Every Friday afternoon, in Willow Point school’s Grade 6 class, Mike Rippingale told his students a story. Sometimes he read from classics like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and other times he told personal stories about his life.
One such story was about how he and his buddies rowed from Campbell River to Alaska in one of Painter’s Lodge’s fishing boats.
Fifty years later, Ken Poskitt, one of Rippingale’s students, followed in his footsteps, or so he thought.
“It was nonsense,” Rippingale said. “I tried to tell him I was just fooling around, but he took me seriously I guess.”
Poskitt left Sidney Island on May 16. In Campbell River that morning, Rippingale and his fellow residents at Evergreen Seniors Home crowded around a TV that showed a map of Poskitt’s progress.
The month long journey can be divided into five parts. The first leg was from Sidney Island to Campbell River. Along the way Poskitt rowed up to ocean-side restaurants when he needed a break. Rowing into Campbell River was emotional for Poskitt who grew up in Willow Point but hasn’t returned since he left 40 years ago. He stayed at Painter’s Lodge that night.
Poskitt has one of the original Painter’s Lodge rowboats and up until last year, planned to take it on the trip.
“I suddenly woke up, had a bit of common sense in me,” he said. “If I actually rowed that boat I would destroy it on all the beaches that I would have to pull it up and down. So I started looking for a replacement.”
Poskitt’s boat is similar to the Painter’s boats. When he arrived at the lodge on May 21, he had the boat brought out of the water and placed on the dock in the spot where the boats used to be back in Rippingale’s days. He then taxied into town to pick up Rippingale and brought him out to see the boat.
Rippingale was the head fishing guide for Painter’s Lodge from 1956 to around 1970 or ’71.
Though Rippingale has lost contact with Painter’s over the years, on this visit to the lodge with Poskitt, the staff treated him like the Painter’s royalty he is.
“The impact he had on my life, it was worth doing,” Poskitt said.
The second leg of the trip was from Campbell River to Telegraph cove. Poskitt consumed most of the dry food that he packed, as well as helping himself to the smorgasbord of food in the ocean. His boat became his home. He spent all day sitting and rowing, going as far as the elements would allow him, which was between 15 and 40 nautical miles a day. He would then pull the boat onto a beach, stabilize it and lay out his sleeping bag under the boat cover that left him just enough room to read a book using a headlamp.
The third leg of his trip was the only time Poskitt was really exposed to open ocean, a 30 mile stretch north of Port Hardy. All the while Rippingale was watching his former student’s progress on the TV.
Leg three was from Telegraph Cove to Bella Bella, where Poskitt again had to restock his dry food supply before beginning leg four up to Prince Rupert and then leg five to Ketchikan, Alaska.
Poskitt completed his trip on June 15, left his boat at a hotel and flew back to Vancouver. He and his wife then drove from Vancouver to Prince Rupert and took the ferry to Ketchikan to load up the boat. They returned via ferry to Prince Rupert and then Port Hardy before heading south to drop of the boat on Sidney Island.
In the months leading up to the trip, Poskitt swam one to two miles every other day, as well as rowing 10 to 15 miles every day on the rowing machine.
“My kids used to laugh, they figured I was planning on sinking the boat and swimming to Alaska, but it’s just a different way of strengthening your back and your arms,” he said.
When the weather was nicer, Poskitt was out in the boat to train, rowing three or four hours a day, as well as doing a few multi-day trips to test everything.
This isn’t Poskitt’s first big adventure, he has also climbed to the base camp at Mount Everest.
“I think this was my last big hoorah,” he said.
As for Rippingale, an influential teacher and a great story teller, he finally made it to Alaska, in spirit anyway, as a boat named Rippingale.