it important they understand just how cold the strait is and the impact on their bodies. I had them skin swim on several occasions, each time immersing themselves deeper and swimming further.

This weekend, Corey took me on a boat ride to Race Rocks for a look at the swim course and surrounding area. Race Rocks is well known for its currents, with tidal currents sometimes reaching 12 knots. A marine protected area, it boasts a wide variety of marine life.

We headed out in one of the college boats at 1:00 pm. Corey, Rayna (Corey’s partner), myself, my partner Ray, our good friend Pam who will paddle on that day, two of the swimmers (Tess an Sarah) and Guy, our pilot. It was windy but not enough to cause big bumps. We made our way out of the protected inlet and into the larger bay. As we head out we passed a large Navy buoy providing refuge for local wildlife.

We followed the shoreline and headed toward the Ecological Reserve. A few minutes into our trip, just outside the bay,  we could see the rocks and a small island where the lighthouse sits.

As you get closer to the island with the lighthouse there are a number of seals and sea lions resting rocks throughout the area. I was amazed by their abundance and size. I was also amazed at how the water had gone from fairly calm to turbulent – and the turbulence was not caused by the wind.

The movement of the water was impressive to see. There is no patter and Gus told me that when the tide is running the current can be so strong that boats can’t get through. I had heard this from others as well. Clearly the timing of the swim will be critical. We will have to leave during slack tide.

Guy was very kind with his time and took us around the entire area so we could see how the water behaved and find the ideal spot to start the swim from. One option is to start right from the dock on the island were the lighthouse is. Hopefully the sea lions will be gone before the swim.

It was a great trip and definitely time well spent. There is a lot for us to think about and plan for with this course. Juan de Fuca is a very challenging water way and Race Rocks is likely the most lively part of that water way. Corey came up with a number of different ideas for varying conditions.

It was great to have two of the students on the boat with us. As Tess said “it’s getting real.” I’m looking forward to the upcoming weeks and spending more time with the students in the water. I think Corey is too – except the getting in the water part!

You can learn more about the Race Rocks Challenge an the students here.





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