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Burnaby dad to row 1,100 km for his autistic son

John Carinha and his son Brandon, 9, look over plans for the expedition rowboat Carinha built to circumnavigate Vancouver Island to raise awareness and funds for autism. Brandon was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years-old. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
John Carinha and his son Brandon, 9, look over plans for the expedition rowboat Carinha built to circumnavigate Vancouver Island to raise awareness and funds for autism. Brandon was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years-old.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

John Carinha had never paddled a boat further than five kilometres.

In June, the love of his son, Brandon, will propel Carinha to row 1,100 km around Vancouver Island.

Brandon, 9, has autism.

What started as a basement hobby project to construct an Angus Expedition rowboat became Row4Autism to raise awareness about autism as well as money for recreational community grants that use sports and fitness to connect with autistic children.

Carinha, 37, had previously built a couple of small skiffs to putter around local lakes with his three kids, go crabbing with his wife. He wanted to challenge his handiwork further, so he ordered plans for the expedition rowboat from Colin Angus, a renowned boat builder and adventurer who'd piloted a similar craft across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

But it wasn't until he saw a film at the Vancouver Film Festival about inspiring human-powered feats that he was able to give his construction project a greater purpose.

It turns out he was right beside him, handing his dad tubes of epoxy, looking over his shoulders at the boat's plans and paper templates.

Carinha connected with the Canucks Autism Network and the idea of Row4Autism was born.

To prepare for his epic journey Carinha has been working out on a rowing machine in the gym, running and rock climbing. He's paddled his boat from Point Roberts to English Bay, a distance of about 50 km over open water.

"Your back is sore, your hands are sore," said Carinha of the gruelling toll rowing long distances can exact. "It's more a mental game, making yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Carinha expects it will take him four to five weeks to complete the voyage, with days built-in to recover or ride out rough weather. And he anticipates no shortage of that, especially as he traverses Seymour Narrows, Johnson Strait or rounds Cape Scott, areas that are notorious for their converging currents and intense weather systems.

"That shakes your nerves a bit," said Carinha, who used GoogleEarth to plot his route and places of refuge should the going get tough. "You realize how truly small you are in the world."

The voyage will be self-contained. Carinha will be packing all his supplies in watertight compartments in the 18-foot rowboat and he'll store caches of food along the way.

Carinha estimates he'll eat 6-7,000 calories a day, most of it pasta and sauces, trail mix, dried fruit and fish he hopes to catch while on the water.

The whole adventure is being captured on video for a film that will eventually be submitted to the Vancouver International Mountain Film Fest. Carinha's nephew, Andrew Santos, a second-year student at Vancouver Film School, has been documenting the boat construction, preparation and training.

And while Carinha hopes his journey will help people understand autism better, it's the shared moments of connection with his son that fuel his resolve. Like the night Brandon shot out of bed, ran into the living room, wrapped his arms around his dad and said, "Thanks for rowing around Vancouver Island for me."

To learn more about Row4Autism, go to www.proceansports.wordpress.com

 

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