The Vanlene and I

I received the following email the other day promoting an article on a friend’s website: 

The freighter Vanlene ran up on the rocks on Austin Island in the Broken Group islands on March 14, 1972. She was carrying 300 Dodge Colt automobiles while enroute to Vancouver BC from Japan. The crew was rescued and taken to Port Alberni. How she ended up on the rocks is still a matter of conjecture but it appears that the Master simply did not know where he was at the time of impact (he thought he was off of the coast of Washington) and his navigational aids were inoperable. See the article at Nauticapedia

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CCGS Camsell – photo CCG website

The name Vanlene brought all kinds of memories rushing into my mind.

I, with my family, pets and foster child were pounding our way up the outer coast of Vancouver Island sometime in August 1972, only a few months after the Vanlene sinking. We were travelling on the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Camsell. We were on our way to a new lighthouse on Kains Island (Quatsino) after being picked up at Pulteney Point lighthouse the week before.

The Coast Guard seems to always travel clockwise around Vancouver Island (no idea why) and so we left Pulteney, headed down the inside waters between Vancouver Island and mainland BC. We then stopped at the Coast Guard base in Victoria, and then headed up the outside. Nice trip for us (more on that in another story).


Calm seas – photo John Coldwell

The Camsell is an ice breaker. “So what!” you might say. “You try it!” I might say. An icebreaker is made to rock and roll to enable it to break ice. When there is no ice it still tends to rock and roll! The outside of Vancouver Island (open Pacific in other words) is never calm. There is always a swell, This also makes a boat want to rock and roll, but if the Captain is good, usually only in one direction. An ice breaker rocks from side to side and front to back all at the same time, or so it seems.

I loved it! My wife Karen and the small boy also had no problems. The dog and cats managed, although the cats looked kinda drunk! Their eyes were rolled up into their heads from the tranquillizers. We ate hearty meals and loved the sunshine.

Back to the Vanlene, one of officers pointed out the location as we steamed past. We had heard about the wreck in the newspapers. From what I heard, some cars were salvaged by locals after others had given up.

Researching this story I came across many websites with articles on the Vanlene (see below). A few sunken cars are not too much of a hazard. The Vanlene was leaking oil for weeks afterwards. Now they want to send Chinese oil tankers full of tar-sands crude oil down our coast.

Only after the Last Tree has been cut down,
Only after the Last River has been poisoned,
Only after the Last Fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that Money Cannot be Eaten.

Cree Prophecy 




Vanlene story links, besides the one mentioned at the beginning: – diving on the site

Mysteries of Canada

Nauticapedia – The Wreck of the Freighter Vanlene


The Wreck of the Vanlene

Jack Knox: The wreck Vanlene was awash in cars

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