Grocery Mishap at Kains Island (Quatsino) c.1975

CCGS Sir James Douglas

 The landing under the hook (aka highline) at Kains Island was a large basin at the back side. It looked like a very large boulder had been washed out from the hole. It was a bit tricky if the swell was running to bring the station inflatable in safely but we never had a accident in my three years on station. 


Ocean Sea foam - photo unknown photographer

After a SE winter storm the hole would fill up with kelp stems broken off the surrounding reefs by the large swells. The swells then pounded this kelp into a tan-coloured foam which drifted all over the ocean and blew up into the trees and hung there like lichen. It was quite light but sticky to the touch.

One winter day we were expecting the supply ship with groceries, mail, etc. One of the Coast Guard buoy tenders arrived rocking and rolling in the swells in Quatsino Sound. Over the side went the workboat and then began the process of off-loading the supplies into her. We could see the orange-suited crew members on deck and in the boat but could not recognize anyone. 

Lowering station boat into the hole - note the foam - photo retlkpr

As we watched the workboat pull away from the shelter of the ship we were called on the radio by an unknown voice that the boat was on its way in. We acknowledged and commented that this appeared to be a new mate. Always fun to see how much experience they had unloading under a highline. 

The boat rolled across the half kilometer distance between us and the ship, sometimes disappearing completely in the swells. The mate brought the boat closer to shore and lined up with the small bay, all the while ploughing a path through the foam which was pushed aside by the bow. As the boat neared the gap the mate rode a swell in under the hook and all but completely disappeared! 

We could see well from the winch shed and the highline deck but only heads were showing in the workboat – the rest had completely disappeared! During the night the storms had lashed the kelp to pulp and filled the gap with sea foam to almost a metre deep! The workboat rode in on the swell and right under the foam. 

The gap from seaward at low tide - photo retlkpr

 Pushing the foam aside, the crew grabbed the lowered hook, slipped on a set of slings and signalled Haul Away. As the bonnet sling left the well of the workboat it also left a nice clean spot in the boat. On landing on the highline deck above, it was discovered that everything was covered with the sea foam, but, all was OK on the inside of the cartons of groceries and bags of mail although a bit sticky on the outside. The foam, although appearing quite dense, was actually quite dry and no harm was done. 

The mate was a little more cautious when he came in with the second load. 


 More information about the sea foam. Below is the content of an email I received in March 17, 2008.


Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney was transformed into the Cappuccino Coast . Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards’ centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales .

One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away.

Boy in the bubble bath: Tom Woods, 12, emerges from the clouds of foam after deciding that surfing was not an option

It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades. Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed. All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles. These bubbles stick to each other as they are carried below the surface by the current towards the shore. As a wave starts to form on the surface, the motion of the water causes the bubbles to swirl upwards and, massed together, they become foam.

The foam ‘surfs’ towards shore until the wave ‘crashes’, tossing the foam into the air.

Whitewash: The foam was so thick it came all the way up to the surf club

‘It’s the same effect you get when you whip up a milk shake in a blender,’ explains a marine expert. ‘The more powerful the swirl, the more foam you create on the surface and the lighter it becomes.’ In this case, storms off the New South Wales Coast and further north off Queensland had created a huge disturbance in the ocean, hitting a stretch of water where there was a particularly high amount of the substances which form into bubbles. As for 12-year-old beach goer Tom Woods, who has been surfing since he was two, riding a wave was out of the question ‘Me and my mates just spent the afternoon leaping about in that stuff,’ he said.

‘It was quite cool to touch and it was really weird. It was like clouds of air – you could hardly feel it.’

Children play among all the foam which was been whipped up by cyclonic conditions.

Sisters Island Lighthouse c. 1927-1928 – Short Stories


Sisters Island c. 1927 -

Groceries at Sisters Island c. 1927 

– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929) 

Light keepers have to take a four-month supply of food when they go on as there’s no way of getting anything otherwise. No stores to run to and no neighbours to borrow from, ha ha. The government boat called the lighthouse tender [probably the CCGS Estevan which was built in 1912] calls around every 4 or 5 months. Light keepers order groceries from wholesalers in Victoria and it is delivered to the government wharf and loaded on the tender and they bring it when they are coming up that way. 

