After battling 10-foot-high swells and capsizing in the surf, Poulsbo sea kayaker John Kuntz figured his problems would be over when reached shore.
But that was only the start of a five-day ordeal on a remote, storm-blasted stretch of the British Columbia coast. Kuntz and his paddling partner, Luca Lezzi of Bainbridge Island, found themselves trapped until the Canadian Coast Guard could reach them.
“It was combination of terror and just amazement,” said Kuntz, owner of Port Gamble-based Olympic Outdoor Center. “I’ve been in a lot storms but never a storm that lasted so many days and was so intense. It was like standing next to a jet engine for about five days.”
Kuntz and Lezzi, who works for Kuntz, ended up staying on the windswept beach for five nights. On Friday, the Canadian Coast Guard pushed through gale-force winds to reach them. Both are now safe at home.
They had set out on Sept. 19 from Fair Harbour on north Vancouver Island. They planned to turn around after three days and paddle back.
“On Sunday, it was calm and sunny and beautiful but the wind picked up pretty quick,” Kuntz said. They were hit with gusts of up to 25 knots as they raced for shore.
Kuntz has been paddling for more than three decades. Lezzi, 21, has far less experience, but he made up for it with youthful courage and brawn.
“I was proud of the kid,” Kuntz said Lezzi, who used to row for Pacific Lutheran University. “His inexperience didn’t even show.”
They reached land in the nick of time. Within a half hour, the wind’s strength had doubled.
They camped on the south end of the Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park, a 71,100-acre, densely-wooded preserve that gets few visitors. When they woke, the storm was still surging, eventually reaching 74 knots and tossing 40-foot waves off the peninsula.
Kuntz radioed for a water taxi, but the captain said there was no way he was going into the storm.
“We went into survival mode,” Kuntz said.