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Paddlers defy Port of Vancouver's no-go zone near Siwash Rock

Waters around Siwash Rock have been off-limits for kayakers, paddle boarders for decades, says port

Mike Cotter is the general manager of the Jericho Sailing Centre.

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Mike Cotter is the general manager of the Jericho Sailing Centre.

A group of Vancouver mariners are vowing to continue kayaking and paddle-boarding near Siwash Rock despite discovering the area has technically been off-limits to recreational boaters for decades.

The confusion began when the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority asked the public for feedback on a seemingly mundane amendment to the rules around the busy shipping lane in the First Narrows.

Jericho Sailing Centre alerted its members to the amendment, believing the port was extending its no-recreational boating zone to the Siwash Rock area, located west of Stanley Park and south of shipping lanes for large commercial vessels.

That didn't sit well with Mike Cotter, general manager of Jericho Sailing Centre. The area is a popular spot for tourists and Vancouver residents, he said.

“It’s the perfect place to chill out, connect with the sea and observe sea life because the water there is really shallow and clear.”

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Cotter says he has taken large groups to the area and regularly sees paddle boarders and kayakers sightseeing nearby. The sailing centre rents out kayaks and hosts group tours to 30,000 people every year.

“It's pristine. You’ll see fish, you’ll see crabs. There are starfish, you’ll see cormorants, gulls, ducks, and harbour seals,” he said. 

Cotter and others at the 3,000-member sailing centre sent letters to the port authority, making their displeasure at the supposed new rules clear.

But when Metro asked the port authority about the new rules, a spokesperson said the water around Siwash Rock has been off-limits to recreational boaters for years.

A map on the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s website indicates the Siwash Rock area is designated as a “busy port area,” where no anchoring, crabbing, fishing, sailing, rowing, paddling, jet skiing or waterskiing is allowed.

“We have not increased the restricted area around Ferguson Point, Third Beach or Siwash Rock,” said Chris Wellstood, harbour master at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, in an emailed written statement.

“These regulations prohibiting the use of kayaks and other non-motorized boats have been in place for many years for safety reasons given the proximity to large deep sea commercial vessels transiting the First Narrows.”

He noted the port distributes its boating guidelines, along with a map of restricted areas to marinas and boat-rental shops.

Cotter was not impressed.

“Harbour master has the right to set these rules but I don’t think anyone has ever followed them,” he said.

“If they’re not aware that people use this area, then it's time for them to know that paddlers use this area.”

Wellstood says the port will continue to monitor shipping lanes to keep small vessels out of restricted areas.

A spokesperson added the port will consider public feedback on its proposed amendment and decide whether or not to implement it at a later date.

The proposed amendment would allow fishing and recreational boating to occur near Ambleside Beach, where it was previously not permitted.

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