There is a little town on Vancouver Island about a 45 minute drive north of Nanaimo called Bowser. Not a lot goes on there. Many of the people who live in the area are retired. The town is by the ocean and there are a few stores on either side of the old Island Highway that runs right through the community. There is hardware store, a couple of small grocery stores, one of which also sells liquor, one garage, a legion hall, and newer small strip mall with a coffee shop.
The area is known as “lighthouse country”. Off in the distance a few miles away you can see a lighthouse on a tiny island right next to Denman Island. The only way to get to Denman Island and Hornby Island right next to it by car is by catching a ferry from Buckley Bay which is about a half hour’s drive north of Bowser.
|Lighthouse off of Denman Island|
Years ago, before insurance rates made the business impossible, there were a number of small boat rental places dotted along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. Campbell River had a number of them. There was one also in Qualicum Beach called Patterson’s. All that is left of Patterson’s today and their boat dock are some weathered grey posts sticking out of the water. I once caught a couple of salmon fishing from a rented boat from Patterson’s late on a summer afternoon back in the 1970s. Just off the shelf a few hundred yards out at sea.
the late summer of 1988 my ex-wife and her parents and I spent a weekend at the
Sand Pebbles Inn at Qualicum Beach. My ex was pregnant at the time and we would
later find out that we were going to have twins. It was supposed to be a lazy
kind of weekend but I was getting itchy feet. I asked if anyone would mind if I
went fishing the following morning and was told to go ahead. I drove up to
Bowser about a half hour away and reserved a boat at Bowser Bill’s for the next
|Bowser Bill's sign.|
I got up at about 4:30 a.m. the following morning and as quiet as a church mouse I slipped out of our motel room and drove up to Bowser Bill’s. A teenager was awaiting me. We lifted the boat onto a railway track kind of thing and slid the boat out onto the water. By this time the sun was just starting to rise. I assumed that all the necessary gear was on board. I was going to catch some salmon.
Salmon can be caught at any time of the day but the best time is very early in the morning until about 9:00 a.m. and in the evening a few hours before sunset. There is also some tidal stuff that comes into play and where your boat is located. Not to forget using the proper bait.
I gunned the motor and headed straight out to sea. Off in the distance I could see several boats in the same area. I decided to join them thinking they must know something I didn’t. I shut the motor off and rigged up my fishing rod. Once everything was set up and with my line in the water, I started the motor again but this time at a much slower speed and started trolling. I probably had about 100 feet or so of line out with the lure being about 20 feet below the water surface.
I started to do slow wide figure eights with the boat. A few times when I got within hailing distance of the other boats I made a hand sign that looks like you are suggesting the size of a fish. The responses were headshakes which meant they hadn’t caught any fish yet.
A few hours went by and the salmon were not biting. I noticed a few seals popping their heads up. That is never a good sign. They scare the crap out of salmon. The other boats started to disappear but I was determined to max out my fishing opportunity. I think it was around noon time when I finally decided to pack it in and head back to Bowser Bill’s.
I hauled in my line and expected to have the boat back in about an hour. I looked for the silhouette of the mountains and pointed the boat in that direction. I don’t know if I was daydreaming at the time but about 45 minutes later it seemed like I wasn’t getting any closer to shore.
The water was starting to get a little choppy and I looked around for a life vest. There was none. The boat I was in was about 14 feet long and aluminium. There was no steering wheel and the boat was directed by holding on to the arm connected to a 9 horsepower motor. Not exactly a powerhouse. I started to wonder if maybe I had become disoriented doing all of those figure eights.
Distances can become confusing on the open sea. Things like land and islands can appear to be closer than they are. I realized I didn’t really know where I was. And now it was windy and the water was choppy. A little boat like the one I was in could get swamped by a big wave. And no damned life vest!
|Map of Denman and Hornby Islands|
I told myself not to panic and just stay in the direction I was headed. I didn’t want to second guess myself. By now my hand was frozen on the steering arm. It took me about another hour and a half to get to where I was headed. As I got closer to the shore all I could see was deep forests behind the beaches and hardly any houses. This didn’t seem right.
I dragged the boat up on the rocky beach and spotted someone standing on a bluff a few hundred yards away. I made my way over to a person who was about 30 years of age and had a beard. Maybe a squatter or a back to the earth type I thought to myself?
“Can you tell me where I am?” I asked. “Texada Island.” he responded. Texada Island? Gazooks! I had travelled in the totally opposite direction that I had intended to. I asked the Texadan if he could point out where he thought Bowser was and he pointed to a gap in the grey silhouette of mountains on Vancouver Island that looked like they were a long, long way away.
Texada Island is one of the biggest islands off of the B.C. coast and one of the least populated.
|Map of Texada Island|
I went back to the boat but before relaunching it for my return trip I took a peak at the gas tank gauge. It appeared to be about half full. I never thought to check the spare tank. I wasn’t looking forward to the next few hours.
A 9 horsepower motor doesn’t get you anywhere fast. The sea was getting choppier and choppier. I had to stay focused with a firm hand on the steering arm. Without a life vest I could be in trouble. It is one thing to have the boat capsize close to shore where I might be able to swim to land but out on the open sea my only chance of survival would be clinging to the overturned boat and just hoping someone spotted it me.
I also discovered that the boat didn’t have any oars. There was only a paddle. The kid who gave me the boat a number of hours before really hadn’t checked anything out it seemed.
After about another 2 hours I could see that I was getting close to another island. And then….the motor conked out. This was when I discovered that the spare gas container was also empty. Things were not looking very good. Luckily I managed to use the paddle to get the boat ashore on Hornby Island and I dragged it up on some rocks.
Now I had to figure out how to get some more gas. I found a trail that led to me to a nature preserve parking lot. On the trail I bumped into a very large gal and a small skinny guy who told me where the parking lot was. The thought crossed my mind as to what the oddly matched couple was up to out on the forest. They also told me that I was on Hornby Island. Having been to this island a number of years before I knew there was a small village on it somewhere.
There were several cars in the parking lot. The only people around were 3 women, a mother, a grandmother, and a young girl, who were just about to leave the parking lot. I explained my predicament and they kind of reluctantly agreed to give me a lift into town.
I walked into the local Co-op with the idea of buying a plastic gas container. There were a few back to the earth types in the store. I made the decision to go with a smaller gas container (big mistake) and had it filled up with gas. I told the store clerk of my adventure and after listening to my story he asked me if I would like to put my purchase on my Co-op card. I started to laugh and thought “Man I don’t have any Co-op card! I’m marooned!”
I walked back to the road I had come into town on and stuck my thumb out trying to get a lift back to the park parking lot. It was way too far to walk to. Within a few minutes a gal in her thirties picked me up. Quite attractive too. I was married so I just had Jimmy Carter kind of thoughts. She drove me right to the parking lot. I made my way back along the trail, found the boat and gassed her up and once more I was at sea.
There was one more island I had to pass before getting back to Vancouver Island and it was Denman Island. The one with the lighthouse just off it. Between Hornby and Denman Island there is a very strong current and it seemed to take forever in getting anywhere. Eventually I made it past Denman and the short distance from there to Vancouver Island. The worst was over and my plan was to just follow the shore about 50 feet off until I made it down to Bowser. It was now about 6:00 p.m. in the evening.
It was kind of comforting seeing all the waterfront houses pass by after most of a day spent out on the open sea. And then…..I ran out of gas again! Gazooks redux! Fortunately, I could see a guy mowing his lawn. I yelled over to him asking if he could sell me a bit of gas. He asked where I was headed and I told him my circumstances after I paddled the boat closer to him. He gave me the gas for nothing and said he would phone ahead to Bowser Bill’s and let them know I was coming.
About an hour later, I cruised into Bowser Bill’s. They were waiting for me. When I stepped out of the boat an older guy gave me a hug. I said something about probably owing him a fortune because I had had the boat for a long time. He replied that he was just happy that I was alive and in one piece. I too was happy and grateful and I never bothered to give them shit for providing me with a boat without the proper gear.
By the time I made it back to the motel it was about 8:00 p.m. I had been gone for about for over 14 hours. In my absence a discussion had been had as to whether or not to put out an APB on me. They were about to make the call when I walked through the door.
It had been a tiring day with an adventure I hadn’t planned on but at least I had a good story to tell.