Saturday, February 14, 2015

Running the rapids

I think I have a bad attitude.  Its probably born of the fact that some of my earliest boating experience was spent running real white water in canoes.  Our old bluenoser friend says that left coasters are pussies because of their fear of west coast tidal rapids.  He claims that all the rapids out here, including the fearsome Skookumchuk with which he is most familiar, are mild compared with the reversing falls on the east coast.  Whatever the reason, we are paying less attention to avoiding the tidal rapids and more attention to ensuring that we get the maximum current advantage from transiting them. 

Yesterday we got started lifting the anchor before daylight in Squirrel Cove so that we could catch Yaculta at the end of the flood.  That put us in Gillard almost exactly at slack and by the time we got to Dent it was starting to flow in our direction again.  For the rest of the day we ran with the flow and finally got squirted out into Johnstone Strait late in the afternoon having run all the supposedly fearsome dragons in one day.  We made really good time too.


That wasn’t the fastest moment but it was close.  We briefly saw over 11 knots around Green Point.  That’s not bad for a 6.5 knot boat.  We were likely buying fuel for an honest 6.8 knots so anything beyond that was a free ride.  Last night we tied up to the public dock at Port Neville where we were met by a local who proceeded to talk our ear off for over an hour.  I think they get pretty lonesome up here – not that we minded – we could have broke it off if we really hadn’t wanted to visit.

We ran pretty well the whole day in rain.  Until about mid afternoon that was accompanied by low overcast that tended into fog most of the time.  We probably never had much less than a mile visibility but at times it was pretty claustrophobic.  There was hardly another boat on the water though so it didn’t much matter.  The radar shot above is pretty clear but at times it was obscured by heavy rain.  It takes a lot of rain to affect that radar but at times yesterday it was having a tough time of it.




This morning I made an observation error on my new watch.  It has a lot of buttons and – if I push the right button – it will digitally light up the time.  It will also light up the time the alarm is set for if I push that button.  I’m never 100% sure which button is which and I’m even more vague about that when I’m 3/4 asleep in the dark in the middle of the night.  So somewhere around 4:30 SK time I convinced myself that it was in fact 7:30 and accordingly got up.  Once I was up anyway and having that wonderful first cup of coffee I looked out at the sky where I can now see stars overhead.  So the crap weather we have been having may have finally moved on.  It will be several hours before the sun pokes its head out to confirm that.

Yesterday while we were running the rapids I again told Marilyn my Deliverance story.  I haven’t told it to a lot of people but its probably time to put it out there.  It helps explain why these little bits of fast water don’t hold the terror that they probably should. 

It was probably the summer I graduated from Grade 10, Grade 11 at the most.  So I was at the oldest 14 at the time.  I was a young kid all the way through school because they accelerated me in Grade 1 and I more or less skipped Grade 2 entirely thanks to our year in Fort Collins. 

The Western Canada Summer Games were in Regina that year and somehow I ended up on a committee to organize the games.  The guy who was chairing the committee was a Regina city cop named Keith Barr.  That’s how my best friend and I ended up on a canoe trip with Keith, his young son and 4 RCMP recruits.  The plan was that we would put the canoes in around Condie Nature Reserve north of Regina and travel down Boggy Creek to where it dumps into the Qu’Appelle River near Lumsden.  We did it in the spring of the year when the creeks were in full flood.  Most of the year that trip would be a boring, wet portage but that spring day it was anything but boring.

As I recall, Keith and his son were pretty competent canoeists.  I don’t recall that my buddy John did much canoeing and it was obvious that the RC recruits were more or less rookies.  Rookies in pretty good physical condition but rookies nonetheless.  We had travelled for a couple of hours when the first disaster hit.  One of the RC boats got swept crosswise on an outcropping in the middle of the creek – likely just a sandbar but that morning with the creek in full flood and the water rushing around both sides of a midstream obstruction it was deadly.  They got swept onto the sandbar and pinned there with the canoe sticking out into the current on either side of the obstruction.  If they had simply tipped the canoe downstream onto the sandbar all would have likely ended well but they weren’t that coordinated and ended up dumping upstream into the rushing current which promptly filled the canoe and equally promptly tore it in half and carried it away leaving them soaked and astonished on the midstream island.

I can’t remember who picked them up but I remember that we put to shore and milled around for a while before deciding to carry on.  It would have been a long hike out from that particular spot so perhaps it made sense to continue.  We now had 8 guys and 3 boats.  John & I continued alone while the 2 almost-cops sat in the middle of the other two canoes.  Things went well for a couple of hours but as we got closer to Lumsden we started encountering trees on the bank of the little river that were growing together over the river.  The water was so high that we were having to push branches aside as we went along and the water was flowing fast.  John & I were the middle boat.  We were strung out with probably a hundred yards between each boat.

We came around a curve in the creek batting branches out of the way, ducking and weaving to make progress and all the while being carried rapidly forward by the strong current.  Ahead of us I could see Keith’s boat doing the same thing.  All of a sudden the three of them happened to lean the same direction to avoid a particularly low tree branch and just like that they were all in the water drifting rapidly beside Keith’s dark green cedar and canvas canoe.  We hadn’t much more than realized what had happened when we rounded another bend and could see a logjam across the creek immediately ahead of the swimmers.  The trees and flotsam were piled up well above the water level and the water was draining down and under the jam.  The canoe drifted up to the dam and just as quickly as I can type it, disappeared under the logs.  The three guys in the water slapped their arms on top of the logs and hung on for their lives as the current tried to pull them under. 

John and I arrived almost immediately and I put the canoe broadside to the logjam so that we could individually help the swimmers make their way to the shore.  At some point the 2nd RC boat must have arrived on the scene but I don’t remember that detail.  We were so incredibly lucky that we didn’t lose one or three people that day.  It could have happened in literally a heartbeat.  Keith was so distressed at the loss of his prize canoe that he wanted to dive under the logs looking for it. He thought we could tie a line to his foot and pull him back out if he got in trouble.  Fortunately we were able to talk him out of what would have almost certainly been a suicide mission.

We actually managed to recover Keith’s canoe the following day.  We showed up at the logjam with chainsaws and axes.  Almost immediately Keith started hacking away at a tree somewhere in the middle of the logjam.  We all thought he was wasting his time but when he got the tree loose and pulled out of the way his canoe popped up in the hole without a mark on it.  Their backpack was even still in it but it fell out when we pulled the canoe out of the water.

I never told mother the whole story because it would almost certainly have meant the end of my canoe adventures. Father knew how bad it was and he may have told her but he didn’t know all the details because his involvement was limited to participating in the recovery trip.  With that for an introduction, viewing this fast water from the comfort and safety of a 50 foot vessel its just hard to get really worked up about waiting for slack currents.

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