Channel Crossing 2001

The crew of Wa’alele, having restored the canoe needed to learn to paddle an outrigger canoe before setting out across the Channel. The skills had to be learnt from scratch through trial and error with supportive emails from Hawaii. Various river and sea trials tested both canoe and crew. Each crew member had to pass a swim and then a huli (capsize) test. Everybody had to learn about each seat and it’s role in successfully propelling an outrigger canoe.

Seat One: This seat sets the stroke rate, ensures an even rhythm and good pace of paddling.
Seat Two: This seat calls the changes and also helps to maintain an even rhythm and pace.
Seat Three: This seat is responsible for checking the ama and (if needed handing the spare paddle over) but mainly for paddling.
Seat Four: Ama and paddle duties as on seat three, mainly paddling hard.
Seat Five: This seat is responsible for overseeing the ama, bailing (if required) and supporting the steersman with steering.
Seat Six: This seat is in charge of the canoe and crew. This person has to navigate a course and keep the crew motivated.
Further duties are assigned if/when the crew is paddling at sea or on larger waterways.

On the 18th June 2001 Wa’alele once again crossed the Channel, but this time from Dover to Calais. The following day she did the return journey, this was the first time an outrigger canoe has crossed the Channel both ways.

Fundraising was a major part of the challenge and gave the crew motivation during long training sessions as well as through the crossings. In total over £11’000 was raised for two local charities, New Horizens 98 and Teesside Hospice.

Meet the 2001 Channel Crossing Crew

From left to right: Andy White; John Ferry; Stewart Ireland; Stuart Johnston; Neil Armstrong; Graham Peacock; Bill Morton; Francine Marshall; John Harkin and John McQuade

Andy White
Several moments will stay as memories in renovating and paddling Wa’alele:
Returning her to the water one August evening and feeling her pick up speed as the crew all came together in tune. Seeing her rise back up through the waves after the bow ploughed under. For the first time I realised that a boat design of 1000 years was beautifully shaped for that purpose.
Leaving Calais harbour and seeing the white cliffs of Dover on 19th June, so that they stayed in view for the duration of the homeward crossing was a great motivation for me, at stroke (seat 1).
Feeling the renewed excitement of tired bodies as we entered Dover west entrance with just ¼ mile to paddle.
Entering Whitby harbour at an oblique angle as we did a ‘ferry glide’ across a 4 knot rip tide, knowing that John at seat 6 was struggling to keep a course as the steersman.
Being taken from my seat at no.1 and deposited on Stewart’s lap at no.2 as we crashed through an 8ft wave.
Helping to develop a crew that could paddle a double crossing of the English Channel is a clear memory. And to think it’s only held together by bits of rope, most of which I’ve found on odd beaches, washed up on the West coast of Scotland.

John Ferry
Having paddled for many years, it had long been an ambition to cross the Channel. This challenge however was a little more than I had thought of. The Channel Outrigger Challenge had many exciting aspects and many smaller challenges: Helping to restore Wa’alele to it’s former glory, contacting the original crew in Hawaii, learning new paddling techniques, preparing the crew (some of who had never paddled before), feeling the crew start to get it right, when only nine months earlier we couldn’t have got it more wrong. The excitement of that morning in June; rigging the canoe for the first leg of this double crossing. Finally, landing on the beach at Dover, with just one thought on my mind………… WHAT NEXT?

Stewart Ireland
I sit at 3 or 4. I’d never canoed before.It was an excellent 9 months and I’m a lot fitter! It’s an experience I’ll never forget, something to tell the grandkids! Fabulous!

Stuart Johnston
I have canoed before. I can paddle any seat but mainly sit at 4. I got involved with the outrigger after taking part in a charity dragon boat race. Taking the canoe from outside the museum and restoring it to seaworthiness is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with.

Neil Armstrong
I sit at 3, 4 or 5. I’d never canoed before I started this project. It was excellent – class!

Graham Peacock
‘The King of the Capsize’ I normally sit in seats 4 or 5. I have canoed prior to this. My motto is “This will never capsize – won’t it!”

Bill Morton
I normally sit at 2 or 3. I’d been in the sea cadets as a child so this is like reliving my youth. I can;t believe that I have been involved in this project. Looking back I can’t believe that was me. To be involved in restoring and paddling a Hawaiian outrigger canoe is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I have never been so fit since I was in the T.A!

Francine Marshall
Aloha! I am currently the only woman on the team. I can paddle any seat but generally I’m seat 3 or 4. Prior to starting the training for the Channel crossing I’d never canoed before. The whole experience was amazing – the chance of a lifetime!

John Harkin
Coordinating physical training was my responsibility, making sure everyone had ample opportunity to increase their fitness and stamina for the task. The grunt and grind of Thursday’s in the gym certainly paid off. Paddling mostly at no.5, I am responsible for keeping the ama in the water, especially when a wave takes the ama 18 to 24 inches clear of the sea. I also take a turn at steering and at no.1, an exciting view crashing over and through the waves. The Channel crossed, what next I hear you say. Watch this space! Thanks to Cleveland Police for the time off.

John McQuade
I’d briefly tried canoeing when I was on a school visit. I sit at seat 2. I’d never realised what 6 people working together could achieve. It’s amazing the distances you can cover in a short time especially when crossing one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

KANUculture Volume 8 2002 Feature on the Channel Crossing