British Canoe Expedition

By Darryl Jensen

british-1“Dear Lynne, after more than 8000 miles we have recently entered our 10th country, Colombia. If you’ve received any of our postcards we have written, you will know the problems we have encountered. To date; robbed on the water and on the beach, on the run all night through Mangrove swamps while being shot at by Nicaraguan Militia, being part of the infamous bribery and corruption of Latin America. We’ve even been hit by lightning and chased by sharks…” September 10, 1995

british-2Adventure has been described as doing something you’d rather be home just talking about. The adventure for Britons Chris Maguire and Neil Armstrong began on July 12, 1993 when they set out from Medicine Hat, Alberta to paddle the world’s longest canoe expedition. In their CLIPPER Tripper named Eileen, the Brits paddled up and down a network of rivers to New Orleans where they entered the Caribbean Sea. “Although much of our journey was through one of the harshest winters in memory… we have finally found spring, some 4,100 miles later in Texas.” February 13, 1994
Battling tornadoes, flash floods, landslides, falling trees and bitter cold through the much of the North American continent, Chris and Neil had no idea of the adventures that awaited them in Central and South America! Through the entire trip the Tripper held up flawlessly under the amazing stresses that will inevitably affect an expedition of this size.

For our support Western Canoeing & Kayaking contributed $100 CDN for each 500 miles paddled by the young English adventurers. Financial support was sent down to third parties along the route, but as the pair entered wild Latin America, mail service and communication – as well as safety – was getting to be less and less assured!

british-3“We’re still canoeing; 7,600 miles and 2 years later we’re in Costa Rica. After our Nicaraguan adventures… the Costa Rican Monkeys, Crocodiles and Toucans have been a pleasant change. Tomorrow we will enter Panama and are still hoping for Trinidad for Christmas.” July 26th, 1995.

Due to pirate and rebel activity along the Colombian coast, Chris and Neil decided to portage across the 70-mile Guajira Peninsula. It took them 5 days to pull the canoe on portage wheels, and they nearly died of heat exhaustion. The entire peninsula is a desert.

“Dear Lynne, with 10,500 miles under our belts we have finally made it to Trinidad. Thankfully good times have prevailed… [and] the canoe is holding up well. No holes and none of the constant repairs that Don Starkell had to do on his epic journey.” December 10 1995.

british-4“We spent Christmas and New Years in Trinidad, resting and repairing.” The only repairs to date had been reglassing the ribs. The canoe had taken a lot of abuse. [Editors note: the recommended layup for this type of trip would be a foam core or duraflex construction.] “We are now thankful that the ocean is behind us; no more salt sores, corrosion, or breakers to deal with. Now it’s fight the current, the bugs and the heat. There are few people and even less wildlife, except for the dolphins and birds which distract us daily. We are told the Crocodiles, Piranha, and Anacondas are waiting for us on the Upper Orinoco… and we’ve been warned about guerrilla activity.” February 26, 1996,

By June 11, 1996, the British pair had paddled from Trinidad 1,100 miles up the Orinoco, 240 down the Casiquiare, and 850 down the Rio Negro before finally entering the mighty Amazon just beyond Manaus. “We have unofficially broken Don [Starkell’s] record and with only 1,000 miles to go, in approximately 4 weeks we should reach Belem. It’s been a constant adventure; Indians, Alligators, Tarantulas, canoeing up and down rapids and having to sleep in the canoe.”

On August 1, 1996, Chris Maguire and Neil Armstrong arrived by Clipper Canoe in Belem, Brazil, and became world record holders. They are now looking forward to travelling around talking about and showing slides from their 4-year journey.

At Western Canoeing and Kayaking, we’re glad to have been along for the ride!

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