Crying Girls Spill……Girls With Guts at Epsom Point
It was near to the end of eight magical years spent by my family and I living on Nelson Island on the west coast of the Canadian mainland. My lady, Aus, had restarted her career as a registered nurse, and was away putting a couple of days in at St. Mary’s Hospital in Sechelt . My daughters, Megin and Maughan, and I were cosily at home where we could look east down onto the north-south run of Agamemnon Channel.
A lazy swell, diminished in its mile-long run up Agamenmon Channel from Georgia Strait, splashed against the cliff leading into Green Bay immediately to the North of the lagoon above which we lived. It had to be blowing hard in the Strait for it to make it that far.
The girls would have been working on their correspondence school material. I would have been keeping us fed, reading, picking up the guitar on occasion…..and monitoring the towboat chatter on the VHF radio, hoping to glean from it an early indication that the weather was about to ease. It could do that as quickly as it could rise……which it could in little more than an instant.
A log tow had broken up just short of the safety of the Fraser River when this particular gale had sprung up three days earlier. Odds were, given a variety of factors and going by past experience, that much of it would end up strewn along the bays and beaches of Lasqueti Island, and around Point Upwood on Texada Island.
Megin, my eldest girl, was ten or eleven. We’d been living our homogeneous lives amidst Nelson Island’s forests and shores for all but a few months of the seven or eight years of Maughan’s life. Both girls had been birthed at our home just outside Gibsons, on ‘the old Chamberlain place’, said to have been the second homestead established when Europeans began to add to the population of the Sunshine Coast.
In the natural and pragmatic course of an existence such as ours, both girls had some experience running our several boats: A Klepper folding kayak, a fifteen-foot-long clinker rowboat, the ‘Harrier’….our first aluminum log-salvage vessel, the twenty-two-foot-long jet boat ‘Stranger’ and the twenty-seven-foot-long ‘Stray’. The latter two vessels were driven by big gasoline engines of three-hundred-and-thirty horsepower.
Megin and I had done one four day trip up past Powell River to Harwood Island and back, with me pulling logs down the beaches and from among the rocks, into the water, with the jet boat. I would drive ‘dogs’ on the end of ‘doglines’ into them and leave them adrift. Megin would come alongside them in the Stray, reach over the side, pick up the ‘lines’ by the end with the eye spliced into it, and connect them, in ‘jags’ of ten to fifteen logs side by side, to ‘connecter lines’ of about ninety feet in length.
She quickly learned that going aground was unavoidable working close to the beach and easily rectified by backing off or by my using the shallow-draft Stranger to pull the Stray off what was usually nothing more than a sand bar We had calm and pleasant weather the whole time. Nearing the the end of it,we towed past Scotch Fir Point with a hundred-or-so logs strung back on eight connector lines shackled end-to-end as sunset began to color a western sky. Against it a four-pound ‘blueback’ shimmered as it went aerobatic sixty-feet behind us on the end of our fishing line.
Maughan, though younger, had also operated our various boats, ‘though perhaps not the Stranger. You stood to drive it and she wasn’t yet tall enough. We’d done a summertime salvage trip of several days around Texada Island as a family in which we’ would have all taken a turn at the wheel of the Stray. It had a steering station on the roof that offered a sweet read on long sentences of rocky bays and beaches punctuated by the sight of the odd deer or mink or eagle.
I wanted to get across Malaspina Strait to check out Point Upwood and Lasquiti Island for spilled logs as soon as the weather broke. I was not the only salvor who monitored the radio and knew where the logs would likely end up. Unwilling to leave the girls by themselves, we’d provisioned the Stray for a trip that might see us away from home for two or three days.
As was not unusual, a gale that had blown steadily at thirty-five knots would rise occassionally to forty, gusting to forty-five, then settle back down. Easing of the wind down to twenty-five or so than usually meant the blow was nearly over. So when that happened we trotted down the trail from our house to the dock and the boats. I’d decided that, just in case the weather didn’t further ease, we should head across Malaspina separately with the girls in the Stray, that being faster than towing the Stranger with it. Tidal levels weren’t going to be relevent I thought: There was deep-water moorage at Lasquetti where we could wait for calm enough water to begin working the shoreline for logs.
It looked pretty encouraging as we passed Ferney Bluffs rising high on the southeast extreme of Nelson Island and pushed out into the swells. The sky over Vancouver Island was giving just a hint of brightening, a touch of blue streaked with high, racing cloud. The swells were still breaking whit. We were running pretty well fully abeam of them, but the rocking side-to-side was tolerable.
Then, as we hit the half-way point in our crossing, the touch of blue vanished and the water darkened against the foam now blowing off the tops of the swells as the wind came up again, hard.
We were going to have as rough a ride turning back as by carrying on. So on we went with ever bigger swells coming at us onto our port sides from the southeast. The girls were, of course, a little anxious, but holding up well as we talked back and forth on the VHF radio.
But as we neared Point Upwood the water grew markedly and almost immediately rougher. The tide must have been running hard down the northern Texada shore and out of Sabine Channel between the south side of Texada and Lasquetti Island, pushing back against the swells, causing them to rear up steeply.
It quickly became a frightening and hugely demanding situation for Megin and Maughan. They had already begun to take turns at the wheel, managing to switch sides every few minutes even while the Stray leaned and rocked hard side-to-side while it pressed resolutely on. I could hear them over the radio, one steering and crying from the sheer stress of the fear and of the concentration required to do so, the other offering a continuing monologue of reassurance and encouragement, each in their turn.
I could have banged alongside, even in those seas, most likely found a way to transfer myself to the Stray from the Stranger and, hopefully, manage to take the latter under tow. But that was far more dangerous and potentially destructive than carrying on as we were for the few remaining miles in two boats that were each more than up to the task. If either of them proved otherwise, then the other could come to its assistance.
Of course there was a level at which I felt sick at heart for putting my daughters in this situation; but what was allowing that into the operational mix going to do to get them out of it? I believed in their courage and strength of character, that they did have enough experience to carry on as we were and that doing so was our safest option.
It proved to be safe enough. We got across the waters at the bottom of Texada, made the turn into Sabine Channel and with the swell on our sterns and the stress much relieved, eased over to the bottom of Jeddediah Island and into Deep Cove; to anchor, to hold on to one another for a while, for me to offer my apologies and praise to both my daughters, to settle in and warm and feed ourselves in the warmth provided by the oil stove.
It was a couple of days later in calm weather, that we made our way back across Malaspina, with a goodly harvest of logs behind us.
Much as I would have rather they hadn’t had this experience, because of it, throughout their lives they will carry within them a visceral belief in their own capacity to come up with whatever it takes to cope with what life may throw at them, and that they will always know that they will be there for one another.