Salt Spring kayaker escapes tropical assailant

“Margaret Spencer stuffed the pen in her bag and took off for Fiji, without a clue as to how she might be needing it.”

April 29, 2015

The following article is a reassurance to us all that there is a God (or Higher Power of some kind) and that s/he does likes to protect us from the most bizarre disasters. It reminds me of the time, I left my beater car turned on as I dashed into The Driftwood office to pick up my cheque. It smashed through the windows of a thrift shop but no one got hurt.

No doubt someone from the Higher Realms was with me or, should I say, my car on that day. Here is the story of who was with Margaret Spencer:

Gulf Islands Driftwood

February 2, 2000

Salt Spring kayaker escapes tropical assailant

by Tanya Lester

Depending on who you ask, it was anywhere from four to five feet long and what it left behind– and not that it got away — was the problem.

For Margaret Spencer, it started out as just another adventure with the local Island Paddlers club. This time, she and five others were kayaking in Fiji for two weeks.

At the Vancouver airport, daughter Mary Spencer came to say good-bye to her mother and offered her a pen with a guardian angel on it. The gift was a fundraising item for the B.C. Children’s Hospital where Mary works as a nurse.

Margaret Spencer stuffed the pen in her bag and took off for Fiji,  without a clue as to how she might be needing it.

From Labasa, the group loaded their Klepper folding kayaks and other gear onto a fishing boat and chugged up the coast for 11 hours to Undu Point, the most northern eastern tip of Fiji, considered an isolated part of the world. Local people told her they had not seen white people along that part of the coast for two years.

It was in these waters, on day one of the kayaking trip, that Spencer suddenly felt a hard bang on the side of the double kayak that she was paddling.

Sitting in the boat’s bow, she saw the large black tail of a stingray rise up and then disappear under the kayak. Its impact against the boat knocked her knee, inside the vessel, right out of position.

The Canadian and Fijian tour guides, as well as Alan Clews, who was in the boat with Spencer as part of the Salt Spring group, had differing opinions as to how long the stingray actually was. At somewhere between four and five feet, Spencer said the consensus was that it was bigger than most of its species.

The group proceeded along the coast for a couple of hours before stopping at a village where they were scheduled to camp that night. Spencer was taking her bags up to the village centre where they would be tenting when someone asked her if she had seen her boat.

Spencer hurried back down to the water where a crowd of villagers surrounded the kayak.

A nine-inch barb left behind by the stingray had been discovered where it had broken through the boat’s canvas. The poisonous saw-like barb had missed the calf of Spencer’s leg by only an inch.

Their Fijian guide said people have died from a stingray’s stab, and Spencer later heard from a pathologist that people stung by a stingray often die not from the poison but of a heart attack induced by the pain. He likened it to kidney stone pain.

If Spencer had been wounded by the stingray, she believes she would have died with no medical help available in the isolated area.

As a safeguard, the Fijian guide had a village woman boil the barb in water to bring out the poison before giving it to Spencer as a most unusual souvenir.

The guide said without its barb to defend it, the stingray was probably devoured by a shark.

There is an interesting postscript to the story. Later, as Spencer was going through her bag, she discovered that while she lost the pen given to her by her daughter, the guardian angel was still travelling with her in the bag.

Spencer e-mailed her daughter: “The guardian angel is working.”


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