Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.

Ripple Rock


Every year when the captain (my captain, that is) takes his commercial troller from Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands on the northern coast of British Columbia (and back again), he has to go through a tight passage called Seymour Narrows.

Located just north of the town of Campbell River, this stretch of water was described by Captain George Vancouver as “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.”

Whenever I have accompanied “my” captain through the narrows, I’ve nearly given myself an ulcer beforehand, as Seymour Narrows has such a terrible reputation. Yet each time, going through the passage has been a piece of cake, with calm waters. That’s how it should be, if you wait for slack water, between tides.

The passage through Seymour Narrows is now much safer thanks to the removal of the tops of Ripple Rock,  a submerged twin-peak mountain that lay just nine feet beneath the surface of Seymour Narrows. According to Wikipedia, it was a serious hazard to shipping, sinking 119 vessels and taking 114 lives.

In the case of the William J. Stewart, when it struck Ripple Rock  in 1944, I’m not aware of any loss of life, and the ship was beached and later restored. It was due to be scrapped in 2017.

On April 5, 1958, after twenty-seven months of tunnelling and engineering work, Ripple Rock was blown up with 1,375 tons of Nitramex 2H explosive. It was quite the project.  A 500-foot vertical shaft was built on Maud Island, and then a horizontal shaft of 2,370 feet  was drilled out to Ripple Rock. From that point, two vertical shafts were drilled up into the  peaks, with shafts for the placement of the explosives. Very advanced technology for 1958.

I think those columns of smoke are blowback  from the explosion, coming out through the drilled shafts.

The explosion spewed debris almost 1000 feet into the air falling on land on either side of the narrows.  After the blast, the two peaks were 13.7 m (45 ft) and 15.2 m (50 ft) underwater.

Some very smart engineers had the foresight to detonate the charge at a time when the tide was running its fastest, so the rocks  blown off the tops would not fall straight back down onto the peaks, but rather, be swished along beyond them.

Even after the top of Ripple Rock was removed, it remains a challenging route. In March 1981, the Star Philippine, a freighter, ran aground in the narrows.

When the captain was coming home from a summer of trolling, he took pictures of his navigation instruments as he went through Seymour Narrows quite close by Ripple Rock. The red triangular icon represents his boat as he is heading south, just past Ripple Rock. Arrows show the direction of the tidal flow at that time. You can see the depths of the peaks as 15.2 m, and 13.7 m.

In the monitor of the depth sounder below, you can see the twin peaks of the rock. The reading is taken on the far right where the scale is marked. This tells me that the boat has just passed the second of the peaks of what is left of Ripple Rock.

Even knowing that the rock has been topped, I still have a healthy respect for this stretch of water. The colour photos (near the beginning of this post) of the swirling eddies are recent, well after the explosion of Ripple Rock, so you can see that going through Seymour Narrows when the tide is running full is still not a good idea.

My preference is to stay on land whenever possible.




Author: wordsfromanneli

Writing, travel, photography, nature, more writing....

41 thoughts on “Ripple Rock

  1. Good sailing is like good cooking –
    it’s easy when you know what you’re doing 🙂
    Cheers !

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’ve got that exactly right, Hans. Maybe that’s why it makes me so nervous – I don’t have the confidence to run a big boat so I have to put my life in someone else’s hands. Very hard for me – a control freak.


  2. Anneli, I really enjoyed reading your post today. You explained so well the danger of the twin rocks in the Seymour Narrows. Even though their tops have been removed I can understand your fear to travel through these turbulent waters. It is a good thing that your ‘captain’ is an experienced sailor. Best wishes! Peter

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this is really interesting! Even after the undersea mounts were cut down, the passage is filled with swirling water. Scary! This reminds me of navigating the saint Claire River between Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario. Lake Huron is dumping all it’s water into a narrow passage which is very deep due top the current, huge Ore freighters pass through easily. in my little 20 foot bot though, it was always a challenge. I’m glad your captain has a substantial boat!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your captain once said, ‘being on the water is like having a constantly moving highway under your vehicle.” The pictures certainly show that.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Really cool history and explanation of Seymour Narrows and Ripple Rock, Anneli. That third graphic, the photo of blue and green and the tornado-ish waters says it all. My goodness, what a treacherous spot to get through. Enjoyed this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So glad, Jet. It’s a piece of water that is very powerful. There are other smaller rapids and “narrows” in the general area, but most can be avoided. Seymour Narrows is pretty much a necessity for bigger boats, though. It’s like night and day, the way the water can be so calm at one point in the tide change and so vicious when it’s running.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting description and explanation of the dangers in those narrows. That’s some awesome turbulence in those photos!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. This is excellent historical journalism Anneli, 50 years of big changes. From using the strong tide to move the debris from the blasted pinnacles, to the Captain’s modern navigation equipment. This should be in an archive at The Courtenay and Campbell River museums. Did you think to submit it to our local newspaper?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fascinating, Anneli — both the engineering and the navigating. Furuno’s pretty much the radar and sonar of choice around here, and the advantages they offer are off the charts (no pun intended!) to what used to be available. When I began sailing, LoranC was considered state of the art, and charts were made of paper. So many changes in just thirty years!

    Your tale of the rocks reminds me of the treacherous conditions that can develop here after hurricanes. They certainly devastate the land, but they do a number on the bays and channels, too. Bars appear where there were none, and channels narrow without warning. The first to venture into the bays after a big storm go very, very slowly, and watch their depth finders as closely as your Captain does.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s very interesting about the storms changing the bottom. I’m aware that there are changes in estuaries, but I hadn’t thought about storms. As for old technology, I remember the days before we had a Loran and only had a compass, a flasher sounder, then later the ecolite paper sounders (wet and then dry), and a chart. Things are much better now.


  9. Very interesting, Anneli! I remember the day they blew up Ripple Rock.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. And I thought my commute into the city each day was risky. I really enjoyed reading the history of Seymour Narrows and Ripple Rock, Anneli. I’m with you, I’d prefer dry land too! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks, Anneli, for this highly interesting article. I was truly amazed at the pictures in the beginning, showing the true force of the water.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Whoa! You and the captain are both brave! Those peaks look soooo dangerous!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It sounds so romantic: sailing through Seymour Narrows, but in fact, sailing like your Captain does is dangerous gritty stomach-clenching work. I’m with you – a true landlubber now. But I found your post fascinating!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only made the trip through the narrows a few times but I’ve been secretly terrified for hours (sometimes days) before the event, and am always surprised how calm the ride is, because the captain knows when to go and when to wait. One time we were just a bit late getting there and the tide had started to change before we got through. We hugged the shore and crawled through with the engine screaming.
      The tide really runs through there. We were lucky we were still able to move forward and we made it okay, but I’d heard of friends trying to go through at the wrong time and going backwards. They finally had to turn back and wait it out at a nearby bay. Other times, the captain has said he has”shot” through there going faster than I care to tell about on this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Yes, land sounds like a very good option! Great post, Anneli.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. That was very interesting to read this blog! You are a brave woman to go through such adventures with your captain!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I too would have a very healthy respect for these waters. Interesting post Anneli.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Fascinating, Anneli. The water still looks dangerous with those strange-looking eddies. The historical photos are fascinating. I love learning about the history of places like this. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  18. I wouldn’t want to try swimming it. Glad you enjoyed the post, Diana.


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