By John Kimantas
I never met Audrey Sutherland. It has long been a source of disappointment for me that we were never able to connect.
My own era for exploring the British Columbia coast followed hers by too many years, sad to say. Even so, she was a legendary inspiration as I began my own journeys to follow her into areas previously paddled by few others. Most serious British Columbia kayakers who have undertaken adventures here over the past 20 years will probably have heard of her, and if you were lucky you might have even had a chance to read Paddling My Own Canoe: A Solo Adventure on the Coast of Moloka'i when it was first published back in 1978. But it was really her 20 years spent paddling the Inside Passage and BC coast that made her so legendary, with her and her inflatable kayak logging more than 8,000 miles along waterways little known and rarely explored.
Truly, she was one of a kind.
Back in the days of Wavelength Magazine, Audrey had settled down and retired in Hawaii, where another legendary British Columbia explorer and author, Neil Frazer, was also residing. It was, I felt, a great opportunity to request Neil to do an interview with Audrey for the magazine, but sadly Neil had to report back that dementia had taken its toll on her by then and an interview simply wasn't possible anymore.
That was probably 2010 or so. Maybe a bit later.
She passed away in 2015 at the age of 94.
I always felt as a result of reaching out to her so late, the story of Audrey Sutherland was somehow left unfinished. However, I am happy to be able to report that another company has picked up the cause and published both Paddling My Own Canoe in paperback and Paddling North: A Solo Adventure Along the Inside Passage.
It is a timely re-publication, as this year is the 40th anniversary of the original printing of Paddling My Own Canoe. Both books make a fitting tribute to a remarkable pioneer spirit and her sense of adventure bolstered by her dogged attitude: "Go simple, go solo, go now."
I never did get that interview, but happily I have two of her books to add to my collection to ensure she's never too far away.
ISBN 9781938340758, Published by Patagonia
John Kimantas is editor at Wild Coast Publishing and author of various guide books including The Wild Coast series first published in 2005 by Whitecap Books. He is also currently involved with BC Marine Trails and working on the new Deck Topper map series.