Tag Archives: tide

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.




Tide Out, Fish In

At first glance you might think it’s a sandy beach, but your nostrils will tell you that iodine  breeze holds the smell of low tide.  That sand would be very soft to walk on and I wouldn’t advise it. When the tide comes in, all that “sand” will be under water. Meanwhile, there’s no telling how far you would sink into that sea bottom.

This is the east side of the causeway that divides the wharves where fish boats can tie up. It is what they call the new side, more recently dredged to provide more moorage and shelter for local boats.

The older side is more crowded because “the old salts” tie up there. It is busy with fishermen getting their boats ready for a summer of salmon and halibut fishing, often far enough from home that the men and their boats may be gone for many weeks.

You can see the roof and the rigging of the Captain’s boat on the bottom right-hand side of the photo below.

The new side is also busy, but is more convenient for boats that come and go more frequently.

Those who have fish for sale will want to moor on the new side. It is handier for the public to visit for dockside sales of whatever is in season. It might be prawns, shrimp, salmon, halibut  or other. Today it is halibut. The customers lined up on the dock know that they have to buy the whole fish. The price is high, but they gladly part with well over $100 for a small halibut. These flat fish have a delicate white meat which, though highly priced, is also highly prized. If you could see what the fishermen have to risk and endure to catch and bring these fish to harbour, you would say the price is a bargain for the customer.

As you can see, there is no shortage of people wanting fish for their supper.

I have removed the name and number of the boat to allow some anonymity for the boat owner.

A Proper Prop

No wind or rain today! Here’s a chance for the Captain to put the troller on the grid and exchange the old prop for a new one while the tide is out.


He’ll have to work fast before that water rises again and floats the boat. As soon as the tide has dropped enough to give him a working surface on the grid, he begins.


The old prop needs to be pulled off, but that isn’t so easy. Nor should it be. It’s meant to be on there good and tight. Not something you want to have wobbling on the shaft or twirling right off the shaft and whooshing away into the deep. It’s hard work but the wheel puller (fishermen often call the prop a wheel) that he puts around the propeller puts physics to work and with a bit of elbow grease and a few grunts, the old prop pops loose.


This boat is going nowhere until the new propeller is put on. You can see the gadget that helped pull off the old prop lying on the ground next to blue kneeling pad. The propane bottle on the left was used to heat and expand the hub of the propeller, making it easier to release it from its tight fit on the shaft. Like holding a stubborn jar lid under hot water to make it easier to open.


The new propeller is placed on the shaft. It’s a bit like changing a tire only harder work. The blocks of wood under the bottom blade will stop the prop from wanting to turn as the wheel nut is tightened to hold it in place.



Whew! That was hard work. The Captain drops the pipe wrench on the ground while he stretches his legs and gives his arms and shoulders a rest. But OH! Look at the back of his coveralls. Which washing machine will want that mess in its tub? Bottom-of-the-boat scunge and copper paint. So much fun for Ahab’s wife.


The annual spring cleanup of the hull of the boat is yet to come. A proper shipyard will be needed for that job. For now, Ahab’s wife will try to enjoy how shiny the new propeller is and forget about how grungy her Captain looks after a hard day’s work.


If you have made it to the end of this post, I would like to invite you to check out my other blog http://annelisplace.wordpress.com  and comment or follow it if it interests you at all. That blog is dedicated to writing-related posts, and introduces authors and their books. All of you are readers or you wouldn’t be reading this post, so why not see what else is out there in the reading world?

Fog and Fumes

I had not planned to stop. I was in a hurry to meet my sister and I had an hour and a half’s drive to get there. Already running late because I had to stop for a fuel up, I waffled over what to do when, across the street, I saw the fog rolling in towards the river mouth. I had made the mistake of bringing the camera along in the car. It was only my little point-and-click Fujipix (small and unobtrusive because we were going shopping), but it pleaded with me to stop and take some pictures.

In the estuary, a gazillion seagulls had congregated near the mouth of the river. I finished fueling and drove along, until I got to a convenient pullout just down the road.

I didn’t take time to worry about whether I was shooting into the sun or whether the zoomed-in picture would be in focus. I was in a hurry to get going, but I couldn’t pass up the mist wafting into the estuary.


The more sensible shot was up towards the river mouth.

040aBut I couldn’t resist shooting into the sun and out towards the bay. Beginning photographers don’t care about those things too much.


So I have a straight-ahead shot, one to the right, and one to the left. All that was left was a good close-up shot of all those seagulls right in front of me. I zoomed in a bit, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Those birds still looked awfully small. I took a few steps forward towards the edge of the bank and then it hit me.


Fumes of decay! I rushed back to the car. NOW I remembered why the seagulls were all assembled here, making such a racket. They were squabbling over the carcasses of the spawned out chum salmon that lay everywhere in the shallows of the estuary. It was salmon spawning time; a bounty of food for seagulls, eagles, and many others.

Over the Top


Fellow fishermen beating through the waves

When people use the expression “over the top,” we usually assume they mean something like “way more than expected” or “unbelievable.” Actually, it is supposed to have come from war days when soldiers in the trenches were sent “over the top” to meet enemy fire.

Many years ago I came up with my own meaning for this expression. Way back about 1986, I was commercial fishing with my husband (Captain Gary). I was tired of spending so many summers alone and thought I’d give deckhanding on a troller a try. Big mistake!

