Ucluelet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is a wonderful spot. A small native, logging and fishing community, close to Tofino and most famous for “Long Beach”, a must to see in a winter storm, nice to walk in a summer day.
The “secret” Government Radar station is located there, keeps track of every vessel on the B.C. coast between US and Alaska, over 10. 000 smaller fishing boats in the season, and all the large commercial vessels. They know the name of each wessel, the name of the captain, the load they carry, from where to where, and everything else, interresting or not, conserning every wessel afloat in their view. They can follow and catch all the bad gays, god for us. Don’t tell them I told you. The building looks like a lighthouse, not far from the real one. They must have been asleap this morning. How could they not have seen the black smoke?
For many years I had close friends living there. Jon, a logging foreman, Berit (they were married for a few years) a fashion designer, and Elling, a Norwegian, retired fisherman, almost like a town mayor. Elling owned a Motel, a few other properties, and the local Marina with boat rentals, I think his son runs it now.
http://tourismmall.victoria.bc.ca/ucluelet/ a very good site
My friend Elling, as the retired fisherman he was, insisted to leave about 4 AM, at sun up. We were to catch some cod and bottom fish, get bait for the crab pots, clean and re-bait the pots, and just have a nice day on the ocean. His fishingspots are close to a navigation marker about a mile off the harbour enterance, and when trouble started we were in my estimate 3 sea miles off the coast. Open sea to Japan.
The first part was real nice, the last part an ordeal and a nightmare that could have gone much worse.
I had brought my heavy, ocean fishing-rod. I could land any monster with that one, with time. Elling just parked it aside. This was not sportfishing , this was to be done the old way. Heavy hand lines, huge jiggers at the end. He is right, you can pull in a lot of fish with a hand line, while a fellow with a rod and a reel, plays with one, for a long time.
We got two real large cod, locally called brown bombers, about 45 lb’s he figured, a lot of small cod, snappers and lings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ling_cod http://www.orioncharters.com/lingcod.htm Elling knew the exact fishing spots, if we drifted off the site, he maneuvered back, and sure, there was the fish. I even got a 5 lb. Coho salmon http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/fish/cohosalmon.htm http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/fish/coho.php http://www.bcseafoodonline.com/files/dungeness_crab.html , on the jig, close to the surface, that made my day, so far so good.
The picture of the dock with fish is from another trip with Jon.
We had enough fish in an hour, and ran up the coast towards Long Beach, picked up the crab-pots, took out the crabs and re-baited the pots. Not a big catch, but some fine Dungeness http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeness_crab http://www.bcseafoodonline.com/files/dungeness_crab.html crab for dinner. Only the fish filets were kept, the heads, bones and tails was used as bait.
Elling’s boat was an older commercial troller, but in good shape, his pride and joy, and rigged for sports fishing charters. Fiberglass, about 26 ‘, a Volvo gas engine, just perfect for this use. The engine was serviced that same week, and new sound insulation was put in around and on to the inside of the engine lid. The new insulation was just stapled to the bottom of the lid, we found that out later, the hard way.
We were at full speed on the way home. With enough fish filets and crabs, and it was still only about 7 AM, enjoying some coffee from the thermos. A perfect fishing trip. So far.
The boat stopped almost dead in the water. We looked back, and “holy shit”; Heavy black smoke, flames sticking out from the engine room, smaller gas explosions, I thought this was it.
My first thought; was; Thank You God , that Tim, my stepson, did not come along. He must have been about 8-10 at the time, and loved boats and fishing, but not at 4 AM. The next thought was life jackets, but I did not get to think any further. Elling reacted fast, he knew what to do. This was his third fire on a boat, I do not want to hear about the two first, this was scary enough.
The smoke, the roar of the fire, it was no time to speak. Elling pointed, made motions, grabbed a bucket, with a braided line attached. One must have one, onboard every boat, to get a bucket of water to wash away fishblood, use as a pot, if you have women onboard, and no lavatory, and now, to extinguish a fire. He made signs to me to carefully open the engine cover, and he threw the first bucket of salt water on the fire, a gas fire, I don’t think that is in the manual.
After a few buckets, and inhaling a lot of black, awful smoke, and burning my facial hairs away, the main fire was out, just hissing sounds from the hot engine, and smoke from the charred insulation, that had fallen off its staples, and on to the hot engine, thus causing the fire.
Elling trew the engine cover overboard, and the triple gas carburetor, and a few other burned useless things from the engine room. The smell of acid smoke, gas, and burnt hair, is all what I can remember. Elling face was black, I did not see mine. The heavy cloud of dark smoke still hang in the air, high in the air.
We could see the lighthouse from there, but I don’t think they saw us. If we had ended up in the cold Pacific waters, even with a life jacket, the heavy currents around the outer rocks off the coast, would have made short process. We had seen other boats earlier, but none now. The boat drifting, probably some quiet thank you Pryor were placed, trying to get back to reality, living life, coughing, spitting. The smoke bothered me for many years, I probably got more than a lifetime of cigars, and may be another reason for not smoking.
Nothing worked, the VHF radio was dead, we hosted a white tee-shirt in a pole, but nobody was around. We did not talk. It was a dead scene. Elling started looking at the engine, he ripped the rest of the charred insulation out, and threw it overboard. There was nothing else that could burn, except the gas, and the gas was flowing from burnt hoses. Elling wrapped something around, and tried to start the engine.
The 6 cylinder Volvo sputtered, fire came out from around of several cylinder heads, and shot high in the air from where the carburetor once sat. I was not comfortable with this, but there was nothing more that could burn. It started finally, on a few cylinders, and slowly, we limped back to the Ucluelet inlet, it took several hours. Some nervous small talk got started on the way in, and by the time we hit the dock, we were almost back to normal.
We had to trow the burned clothes away, before the family saw them, and washed and cleaned up the best we could. My face was like a burned apple cake, but did not smell as nice. This is the first time they hear the whole story, what a close call it was. I did not talk to the Devil during this experience, my be he was not up that early morning.