A Gulf Island Treasure Chest!
In the sultry embrace of July, Belinda and I headed out on Discovery for a cruise in the Gulf Islands. There were often moments when we felt as though we had hijacked time itself.
Our first port of call, Port Browning on Pender Island, greeted us with sun-dappled afternoons and the sweet hum of local life. The salt-kissed air carried the promise of an unforgettable journey. With its rolling hills and stunning coastal views it is a paradise waiting to be explored. We used our e-bikes to get around and uncover some of the island’s hidden gems, like the well-known Saturday market.
As our cruise unfolded, our next stop was Ganges, Saltspring Island, known for its bustling energy and charming community. Our arrival coincided with the first scheduled stop of the Lopez Island Yacht Club summer cruise to Desolation Sound. Consequently, we had the warm chatter of club members filling the air there with a contagious excitement. Sharing stories, experiences, and the anticipation for the journeys ahead were moments to remember. The culinary journey was no less adventurous in Ganges. Whether it was the freshness of the seafood, the exquisite presentations, or the unique pairing of flavors, each of our many meals was a testament to the culinary artistry there.
After four days in Ganges, we ventured to the idyllic sanctuary of Genoa Bay. It is a place of stillness, reflection and tranquil beauty. It is one of our favorite destinations in the Gulf Islands. Its serene ambience is always a soothing balm that invites us to return even before our departure.
The last hurrah of our two week Gulf cruise was Sidney. There we anchored ashore our last few days at the dwelling of some friends, perched on the geographical hiccup known as Page Passage.
One morning, I bathed in the symphony of a beautiful day, my fingers cradling a coffee cup while sitting on the terrace. My eyes scanned the stage of Page Passage, following the choreography of boats navigating the passage, descending from Swartz Bay, or emerging from Canoe Cove, only a stone’s throw away. Most were smaller boats. The bigger ones, the prima donnas, generally preferred the safer ballet of John Passage, a route just a little farther to the east.
Our hosts had warned me about the lurking terror of Page Passage, tales of maritime casualties that fell victim to a submerged villain known locally as Fernie Rock. It sat in the heart of the passage unmarked except for the very modest ‘1’ on the chart which, depending on the whimsy of the tides or the type of chart, indicated the possibility of a mere one foot, meter or fathom of clearance.
Armed with this understanding and the knowledge that it was low tide, I became an anxious spectator as two large cruisers entered Page Passage just a couple of hundred yards in front of me.
The leading vessel seemed unaware of impending doom, confidently taking the center of the passage.
I watched, my stomach churning like a stormy sea, as it continued its path toward Fernie Rock. Then, with the abruptness of a gunshot, it came to a halt, rocking back and forth for a second before becoming completely stuck in place. I knew the villain had claimed another victim; the cruiser lay marooned atop the rock.
Dread washed over me like an unexpected wave, leaving a hollow echo in my gut. This spectacle reminded me of my own nautical nightmares and the inescapable truth that our sense of control is but an illusion against the indomitable forces of nature.
My friend, Chris, came outside to see what was happening. We decided to get on his trusty steed – a 250hp Seadoo, and go out to the stranded boat. We went out not knowing if we could really help, but hoping, at the very least, to offer our company and support until the calvary arrived. A lady aboard the 60-foot Offshore acknowledged our approach, her voice calm. According to her, the vessel was not taking on water. We could see the huge rock barely a foot under the water, and their boat was perched atop it like a bird on a rooftop.
Though we could not see the props or rudders, it was reasonable to assume that there was significant damage to the running gear.
As the tidal current picked up we soon realized that if it lifted the boat off of the rock, it would push them into the shoal directly ahead.
With the clarity that comes with crises, we instructed the woman to toss us a bowline. Repositioning myself on the Seadoo, so that I was facing backwards toward the boat, I snatched the line from the water and secured it to the Seadoo. A Seadoo against a 60-foot boat and what was now a strong current? The odds did not seem in our favor.
As the rising tide gently started to jostle the boat, we gunned the Seadoo, maneuvering the vessel off its rocky throne. The large cruiser slowly began to yield to our efforts, reluctantly turning around and making its way into the deeper channel. Pulling it south toward Van Isle Marina against a stubborn current was quite challenging. It was a painfully slow affair, like a snail racing a marathon.
It had been over an hour since the cruiser had made its acquaintance with the rock, and we wondered about the rescue boat. Surely, they must have called for one?
While we tugged at full speed in the modest Seadoo, the skipper finally appeared on the bow, looking rather sheepish. We persuaded him to fire up the engines and try getting underway. Soon the boat sputtered to life and was able to chug noisily forward to Van Isle under its own power. Later, passing by the marina and seeing the boat out of the water, it was clear that all of the running gear had been badly damaged. The crew were packing their luggage off the boat and into a waiting car. It was a disheartening end to what had been the beginning of their much-anticipated month long cruise to Desolation Sound.
That unfortunate experience has served as a powerful lesson and a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance when navigating unfamiliar waters. Their misfortune reminded me once more of the significance of keeping a keen eye on the charts, understanding potential risks, and taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety of both ourselves and our vessel.
While we cannot predict every obstacle that may come our way, we can be proactive in our approach, using other’s experiences as a guide to make wiser decisions and prevent similar mishaps. I hope that they find some solace in the support they received from us in the boating community and that their spirits remain resilient as they navigate through that difficult chapter.
Club business: We are looking for a committee boat for the Lopez Cup on September 9th. Additionally, we are looking for volunteers to be on a three person committee to assist in recruiting for a new LIYC Rear Commodore for 2024.
May our waters continue to call us together, year after year, as we celebrate the bonds we’ve formed and the memories we’ve made. A toast to all of you brave LIYC seafarers!
Everyone keep ship-shape! I’ll meet you here again at Commodore’s Corner next month!