Tag Archives: Boating

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.




Coming Through

This is a post from almost four years ago. Only a few of you will remember it from then.

Coming Through

“Hey! Just in time. I’m starving,” Captain Gary called as I arrived at the wharf with sandwiches and coffee. “i knew you’d come through for me.”

“Didn’t want you to have to stop working.” Like most fishermen in the last weeks of May, Gary was racing the clock to get the boat ready for opening day of commercial fishing.

He gallantly set up a sun-bleached lawn chair for me on the deck of the salmon troller. I protested, but he said, “No, you go ahead and have the lawn chair. I can sit on the galley chair,” and he hauled out an old wooden thing from the wheelhouse.

We chit-chatted away while Gary ate his lunch. “Sure you don’t want one of these sandwiches?”

“No, thanks! I had one at home.” I spread out my arms to the sky. “What a great day! So good to see the sun at last.” I slid a little lower in the lawn chair to try to catch every last ray of sunshine.

“Oh, hi there, Fraser. Want a cup of coffee?” Gary raised his mug to a fellow fisherman who came by to talk about the merits of cold cure epoxy.

As they compared notes on the best temperature for using cold cure, I tuned out the fish talk and slouched even farther down in my lawn chair. God, that sun feels good.

The sharp cracking of plastic had all eyes turning my way. I did a split-second search for the source of the noise and watched an arm of the lawn chair snap in two. The crack was followed by the caving in of the lawn chair seat, another crack of the second arm, and the thud of my rear end hitting the deck.  There I sprawled, legs out front, elbows pointing skyward, and bottom on the deck.

“Are you okay?” the visiting fisherman asked.

I nodded, feeling my face heat up.”I guess I really came through all right.”

As Gary extricated me from the tangle of the broken chair, Fraser kindly and discreetly hurried away.

Mr. Cool

***My 99 cent e-book special is still on until Monday, April 1. Please find it on the post before this one, called Easter Special. Be sure to look there for the coupon code. You need it to get the discount.

And now, for an embarrassing fishing story.

This little article I wrote was published in Canadian Fly Fisher magazine a few years ago and was posted on this blog in 2011. For the record, the trout pictured below is not the one in the story. This one was released after its photo op.


Mr. Cool Goes Fishing

I now believe that lawn chairs should come with a warning label: “Not recommended for use by fools in small boats.”  My cold splash of reality came on a sunny day.

Gary and I love fly fishing, but two people standing in a small boat isn’t safe. However, it isn’t particularly comfortable sitting on cold aluminum seats either. To please me, Gary came up with a solution. He would put lawn chairs in the boat so they straddled the bench seats. We knew it was a bit risky placing our centers of gravity up so high, but we were old hands at boating and decided we would be safe enough fishing for trout on the calm, reedy edges of one of our local lakes.

The day was perfect for shorts and T-shirts. We had brought a picnic lunch in our cooler bag, a thermos of tea, cell phone, and the usual clutter of fishing tackle. We cast towards the lily pads.  In no time, Gary had hooked a trout. I offered to net it and wisely, I thought, slid down off the lawn chair to gain more stability. Net in hand, I dipped for the fish, but it darted under the boat. Gary, still up in his chair, leaned over to see where it went, and that was the end of our lawn-chair fishing.

Over I went, head first into the lily pads. I kicked away the entangling lawn chair that threatened my demise. Lily pads! As I floundered underwater thrashing through their long stems, my mind flashed to the story of a woman who had drowned in lily pads at Swan Lake when I was a child. Determined not to repeat history, I kicked and fought my way to the surface, inhaling water and belching. Madly treading water, I gulped for air.

Several meters away, Gary shook his head in slow motion and I blushed to realize how unimpressive my plunge was from the point of view of a perfect swimmer. I grabbed sinking articles near to me and tossed them into the half-sunken boat wallowing nearby—cooler bag, thermos, tackle box, my fly rod, even the old life jacket I had been sitting on instead of wearing, and of course, the accursed lawn chair.

I glanced over at Gary, bobbing calmly in the lake, scowling at me.  Mr. Cool. His entry into the water, like that of an Olympic diver, had been almost soundless with barely a ripple. His frown suggested that I had been making quite a fuss and had attracted unwanted attention.

Two men who had been spincasting farther out on the lake, reeled in frantically. “We’ll be right over,” they called.

“That’s okay,” Gary yelled back. “We can stand.”

“We… can?” I spluttered.  It hadn’t occurred to me to try to stand. My toes stretched down into the gooey silt, and my mouth went under. Being a couple of inches taller, like Gary, would definitely have been an advantage.

By this time the spincasters had paddled over. They held the side of our half-sunken boat as I scrambled in as gracefully as a calf moose. I began to bail water double time to keep the boat afloat. Gary, who had been steadying the bow of the boat, waited until there was enough freeboard and then hopped in easily. We thanked the men, sheepishly chuckling about the story they would tell their wives that night.

As we took inventory, Gary netted his trout, still hooked after all the commotion, while I wondered which fish was swimming away wearing my expensive Serengeti sunglasses.