Canoeists hope to capture the spirit of friendship

A 19-seater Canadian canoe is travelling the coast of Shetland this week with a crew of locals on board.

Those who are helping to paddle Spirit Dancer, which is designed like a native Indian canoe, are having fun, but besides that, the experience is forging links between the isles and native Indian communities in Canada.

Exchange visits have already started with some Shetland youngsters participating last year, and it is hoped that young people from native Indian communities will visit Shetland next year.

The crew on board Spirit Dancer prepare to paddle out of thesmall boat harbour in Lerwick. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths
The crew on board Spirit Dancer prepare to paddle out of thesmall boat harbour in Lerwick. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths

The 42-ft canoe was custom built in Western Canada for enthusiast Chris Cooper in 2004. It is a replica, albeit much larger, of a birch bark canoe used by native Indians to transport furs from the west to the east coast of Canada to trade.

Chris spent three months paddling around British Columbia and Alaska, and then thought it would be fun to bring the canoe to Britain – he is originally from Yorkshire.

After the “huge logistical challenge” of taking Spirit Dancer by train to Montreal from Chris’s home in British Columbia, then by ship to Southampton, the vessel was taken by lorry to London and launched on the Thames.

Since then Spirit Dancer has been in various coastal locations, including Cornwall and Orkney, and first came to Shetland in 2011. The vessel has captured the imagination of people of all ages who want to have a paddle, and, as part of a youth project, is an introduction to the culture of native Indian communities. Chris, who has a background of adventure guiding in the Canadian and Arctic wilderness, said: “It’s all about friendship between the communities, this is a fun way of doing it.”

He added that coming to Shetland had been a “wonderful experience”. His wife Barbara, accompanying Chris on the trip, together with other Canadian enthusiasts, said: “It’s getting people involved.”

On Tuesday the canoe, was launched in Lerwick at Seafield, near Tesco, to make a passage via the Knab to the Co-op.

Taking a break in Lerwick’s small boat harbour, local man Jim Tait, who is host to the visiting Canadians and one of those paddling the canoe, said: “We’re hoping to do the coast to the South Mainland in stages –we covered most of it last year.”

Another of those going out on the canoe was Arwen Grieve, 10, from Lerwick.

She said: “It felt really smooth and safe.” Her mother Fiona said: “It feels really stable,” and added that all 19 places were taken – anyone is welcome to apply for a place and there is no upper age limit, and no ability limit either.

And they're off. The Spirit Dancer paddles out of the harbour. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths
And they’re off. The Spirit Dancer paddles out of the harbour. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths

Ten-year-old Adam Tait said: “It’s fun”, and Joanne Tait, 13, said: “It’s really fun, we went really fast.” Amber Grieve, 12, said: “It’s really exciting, adventurous.”

All had enjoyed the different view of Lerwick from the water, and seeing people waving to them from the shore.

After a short rest they took their seats back in Spirit Dancer and, in true canoeing fashion, raised their paddles as they left the harbour.

The interest the canoe attracted in the short time in harbour was testament to her appeal – so far more than 800 people have made journeys in her.


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