At 6 am on Wednesday, August 19th, I picked up my girlfriend Lilian and off we drove to Thompson. Then, the 15-hour train ride to Churchill. Our bucket list included “Kayaking with the Belugas”—a tour that had been prebooked for Friday the 21st. But with the weather less than ideal, our Churchill River kayaking jaunt was postponed until the 22nd, then again until the 23rd. The tide and currents had settled down enough by 5 pm on the 23rd for kayaking conditions for the lowest common denominator of kayakers (of which I was one).
Well folks, know that kayaking the Churchill River is like kayaking the Lake of the Woods: any breeze affects the waves and currents. The roughness of the water is the first challenge for the novice kayaker. The second is the fact that a Beluga might decide to bond with your kayak. Unnerving, but not my concern. The waves and the impressive view of the river emptying into Hudson Bay was my real concern. I truly did not want to become Sea North’s first swimmer of the season. I connected with my higher power at this point. We pushed off and panic—high waves, strong currents and the sheer expanse of the river—immediately set in. Off I went , straight toward the sea wall. A guide in a Zodiac came to my rescue and proceeded to instruct me on the fine art of paddling. Off I went again, but this time I seemed to get the hang of it.
I’m feeling the tippy craft but tell myself not to do anything stupid nor in a hurry. But then—guess what folks!!—a snorting and bubbling noise behind me is followed by a gentle nudge on the rear of my kayak. Yes indeed, a ten foot Beluga I named Ralph has decided to bond with my kayak!—for the entire two-hour experience! Out of 12 kayakers, my kayak was the only one enticing enough to attract a Ralph. Go figure.
My kayak and Ralph became true friends, with Ralph bumping and nudging the kayak and me concentrating on keeping the craft upright. Twice he managed to actually lift the kayak a few inches off the water. A guide in a Zodiac came by and asked if he should chase Ralph away. I responded that his only job was to fish me out of the river should I capsize. I was teased by the other kayakers about my developing relationship, and Ralph never did stray until the water became too shallow as I paddled back to shore. All this while we were surrounded by belugas, frolicking and showcasing themselves, simply enjoying our company. The guides commented that they had “never seen the whales that active”. The belugas had welcomed us to their home.
I consider myself so fortunate to have had this truly remarkable experience and, of course, to have in some unique way gotten to know Ralph a little bit. I’m sure he’s begun his migration north by now and, in my mind, I hear him regaling his buddies with tales of this strange human he attempted to meet on the vast Churchill River.
Gail’s is the first HG-member article—thank you Gail—in a new “Celebration of (Retired) Life“ series. We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA.