The Hard Voyage North

Threatening Passages

Although Ron’s next passage was much closer to civilization than the Arctic or the Gobi, it was no less life threatening. In fact, few places on earth were quite as ominous as the Straits of Georgia, where the tides were extremely intense, pushing the seas high and steep before the wind.

For several days in a row, during the first week of August, Ron attempted to cross the Straits. But with each attempt, the waves washed the deck from bow to stern, and their savage impact shook and jarred the wooden hull like a hammer striking a bell. The crushing seas made forward progress impossible and eventually drove the Magician back to sheltered anchorage.

But each morning Ron would try again. On August 12, the sea looked less threatening and Maggie left the harbor for another try. However, as he cast off the dock lines, outside the harbor the swells were already building. Pushed forward with only the auxiliary engine, the small yacht was tossed high and then brutally dropped into the trough of each passing wave, cutting forward progress to a near standstill. So erratic was the sea that a less savage course could not be found. Braving the foredeck, Ron fought on the sails in the hope they would lend enough stability and power to offset the hostile waves. But when sheeted in, they only set the ship to thrashing even more wildly about, and Ron was driven back.

The next day offered respite, the wind and seas both enticingly calm. Almost too calm, in fact. As Ron wrote in Maggie’s log, "Georgia lured us on like a lady and then scratched out our eyes like a bitch." For after making well into the Straits, the wind was soon screeching in the rigging and seas once again grew brutal. Against wind and tide, Maggie made little progress. Ron had intended to anchor in Deep Cove, but the night was too dark for safe entry into the harbor. Still, he was determined not to give up any ground hard won, and pressed on northward as the seas mounted further.

Relief came the next morning. Under a bright sun, atop a glassy sea and with a current pushing her along, the Magician cruised comfortably on waters known to have claimed many a small boat in more difficult conditions. Then, upon reaching Cape Mudge, Ron took two additional lay days to both repair damage sustained in crossing the Straits of Georgia and to prepare for Seymour Narrows, where the tides raced and swirled at a pace more savage than at any point in the Voyage — except for two moments each day when the tide slacked to reverse direction and safe passage could be made. In fact, the official Coastal Pilot carried a severe warning that extreme caution was in order and safe passage required intimate local knowledge.

Indeed, it was the lack of such intimate knowledge that had caused the loss of a Naval gunboat, the Gabriola, and, during the previous year, the lives of four Americans aboard a fifty-foot fishing boat. In fact, the most talked about navigational hazard along the British Columbian coast was Seymour Narrows and the infamous Ripple Rock planted at the convergence of the currents. Although submerged more than ten feet under the boiling currents, it threw up a towering spray easily seen from great distances.

Ron began his preparations for the crossing of the Narrows in the early hours, securing everything on Maggie’s topside with yards of lashing. He double-checked fittings, portholes and hatches to make certain they would remain watertight, and only then hoisted anchor.

As Maggie drove her way closer to the gauntlet the harder the tide pushed against her, alternatingly swirling and racing as the narrowing channel accelerated the flow.

At the narrows themselves, the tide was known to run at a velocity of as much as twelve knots, with huge whirlpools surrounding Ripple Rock -- which sat square in the center of the channel. Therefore, timing to make slack water was essential. Ron had planned his arrival at the Narrows one hour after the tide tables indicated the flow would reverse, having discovered earlier that the tables themselves were as inaccurate as the nautical charts of the region.

His prediction turned out to be correct. The turbulence eased, and as the Narrows came into view he found native fishing boats had put to sea. In what a few moments before had been a violent maelstrom, these Indians now calmly fished for salmon close to Ripple Rock itself. By correctly anticipating the correct time of the tide shift, Ron turned the crossing of Seymour Narrows into little more than an afternoon outing. (Years later Ripple Rock was dynamited by the Coast Guard in what was then the tenth largest non-atomic explosion in history. Not only were the last remains of the rock shredded, but the channel was deepened as well.)

The Magician’s Log

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