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If It Isn't One Thing, It's Another

During the summer of 2009, Intrepid made its way up Johnstone Strait, along the east coast of Vancouver Island. My wife Rolynn kept track of our position on the paper charts as I monitored the chart plotter and autopilot. Meanwhile my brother Gary snapped photos from the foredeck of our 42-foot Krogen trawler.

That's when we discovered the through-hull for our holding tank was stuck in a half open position. It could not be repaired from the inside, so the boat would have to be hauled. Port McNeil, some five-hour distance, only has a tidal grid and we were not confident that repairs could be made within a single tide change. However, Tarkanen Marine Ways on Malcom Island is an old-fashioned railroad style system that would do the trick. The Finns of Sointula have been repairing fishing boats there for decades. Several hours later we approached the steeply ramped ways and shut off our bilge pumps, as directed, to avoid discharging into the waters of Rough Bay. Soon, with the able assistance of the Tarkanen hands, Intrepid was lashed to the rolling cradle and inching its way up the steep incline.

While repairs were under way we filled our tanks with Sointula's famous sweet water. Two days later, with repairs made and the high tide beckoning, we eased back into the water. Turning east, we made for Blackfish Sound's West Passage at 8 knots. At least a dozen bald eagles dove from the bright sky seeking salmon in the churning waters off the Star Islets. Then, BANG! GRIND! BANG! We were hard aground on a reef near Punt Rock. The single Ford Lehman was quickly shut down and no hands appeared to be injured. A quick check of the forward bilge revealed no water—that was a relief. A glance in the engine room told a different story—water was nearly up to the tops of the stringers! "Damn, that's a lot of water in a short time, but we are not going to sink immediately with this rock underneath us," I said to myself. We quickly realized that we were cradled in the rock, somewhat supported on both sides. Perhaps we had come to a stop before the running gear could be damaged, but I wasn't sure. However, the tide would begin to fall in only a few minutes. What would happen then?


"MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY! This is the motor vessel, Intrepid. We are hard aground and taking on water." Comox Coast Guard Radio immediately came back and all the required information was quickly exchanged. They dispatched a fast, inflatable rescue vessel from Telegraph Cove (10nm away)—ETA: 30 minutes. As my wife stood by the VHF, a RIB from a nearby eco-cruise vessel appeared on our port bow. It had heard our distress call and dispatched a crewman with a gas-fueled fire-fighting pump rigged as a bilge pump. My brother fired it up and the engine room bilge was soon empty. I thought that it didn't take long and I didn’t see more coming in. I wondered if the sea level could really be below the rupture already. There was no time to think about that as we rigged a line to the RIB in an attempt to pull Intrepid off the rocks. The results? No luck, and the tide was still falling.

Just then a 100-foot self-powered commercial barge appeared on our stern. It was fully equipped with all the gear one can imagine including cranes. They had been working at a nearby site and heard our “Mayday” as well (that's a great thing about VHF—it's a party line where everybody hears everything). The captain used the crane to position two huge fenders between our vessels as his crew lashed us to his starboard side. Applying his full power we were quickly yanked off the rock. One of his crewmen came aboard and hopped into the engine room. He scooped up some water to taste. "This is fresh water,” he said, “You're not sinking!" I was just thinking that we must have ruptured our water tanks when the Coast Guard RIB appeared on the scene. As the coxswain came aboard, the barge crewman climbed back to his vessel since his captain was anxious to get back to their work site before they lost the tide. My wife handed over all the beer we had to the crew and I asked the captain how we could repay him. He presented his card and said, "The secretary's name is Debbie. She likes flowers." Off he went as the eco-boat collected his pump.

With the coxswain aboard I started the single main engine and eased it into forward and then reversed gears. No vibration. I gradually increase the rpms until we reached our normal 1800. There was still no vibration. I phoned Tarkanen Marine but there was no answer as it was now past 5 p.m. The coxswain phoned a friend who had the personal cell number for Albert Tarkanen, the nearly 80-year-old owner, who I then called. The coxswain stayed on board as his crew shadowed us in the Coast Guard RIB for our three-hour return to Sointula.

It was past 8 p.m. when we turned the corner into Rough Bay. The cradle had been lowered and there was Albert, knee deep in the cold water, waiting for our lines. Back up the ramp we went. A quick inspection revealed a few gouges and golf ball sized divots in the forward keel but no damage to the running gear or rudder. We had dodged the bullet! But where had the water in the engine room come from?


Remember when we had filled our tanks while originally on the ramp? Remember when we switched off our bilge pumps to prevent discharging onto the beach? Well, what if there was a hidden screw missing from the flange on the water tank inspection plate cover while we had full tanks on that steep ramp? How much water would leak out of the tanks? Where would it go? That's right. Over the course of two days, most of the 240 gallons of water emptied into the engine room where it stayed because the bilge pumps were off.

The following day the Tarkanen crew began work on the keel. They drilled several holes into the keel to drain out accumulated bilge water, antifreeze, etc., that had drained from the inside of the hull over 25 years. (During the interval I replaced the missing screw on the water tank flange.) After letting the keel dry for a couple of days they completed the work on the keel and we were on our way by Saturday morning.


Back down the ramp we went, with our bilge pumps on. We again steered an easterly course for Blackfish Sound. Relaxing under sunny skies, confident that our troubles were finally over, we were suddenly shocked to hear the shrieking of the bilge pump alarm! I dashed to the forward bilge to find it filling with sea water. But to my relief, the pumps were keeping up. We turned back to Tarkanen while we called Albert. He is also a commercial fisherman and was in transit to Bella Coola, British Columbia to fish. Fortunately, he had not yet boarded the ferry and he agreed to meet us at the ways. Back up the ramp we went. Inspection revealed that the shipwright had failed to plug one of the drain holes in the keel. Albert hopped back into his truck to catch the ferry. The foreman was chairing an emergency meeting of the coop store and the shipwright was a Seventh Day Advent (Saturday, remember?) so there we sat. Eventually, the shipwright was informed of our plight so he hustled back to the ways to make repairs—and apologies.

Back down the ramp we went—off to Blackfish again, for the one-millionth time with no further misadventures. Despite our travails, we were gratified for all the folks who came running to help us when it looked like we were in deep trouble in this remote region. Thanks, also, to Albert Tarkanen and his crew who went the extra mile. It just goes to show: all boats are in the process of failure, as is the crew.