Some people get over seasickness in a few days; some try various remedies until they find one that works; some try everything and find nothing that works. The latter –  that was me. I tried all the remedies. Nothing worked. I even tried patches of scopolamine sold as “Transderm” that you put behind your ears. All that did for me was make me nearly blind for three days. My pupils were as big as those of a druggie on acid. No wonder. I found out later that only one patch should be worn at a time. If you remember from my previous post that I’m the girl who doesn’t like to read the directions first, you won’t be surprised to hear that I assumed that because I had two ears, I should wear a patch behind each one. But never mind. They didn’t work anyway. I was one sick seadog for the whole summer.

Still, Mom and Pop got their share of spring salmon.

landing spring salmon [1]

Anneli looks as happy as seasickness will allow.

landing spring salmon

Captain Gary looks happy

It was worst when the weather was a bit breezy and the sea was lumpy. I had to learn to function and make myself useful no matter what the sea conditions were or how sick they made me.

On the top end of Graham Island (part of the Queen Charlotte Islands), the seas were not usually as rough as they were on the west coast where the southeasters blew in from the open Pacific. Captain Gary often took pity on me and anchored with the sissy fishermen in the nooks and crannies of the sheltered top end. In the morning, as the sun’s first rays filtered through the cloudy horizon, we headed out towards the west coast. We had to go through Parry Passage, a stretch of water between Langara Island and Graham Island where the tides sometimes ran quite fiercely.

We had a couple of hours of running time ahead of us so it was too early to set the trolling lines out behind us. We’d do that when we got near the fishing grounds. I sat on the bench in the wheelhouse across from the captain at the helm which is like the dash in a car.


I dreaded the onslaught of the lumpy waves of the west coast. We were the first boat heading west through the passage, Captain Gary needing to make up for a lot of lost fishing time because of his wimpy deckhand.

Up ahead white foam danced on the tops of  mountainous waves. My eyes bugged out yet another millimeter as I hooked my claws into the wooden shelf of the helm just behind the windshield.

“It’s a bit breezy today, isn’t it?” I tried to keep the whimper out of my voice.

“It’s not too bad.” Captain Gary took another sip of his cup of acidic, stomach-burning black coffee while I held my breath so as not to inhale it and start the nausea quivering in my guts. I loved coffee, but on the boat it was deadly for a weak deckie like me.

My fingernails dug a little tighter into the edge of the helm. “Those waves look pretty big.”

“Nah! It’s just a bit rough in this part of the pass. The tide’s running one way and the wind’s blowing the other. Makes it a bit choppy.”

I must have looked pathetic because he added, “Look! It’s often like this in the pass and once you get out on the other side it’s quite fishable. There might be a bit of a roll, but it shouldn’t be too bad.”

I kept quiet. Swallowed. Nodded ever so slightly. Let out a long soft sigh.

“Tell you what,” Captain Gary said. “We’ll just stick out nose out and if it’s too rough we’ll turn around and come back and fish the top end where it’s calmer.”

” ‘kay.” I breathed a sigh of relief, but the relief didn’t last long. “Holy shit! Look at those waves.”

Several huge waves were coming at us now. Definitely tidal action whipped up by the wind. Up went the boat to the crest of a wave. As it washed away under the hull we were pitched downward at an uncomfortably steep angle, taking a splashing over the bow from the next wave that followed close on the previous one. Up we went again and all the dishes slid around in the cupboards, the coffee pot slid to the other end of the stove, and the soap dispenser flew off the counter. As the crest of that wave passed under the middle of the hull we pitched downward again into the trough between waves. This time we were still pointing down towards the bottom when the next gigantic wave crashed “over the top” of the boat.

We were diving. Fortunately all the windows were shut tightly and the wheelhouse door was closed. So why did I feel like I was in the shower? The front of the boat, by the helm was soaking wet from the water that forced its way into the wheelhouse. My claws had finally dug right into the helm and I stared at the windshield, wondering where the sky was. For several seconds that seemed like minutes, I watched the water wash down the windows – GREEN, GREEN, GREEN – with no sign of sky. At last we bobbed up. I turned to look out the side windows towards the back.

On the farther side of the pass and a little behind us was the Northern Viking, a fine big boat. A quarter mile behind us was the Flicka I, also bigger than our boat.

“I guess they figured if Gary’s going out, it must be okay out there,” he said. Captain Gary picked up the mickey and called the Flicka I. “Hey, Milt,” he said, “I can see your cooling pipes from here.”

For those who don’t know, the cooling pipes are near the bottom of the hull. With each wave, the Flicka I pitched up and we could see her underbelly. After a few seconds of chitchat, Milt said he was turning around.

“Okay,” Captain Gary said to me, “you’ll be happy to hear we’re turning around too.”

The smile I felt coming on was wiped off my face before it could take shape. More giant waves loomed in front of us. Fortunately they weren’t as close together as the ones  that had  mistaken us for a dive boat, but still, to turn the boat sideways to those waves could be fatal.

I needn’t have worried though. Captain Gary handled the boat like an expert. Timing it just right, he started the turn just after a wave passed the bow and then he gunned the engine and whipped the wheel around. The next wave lifted the stern quarter high and pushed us from behind. After that we were going with the waves rather than against them, and we surfed back to the shelter of the top end.


As we got into waters that were only a bit rough as opposed to violent, Captain Gary said, “Go on up front and pitch that seaweed off the anchor and the deck.”

From outside I called, “The roof of the wheelhouse is just full of seaweed and slop.”

“Wait till we get into calmer water. Then you can get up on the roof.”


Calmer water

I realized then that I hadn’t had time to be seasick during that whole ordeal when the waves were “over the top.”