A British kayaker will paddle back into the Halifax Harbour on Aug. 16 after a 15-month 10,000-kilometre expedition — but he almost didn’t make it.
Steve Chard’s trip almost came to an abrupt end in January, when he was greeted by a man with a knife and three Dobermans in Florida.
“I thought he was going to kill me,” Chard recalled in a phone interview on Thursday.
When Chard set out on the St. Johns River in the middle of January, his plan was the same as it had been since he started America’s Great Loop for charity on June 1, 2018.
“Most of the time, I’ve just been landing in the evening with nowhere to stay actually lined up, knocking on the door of a cottage and asking, ‘Please, is there somewhere where I can camp tonight?’ ” he said.
The question was often followed up by an invitation to stay in their guest house or somewhere on their property.
“I’ve slept on people’s garage floors, in their shed on my sleeping (bag) and in people’s RVs on their drives,” he said.
So when Chard realized he was running behind schedule as he made his way on the St. Johns River, about 32 kilometres south of Jacksonville, he decided to stop and find a place to stay.
“I saw some cottages, all with access to the water, tied my kayak up to the ladder at one of the houses like I had done many times before, crossed the garden and waved to someone I could see inside,” he said.
“He came out with three Dobermans and a knife, put the knife against my throat and was saying, ‘Who the hell are you?’”
Chard said he tried to explain who he was, but the man wouldn’t listen.
“He actually told me if he had his gun on hand, he would’ve shot me.”
Chard was able to get back into his kayak and paddle to a public boat ramp in Jacksonville, where he was picked up by his friends. From there, the unsettling encounter changed his trip around the Great Loop for the better.
“Unbeknownst to me, my host in Jacksonville was contacting as many people up the East Coast all the way to the border, telling people what happened to me, and saying, ‘We can’t let this happen to Steve again,’” he said.
Chard said he has only camped about a dozen times since the incident. Before, he was camping about 60 per cent of the time.
But even with the near-death experience, Chard said the people he’s met over the past 15 months has been the highlight of his trip.
“The people have been fantastic,” he said. “I’ve been passed from kayak club to kayak club, family to family. Little things like that.”
Paddling past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour, steering clear of train barges in Mississippi and seeing American museum battleships were among the visual highlights, he said.
Chard worked his way from Halifax counterclockwise around the eastern portion of the United States and Canada on waterways such as the Rideau Canal, Mississippi River and Chesapeake Bay, for nine different charities: two Canadian — the Kidney Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust: HMCS Sackville — three American and four U.K. charities.
The British kayaker is taking a break in Mahone Bay as he nears the end of his journey. From there, he will paddle to Portuguese Cove before returning to Halifax.
“I’m feeling exhilarated and a little bit proud of myself,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’ve had my moments but overall’s been fantastic.”
Chard is to dock alongside HMCS Sackville at noon in Halifax Harbour next Friday.