Going Overboard in Blind Bay-Chilled to the Bone

Here’s the thing about working on the water alone as log salvors generally do: There’s no one to help you when you get in trouble.

There’s no one to discuss options with. There’s no subliminal or open conflict’s as to who’s decision will rule, no second guessing triggered simply by doubt in the eyes of someone else and no illusions as to precisely who is going to have to get you out of whatever trouble you find yourself in. No recriminations either, other than those you privately heap on yourself…and there’s a limit to how useful that is.

Spend thousands of hours in a boat generally close to or right in on the shore and things at some point will quickly go wrong.

I was working early one drizzly, grey winter morning in Blind Bay, between Nelson and Hardy Islands. It was at the extreme of the lowest tide of the month, a big rise coming up. I had six or seven logs on doglines behind the Harrier, smallest of my three aluminum boats at a mere fifteen feet in length with a beam of six feet. I was bringing them into one of my tie-ups.

A tie-up could be a fifteen-foot-long poly rope hanging from an eyebolt cemented into a hole bored into a rock face above the highest tide mark. Alternatively it could be a float-log or a buoy connected by rope or steel cable to an anchor. With the exception of spots where logs would be temporarily tied while you scouted close by for more, these tie-ups were in reasonably sheltered locations where logs could usually be safely left afloat for up to a couple of weeks. It wasn’t unusual for tieups established by several log salvors to span such places, the pins or buoys far enough apart to keep the different jags of logs from becoming entangled. It was mutually beneficial for these arrangements to be respected and, with few exceptions, they were.


On this particularly chilly morn it was a buoy that I was bringing my jag of logs to. It was connected by a length of three-eighth inch galvanized cable to a heavy concrete tank brought there hanging by a line run over the stern of my largest boat, the Stray. It was pretty well all it could carry in such a manner, even at twenty-seven feet in length with a ten-foot beam. I’d had steerage, but only just, with her nose riding well out of the water.

I slowly swung the stern of the Harrier into the buoy to tie off that jag of logs, heard the propeller hit the anchor cable, felt the stern of the boat pull down as the engine stalled, and knew I might be in real trouble.  I restarted the engine in neutral and dropped it into reverse at an idle, hoping it might clear itself, but the stern just pulled down a little further as the cable wound even tighter around the propeller and the engine again stalled.

It was low slack with the tide due to rise four meters over the next six hours commencing pretty-well immediately. I could reach home with the VHF radio and have Aus bring the Stray around. I could then put it stern-to stern with the Harrier, use it to take up the weight of the anchor and probably fashion a way to get both to shallow water where I would have more time to deal with the matter.

But home was a good hour away for the Stray. Even pushing it, even if Aus was able to get under way immediately, odds are she’d arrive too late. And then there was the embarrasment factor keeping my hand away from the radio mic. microphone.

I was going to have to get into that frigid, winter water and at least attempt to liberate the propellor.

I peeled away the coat, shucked the shirt, slipped off the boots and socks and dropped my pants. Bare of foot and all else, I stood on the damp plywood floor and savored an all-over chill infinitely comfier than what I was about to experience in the water. Successful at freeing the prop or not, I would need something dry to get back into, even if  had to swim the ten meters to the nearby shore with dry duds held over my head, after calling Aus to come and get me.  Presumably I’d be watching the Harrier sink as the tide rose and eventually filled it.

I’d been in ice-water before, on Redberry Lake in Saskatchewan, as a teenager. My girlfriend and I flipped a small sailboat on a Spring weekend with the odd drift of ice still on the water. On that occasion, every submerged inch of me was immediately rendered numb and inoperable. I’d been able to reach in and with a hand that that worked for the few seconds it took to grasp my jeans just above the knee and drag my right leg out of the water. I was then able to jam a foot against the mast, extend the leg, and get myself up on to the bottom of the overturned hull. From there it was possible to reach out and pull my girlfriend up beside me. It took well over an hour for the rescue boat to get to us, but we seemed to come out of that experience unscathed.

But back in Saskatchewan I hadn’t had to put my head in the water. When I tried to do so that morning in Blind Bay the pain in my eyes and across my forehead simply made it impossible to remain submerged long enough to even start trying to untangle the cable from the prop.

However, the tide being so low, I was able to stand on the muddy bottom. The Harrier being so small, with my throat pressed hard against the back of the swim-grid I could just reach under the hull far enough to reach the propeller. With the inside of my forearms and elbows scraping against the odd barnacle and hard aluminum of the bottom, throat bleeding against the work-roughened edge of the swim grid, but head still blessedly clear of the water, I managed to free the propeller. I guess it took about ten minutes.

And that was it. I hauled myself up onto the swim grid, swung over the stern into the boat, air-dried for a minute or two and got back into my clothes. No trumpets, no applause, just the comforting silence of the bay and the tree-strewn land. I retrieved the jag of logs, pulled them back to the tie up (cautiously), secured the logs to the buoy and headed for the warmth and comfort of home.

I did not stop along the way to pull any more logs from the beach.

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