The Unknown Coast, Hiding In Plain Sight….2/23/2012

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Many of us who live on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, the part that stretches some 100  Kilometers as the crow flies from Howe Sound to Jervis inlet, call ourselves ‘Coasters’ but have little knowledge or substantial experience of the the waters that define it.

I’m sure it was somewhat different back awhile when logs were sorted on the water rather than on dry land, where log tows were smaller and more frequent, when more than a very few families were sustained by commercial fishing, when the price of fuel did not prohibit wide participation in recreational power- boating and fishing, as it does now.

But even then the full dynamic scope of what goes on adjacent to our shores was probably experienced by relatively few: Towboaters more than fishermen, log salvors perhaps more than anyone else, working as they did in close proximity to the shore, towing their logs with relatively small boats.

Tug Crossing Trail Bay off Sechelt-Tella Sametz image

Towboaters of necessity remain fully aware of the way the Fraser River can over-ride the tide, particularly when it pours out of the North Arm at five knots during the spring flood, still running at two and even three knots as it slides past Francis Point, just below Pender Harbour.

Installing a kilometer of water, power and telephone lines from West Sechelt to N. Trail Island in 1988 revealed a sea-bottom across that expanse pretty-well devoid of vegetation, due perhaps to the velocity of silt-laden tidal water scrubbing back and forth across it.

Tugs have been known to thrum away making negligible progress through the full turn of the clock and two full tide changes, unable to make headway with a tow of logs through Welcome Pass above Halfmoon Bay or past Mission Point just past downtown Sechelt.

The sea-level drops as the charts predict, but not alone as one might imagine, by swirling across the Strait below the Thormanby Islands to run out to Juan de Fuca Strait down the East Coast of Vancouver Island. It may in fact be running one way on the surface and entirely the other direction a fathom or two below it.

In the early 1980’s we looked out our window to see a small yarding tug passing below on Agamemnon Channel with a fresh-painted bright yellow sidewinder (log-sorting boat) riding under tow, precipitously high on the stern-wave.  So precipitously that it began to take on water.  When the skipper slowed to take a look at why his progress had slowed, the ‘winder,’ barely buoyant, wallowed around from the stern to the port-side of the tug and sank, rolling the yarding tug over, both of them to come to rest 160 meters down. The skipper and his crewman made it the 70 meters to shore through the icy winter waters but it must have been a close thing. It was the ultimately unsuccessful attempt, over several days, with cable and camera, to recover the two boats that was fascinating.  As the seven cm thick cable was lowered down the end of it was drawn first to the south and then to the north, alternating repeatedly as it made its way to the bottom.

Once the inflows of the rising tides coming in through Juan-de-Fuca win their own battles against the Fraser’s silty outflow, they join forces  with the flood-waters streaming up along the tenanted shores of the Sunshine Coast while a second force charges up past Keats, Bowen and Gambier Islands and on up to Squamish. Put a southeast gale behind that and you have a veritable phalanx on the move.  Turn a westerly gale against it and the waves will rear up like war horses bent on over-running everything in their path.

Waiting Out a Southeaster in the lee of N. Trail Island

This goes on day or night, sometimes predicted, sometimes not. It should be no surprise then that logs drifted free or spilled in or at the entrance to the Fraser, as well as those from tows caught crossing to Ladysmith and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, end up on beaches on Thormanby and Lasqueti Islands and all along the shores of the Sunshine Coast.

With long stretches of shoreline from Grief Point down to the Town of Gibsons offering little protection from it all, it’s hardly surprising that log-tows have fallen not-infrequently victim to it.  It may be a matter of a bundle or two popped out by a big swell,  but if the tide and the sea-conditions so will it, whole log tows….boomsticks, bundles and loose logs, chains and cables….can be heaved up on to the sand and boulder beaches, the creek mouths, and into rocky coves and crevasses.

But mostly all of this goes unnoticed and unremarked by the majority of a population dwelling, as much of it does, within a few kilometers of the shoreline.

In the near-decade I salvaged logs from a base on North Trail Island just off the shore of West Sechelt I would occassionally find myself nosing into the beach mid night to pull bundles off the beach as they finally floated on a high tide, my exhaust pipes rising out of the water and dropping back in the swell, rumbling loud and quiet, but never so silent as all the houses and shops resting from their daily labors just across the lamp-lit black strip of highway separating them from the sea and me.  It was quite lovely, really. Surreal.

My family and I left N. Trail and moved to Halfmoon Bay, just up the shore from Sechelt, in 1994. I tired, after a year or two of dealing with my boats at a distance.  Soon thereafter I ceased to peer through the trees as I drove along the highway to see who might be towing past with a log-boom or which log salvor might be working the beaches for their daily bread. It was a few years before I stopped pulling my truck down to the shore to see, for curiosity’s sake, what might be there in the way of logs worth pulling from the beach, gathering up and pulling to market. I took a certain delight in dancing as surely along the beach debris as I once tripped across the sinkiest tiers of salvaged logs. Rarely do I stop so now and nor am I so sure-footed, ‘though still willing to persevere at it for a minute or two.

We move on don’t we…..and take pleasure in new things.Living on N. Trail and working the beaches from Roberts Creek to Middle Point led to a role as navigator for the ‘Save Georgia Strait’ crossings between Sechelt and Nanaimo, and the reverse, in the early 90’s. Coming Sechelt way most of the rowboats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks kept their bows pointed, as advised towards Roberts Creek regardless of official tidal ebb or flow and came ashore, as intended, on the beach at fronting the town. Those who didn’t had to be escorted back to Sechelt from W. Trail Island and even from a few kilometers away at Sargeant’s Bay.

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