Kayakers paddle to Block Island to raise money for a good cause

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 11:30am
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The following story was published in The Jamestown Press on Thursday, Sept. 3 by reporter Ryan Gibbs:

For nearly three decades, a jingle on local radio has implored South County visitors to “sail away on the Block Island Ferry, take a trip back to carefree times.”

Grinnell Street’s Shahin Barzin, however, ignored that advice. He paddled there.

Barzin, an architect, rowed his kayak 12 miles across the open ocean from Point Judith to Block Island to raise money for families of frontline workers who have died from the coronavirus. The four-hour trip Aug. 24, dubbed the “Row for Good,” already has surpassed the $5,000 goal through its GoFundMe page.

“I was amazed by the support and the response of people through the fundraising,” he said, “which I think gave us all more energy to paddle and move forward.”

Kayaking to Block Island has been brewing in Barzin’s head for a few years, but it became a reality when he decided to turn the trip into a fundraiser related to COVID-19. The charity was then created to raise money for the families of essential workers, including doctors, nurses, garbage collectors and supermarket employees, who have died since the outbreak in March.

“They’re risking their lives every day, so this is a token of appreciation,” he said. “This is something that is a reality in our lives right now. It is a reality that everyone is struggling with.”

The fundraiser began in July when Barzin sent the link to his friends and followers on Instagram. It also was supported by Northeast VOSH, a medical nonprofit organization that builds humanitarian clinics in remote parts of Central America. Barzin volunteers with the group.

Barzin has been rowing for three years in a fishing kayak on Narragansett Bay. The Block Island trip was the first time he kayaked on the open ocean and also was his first long-distance trip.

Aside from Barzin, his brother in-law, Rocco Andreozzi, Joe England, Nick Garbien and Aaron Kracke took the journey. All are from Jamestown. The group started planning and training for the trip at the beginning of summer. Barzin, for example, trained by circumnavigating Conanicut Island.

“We just kept going more and more each time to get ready for the 12-mile trip,” he said. “I usually left East Ferry, and then I would kayak toward the Beavertail Lighthouse, because that’s more of an open-sea condition that would be similar to what you would face when you kayak from Point Judith to Block Island.”

Andreozzi, who lives on Bow Street and is an experienced kayaker, helped Barzin organize the trip. He trained for the trip by kayaking 5-8 miles in the West Passage twice a week. Like Barzin, the fundraiser was Andreozzi’s first time kayaking on the open ocean.

“It just started out in May or June as something we’d always wanted to do, and then Shahin decided to make it as the fundraiser,” Andreozzi said. “I did the legwork, he did the fundraiser.”

The kayakers began their trip at Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett, which is about 2 miles away from the Point Judith Lighthouse, and is close to the terminal for the Block Island Ferry. The kayaks were launched from a 45-foot boat owned by Barzin’s other brother in-law, Michael Andreozzi. Their journey was documented by Barzin’s daughter, Zahra, and his niece, Victoria Andreozzi, a photographer. The boat, helmed by its owner, escorted the kayakers to Block Island because of the heavy fog that morning.

“When we started it was very foggy, only half a mile visibility,” Barzin said. “He guided us through the fog and we were able to avoid the other boats and ships that were coming our way.”

The group stayed close to the boat for the first part of the trip, but once the fog lifted, they had more movement and maneuverability on the water. Apart from the fog, Rocco Andreozzi said the conditions were favorable.

“We picked a day that was very calm,” he said. “We were kind of going against the tide a little bit, but the fact that we had a boat with us the whole time and it wasn’t choppy, it was really comfortable.”

The kayak trip ended when they landed on the bluffs on the northwest edge of Block Island. Barzin said his favorite part of the journey was when the group encountered marine life on Block Island Sound.

“We saw a couple of whales,” he said. “That was very exciting. They were not too far from us. We saw a sea turtle and we came across a massive sunfish. We had calm water and it was a beautiful day, but seeing the sea creatures was very exciting.”

Barzin also enjoyed the camaraderie between the kayakers on the trip, and thought kayaking on the open ocean for the first time was a “liberating” experience.

“You always think about what it’s like, but once you’re out there, it’s beautiful,” he said. “You look around and all you see is water. It’s fantastic.”

Barzin said he still is researching charities so he can donate the money. He has written to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and the office of Gov. Gina Raimondo for guidance and recommendations for reputable organizations. Barzin has also considered turning the “Row for Good” into an annual event to raise money for different causes. In the meantime, Barzin is leaving the GoFundMe fundraiser open through at least mid-September.