Epic kayak trip raises thousands for Cancer Society

Monday August 30th, 2010
Monty's brothers Geoff and Peter paddle

Monty's brothers Geoff and Peter paddle

WHAT started out as one man's desire to honour his dead father's memory, ended up with 18 people kayaking from Exuma to Nassau and countless others donating time and money to raise thousands of dollars for The Cancer Society of The Bahamas.

The flotilla of 14 kayaks - including three two-man kayaks and one that was paddled alternately by two people - set off from Nassau at 4.30am Saturday for the hour and a half boat ride to Ship Channel Cay, Exuma. The kayakers began paddling the 32 miles back to Nassau at 6.30am.

They battled extreme heat, rolling waves, a torrential rain squall and white caps along the way, taking anywhere from seven to just over 10 hours to complete.

The event was dreamed up and coordinated by Andrew Higgs who wanted to finish up something his father, Monty Higgs, had wanted to do before being diagnosed with and dying from cancer.

"It was so physically hard out there, but I think we all kept going because we wanted to remember dad and also raise money for cancer," he explained. "I was going to do it by myself, but word got out and a couple of friends decided they'd do it with me and then it spread like wildfire and everybody jumped on the bandwagon and it grew into a really big event."

The youngest participants were in their early 30s and the oldest, Peter Higgs, is 65. Mr Higgs, himself a cancer survivor, was the one who convinced his older brother, Monty, to kayak with him and a friend through the Exuma chain back in 2004. They had intended to continue on from Ship Channel Cay to Nassau at the end of that two week and one day odyssey, but bad weather prevented them from making the last leg. Not long after, Monty was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 2006.

"I had my brother on my shoulder today and it was so emotional to have so much of my family doing this for Monty today. It was a difficult thing to attempt, but we had tremendous support and that really made it possible to complete," he said.

A third brother, Geoff Higgs, is currently fighting his own battle against cancer and despite undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, joined his brother and nephews as they approached the eastern point of Nassau on Saturday afternoon and finished up the last half hour or so with them.

The first kayak to arrive at the designated finish line on Glenmore Beach along Eastern Road was paddled by Ken Chaplin and Matthew Spencer. Their kayak was outfitted with a small sail and they finished the course in seven and a half hours.

The next team to finish included one of only two women to participate. Carmel Stucki and Lee Farmer completed in the course in eight hours and 15 minutes and said the longest they'd ever been in a kayak before was 30 minutes.

Andrew's brother Chris and two friends flew in from Abaco to participate. The trio trained a few times a week since April and last weekend completed their longest course of 18 miles. One of them, Justin Higgs, was fourth across the finish line.

"I finished up a lot faster than I thought I would, but I did my best to zig-zag with the wind and that helped push me along. The hardest part of the whole thing was when we were about 14 miles out of Nassau, finally spotting Atlantis off in the distance and no matter how hard I paddled, it just never seemed to get any closer," he said.

All of the paddlers were greeted by a large, cheering crowd at Glenmore Beach and the day continued with a beach party to raise even more money for The Cancer Society of The Bahamas.

It is too soon to say just how much money was raised, as a final tally has not been completed, but the team of Jeff Robertson and Tim Aylen managed to raise more than $10,000.

One of the seven support boats with the kayakers the entire length of the voyage was outfitted with a gps tracking device which uploaded coordinates to a website, allowing people to track their progress. Throughout the day, as cell signal was available, messages of support were transmitted from throughout The Bahamas, the United States and even England.

Andrew Higgs says once the exhaustion and euphoria of Saturday's event has worn off, they will decide whether to make the kayak for cancer an annual event.

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