The following story came to mind when a friend of mine from Victoria made a comment on this website.
The water on the Inside Passage called Queen Charlotte Strait is know for its enveloping fogs which cover all land and sea, sometimes for days at a a time.
In the early 1970s I was stationed at Pulteney Point Lighthouse – my first appointment to the lightstation service. What a delightful place it was, and the keepers, Walt and Joyce Tansky were the best to have for a person starting on the lights.
One summer’s day my friend Rich was visiting for a few days salmon fishing. I had a fifteen (16) foot (5 meter) canoe. I was very familiar with it, but Rich still had to learn.
On the day of our adventure, the foghorn had been blowing all night, and I was off shift at noon. We packed the canoe early with fishing rods, lunch, Buzz-Bombs (still one of my favourite lures), and other assorted gear (had to leave room for the fish!). We set out after my shift was over, for the far side of Queen Charlotte Strait to the mouth of a river I knew, the Kluxewe (see map above), where salmon were waiting for high water to go up for spawning. The weather was still foggy, but I was counting on it to clear before we came home.
Keeping the blast of the Diaphone foghorn behind us, we headed out into the strait to my fishing hole – a distance of perhaps one-and-a half miles (2 kms). The sea was very calm, a condition favourable to us, and very common in foggy conditions. I could see Rich in the bow seat of the canoe, but that was it – the rest of the horizon was grey! We paddled slowly while Rich got into the rhythm. There was not a sound except the foghorn blasting every 5 seconds, three times a minute, and our paddles in the water. The fog was damp and I occassionally had to stop and wipe the condensation from my glasses.
We were also keeping a sharp eye out for any shipping as this was a major shipping channel from the north down to Vancouver, hence the name Inside Passage.
It occurred approximately half-way across. The fog was still thick, the horn was still audible, but there was another sound. a deep rumble which we could feel in the canoe. A ship! But where? Just then, dimly through the fog, I spied the bow of a large freighter bearing down on us from the right. It was moving fast, via radar, and our little fibreglass canoe was not even a speck on the screen.
At the same instant we moved from idle paddling to life and death fear-instilled paddling. If this thing even got near us we were dead! We could hear the engines now very clearly as the ship was not more than two hundred (200) yards away.
We forgot about fishing, we forgot about the fog, we did not forget about the ship as it grew ever larger above us. We were past, but I told Rich to keep paddling – FAST! If the bow wave caught us we would be flipped over and maybe dragged beneath the propellers.
I don’t know when, but eventually adrenalin stopped feeding our muscles and we slowed our paddling and looked back as the freighter disappeared in the fog behind us, its motors still rumbling deep into the sea.
Rich and I looked at each other, and then slowly started paddling again towards the far side. I pictured us sitting at the mouth of the river for the next few days until the fog cleared. I think we were both too scared to attempt a return trip in the fog, and besides, the foghorn sound was no longer audible. We were nearly across.
Just then we broke out into clear sunlight and looked back at the bank of grey mist covering the strait. There was the river!
We paddled towards the river, now completely forgetting our fear. The tide was just starting to rise – a prerequisite for fishing the river mouth. We anchored the canoe in the tidal stream away from the mouth of the river and started working our lures.
The day passed quickly, we caught some fish, and the fog cleared for our return trip. As you can see from the photo (left) we were two happy fishermen!
Some lovely aerial photos of modern day Pulteney Point here.
Below is an album of fishing and other photos from the 1970s taken at Pulteney Point.