******************************** Continue reading

Supplies for Cape Scott Lighthouse 1975

CCGS Sir James Douglas - photo F&O Canada

 In 1975 we (myself, my wife Karen and our two young children, our dog, cats, and all our furnishings) were on our way clockwise around Vancouver Island from Quatsino lighthouse to Pachena Point on board the CCGS Sir James Douglas with acting Captain Tom Hull. This was a grocery run so the trip was already pre-planned and we were just passengers. 

The seas were not high but as we rounded Cape Scott, the northern-most tip of Vancouver Island, we began to roll in the southwest swell. As we motored around into quieter waters on the inside of Vancouver Island, we were still being tossed around by occasional large ocean swells.  Continue reading

Groceries and Mail on a Lighthouse

Groceries being loaded at Coast Guard Base - photo John Coldwell

Some of you may wonder why the number of stories about re-supplying the lighthouses exceeds the others on this site by a large margin (lots more coming!). Next to the family and job, the arrival of the mail and groceries was the most important event in the life of the lightkeeping family. 

Imagine no telephone, no television, no two-way radio, possibly no AM radio, and no contact with the outside world except what you saw going by your window. The post was and still is the most important contact to the real world.  Continue reading

I Remember . . . c. early 1960s

Langara Point


– from Jeannie (Hartt) Nielsen (daughter of Ed Hartt, Senior Keeper on Langara 1957 – 1963) 



Growing up on a total of five different west coast lighthouses I remember certain things that were common to them all. The best day was always supply day (see also the Groceries & Mail Categories). When we were on Langara lighthouse in the early years (1957 – 1963) we received supplies every three months. I can remember the first thing I listened for in the early morning of landing day was the clicking sound of the damper in the chimney of the kitchen’s oil stove. When I heard that I knew that there would be no supplies landed that day as the wind was too high.

One December I heard that dreaded sound twenty (20) days in a row, and each day the ship tried to bring our groceries. We would watch as it would come into view just off Langara Rocks. They would assess the landing conditions, then we would watch with growing dispair as it turned back to the safety of a nearby harbour. Finally on the 21st day, the supply tender (itself running out of provisions) was able to deliver our supplies.  Continue reading

Pregnancy Provides Problems

Langara lighthouse

A month or so ago, Richard Crawford wrote me to say that he had been on Langara Point Lighthouse as a radio operator back in the late 1940s. I asked about his duties there and he wrote me back . . .

“My Langara story  is short as we were not there for long – March 1948 to July 1950. I started as a radio operator in Prince Rupert and was sent out to Langara to run the radio beacon and send weather reports.  I should mention that we were married before going out (some honeymoon, eh?).” Continue reading

Forward to “Groceries and Mail”

Loading groceries onto the helicopter at the CG base

On my old website I wrote the “forward” below for a serious of stories about our groceries and mail – especially the mail! I’ll reprint it here to emphasize the importance of mail again, even in this day and age of computers. Right now I am staying in a small northern BC town. You should see the people going in and out of the Post Office after the mail plane arrives; but they can do it every day that the Post Office is open – on the lighthouse we could not.


Groceries stuffed into the helicopter

“Some may wonder why the number of stories about re-supplying the lighthouses exceeds the others on this site by a large margin. Next to the family and job, the arrival of the mail and groceries was the most important event in the life of the lightkeeping family.

Imagine no telephone, no television, no two-way radio, possibly no AM radio, no computer, and no contact with the outside world except what you saw going by your window. The post was and still is the most important contact to the real world. 

Unloading the helicopter . . .

Next think of no refridgerators, no freezers, and on some stations, no room for a garden, probably no hunting, and fishing only if the weather is good and the tide not too strong. 

In the early days (1920s – 1950s) food sometimes had to last for six months or more and could arrive damaged. In the early days the ships did not have freezers, so your fresh side of beef could now be many weeks old and growing green as the ship could not deliver the goods because of bad weather, malfunctions, or search and rescue. Even in my years on the lights (1969 – 2001) when we had monthly delivery, supplies would not arrive because the store did not have the item in stock and never thought to substitute another, or they would get soaked in the rain, or seawater.  Continue reading