Running The Skookumchuck or not.

With my friend, Ulf Caap, V-President, Ikea, we went fishing at Egmont B.C.  Ulf and his family was visiting when we lived a Mission Point, in Sechelt. At this time I had a real nice rowing dinghy, of Whitehall design,   a traditional British dinghy, about 13′, square stern, not nearly as easy to row as a Norwegian wooden rowboat, but light and good-looking.

We lived at the Chapman Creek River mouth, and this dinghy was perfect to row around the Mission Point, catching some fish, but mostly for the fun of it. It was also easy to take in the back of the pick-up, for salt or freshwater fishing trips. This day Ulf and me went to Egmont, located just outside the Skookumchuck Rapids,  at the entrance to Sechelt Inlet.  many pictures tug boat flips on even tide see her !

Sechelt Rapids
There is a trail at Egmont that takes you to the very famous Sechelt Rapids – the fastest and largest salt water rapids in North America. The rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows occur on ebb and floods of the tide change of three inlets: Sechelt, Narrows and Salmon Inlets. Sometimes you can see spectacular rapids up to 5 metres (16 feet) occurring at the very narrow entrance of Sechelt Inlet.

The Skookumchuck or Sechelt Rapids, largest salt water rapids in North America, second largest in the World, up to 5 m. high eddies and  whirlpools, a place to know well before entering, and to be careful.

At this time I did not know the rapids that well, I don’t know if I had been through them at all. Later I got to know them very well,  running them on any tide, with different boats, and always the same excitement. With the ebb tide we would pick the narrow gap between the two small island one see on the picture, it is like a running a water slide, with a boat, at over 20 knots, with whirlpools, that is excitement. Against the tide you must have a boat that can do well over 20 knots. And pick the right tidewall to climb over, and cut the huge whirlpools at the right angle on the edges, newer in the center, in and out. Whirlpools can pull a large boat under, that happens, and it comes back up at long time after, and far away. Many have died in the rapids.

We had no intentions of getting anywhere close to the rapids, we  trolled for salmon much further out, at the entrance of Jervis Inlet.  I was rowing, only one set of oars, and I was the experienced rower. It was a beautiful day, on The Sunshine Coast. Don’t remember if we caught any salmon at all, there were other things to remember.

We rowed, fished, drifted along, for an hour or two. Drifting past the gravel pit, I noticed that I did not have much control of where we were going. It was not panic yet, so I tried to row against the current. Forget it, we went backwards. trying to row towards land, forget it, the tide was too strong, and it was not nearly a rip tide yet.

Time for some panic. Not high on our hats. Not having any good ideas. Drifting towards the largest rapids in America, second largest in the world, up to 5 m. walls of water. No boats around. No use to cry for help. One regular life jacket each, not very comforting. Ulf got the fishing lines in. By now the dinghy was mowing, not only backwards, but also rocking quite a bit.

The picture above shows The Ebb Tide, out-going tide; we were there on the opposite,  the in-going tide, the Flooding Tide. Just before the entrance of the narrowest point, there is a small islet. That became our only hope, to try to get close and on to this rocky spot. The dinghy was not easy to row. Round oars, covered with leather at the oar-locks, now wet and slippery, so I would miss a take now and then. We were not at the point of singing yet, no talks to the Devil, that would come if we ended up in the water inferno. Just quiet Pryor. Ulf could only encourage me, I rowed like crazy, picking up strength, that only comes to the surface in these situations.

I do not know how we made the last part to the rocky islet. Ulf jumped in the water with the mooring line and pulled the dinghy to shore. The next 6 hours we sat there, wet, a little embarrassed, happy to be alive; watching the tide go in, and start to recede. We had to wait until calm water and ebb tide started. This is before mobile phones, they had not helped, other than scaring our families.

A life threatening experience like this, creates a bond among people involved, thus a long friendship. We joked about it with the family when we got home, what else could we do. I traded the dinghy in an aluminum boat with 25 hp. outboard. Much higher speed, much deeper trouble.

One summer I worked up the B.C coast and inlets, manufacturing and repair of polyethylene pipes used for fish farms and small hydro projects. My friend, retired deep-sea Captain, Kjell …. was helping, he is hard-working, lots of experience, and I felt safe with him working on the ocean. After a week at Campbell River area, we turned the bow towards Sechelt Inlet, to get home for the week-end. The boat was a 29′ Tresfjord Nordic,   now with a 6 cyl. Volvo with 165 hp. turbo, much too big for the boat, but I ran it at 3800 rpm. with a special build prop, and this was just right for this boat, doing about 20 knots.

This friday night it was stormy, waves only up to 2 m., but still very uncomfortable, not dangerous with fair seamanship. The weather came up Georgia Straight, so we crossed over to Powell River, and could the have lee of Texada Island on our way. It was pitch dark, rain, and no visibility at all. I had a small good radar, but in this waters, one can run into large drifting logs, especially in a storm when logbooms break up. Because of the heavy waves, both of us had to stand up, and hold tight, me in the steering wheel, Kjell in a handle in the cabin. Everything loose onboard would slide around, very dangerous, but, Kjell knew how to tie a knot and keep the tools tied down.

Coming inside of Hardy island, and Nelson island , we entered The Egmont area. Looking at the tide schedule in the log book, we had the choice to wait about 6 hours until the Skookumchuck was comfortable passable, or try to run against the ebb tide. In the dark, raining, tired after a 3 – 4 hours of bad weather. Wanting to home to our families. Opened a bottle of whiskey for medicinal purposes, important to keep the stomach in check during bad weather, and to calm the nerves. Discussing the options, as we got closer to the narrows.

See the clip above, of a large tug boat that flips, on the almost calm tide change.

I knew them well by now, Kjell had run them for many years, but; Holy Shit; this is not a suggestion for anybody to try. More a warning, not to try. Even in the dark one feel the power of the tides. The boat mowes under you, movements that you have no control over. Like riding on a living thing, floating on troubled water.

The key to a successful run, is to get close to the shore on the port side, that is where the rapids are strongest. If you try anywhere else, the boat will be turned sideways and around, may be flipped over, and in any case you have no control. The Devil takes over from there.

Now with the engine is running at full power, the boat is hardly mowing forward, everything is now on the deck, flying from side to side, including the whiskey glasses, always plastic on a boat. The first bottle is long gone over the side.

Finding the main whirlpool in the dark, not an easy task, attacking it in an angle, not rolling the boat, having just the right power to climb it, getting up, and then take the outside edge, to inch forward. Going back now, you are dead. This sounds easy, but the whirlpools are what the word says. They whirl. Constantly. Changing size, pattern and velocity.

This is major fun. Sometning that brings out enough adrenalin to remember it for the rest of your life. You can not pay for this type of excitement. You must be there. Sober enough to make the split second decisions, spiritually empowered enough to dare.  

The feeling of climbing to the top of the crest, feeling the forward motion, wow. You have made it, now it is just another 15 minutes of easier and easier current, whirls and eddies against, then you are home free. We docked at the Lighthouse Pub before closing.

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