The Pontoon Boat Rescue
There are times in life when a stranger asks for help. Mostly, I feel good when I extend it. At the conclusion of this particular response to an appeal, I wasn’t so sure. It began as we prepared to launch our kayaks off the ramp on Marina Drive, Salmon Arm, BC. A man approached and asked, “Are you going out?” Now the answer was quite apparent, as we had our kayaks already to push in. Obviously he wanted something. “My pontoon boat floated away in the winds last night,” he informed us. “Would you go and rescue it for me and bring it in to this launch? It’s just around the corner.” He pointed to the left.
While we were checking our equipment, zipping up our PFDs, his wife stuck her head out of the vehicle he’d backed onto the ramp. She had a little white dog in her lap. “We just rescued him,” she told us. “He was running down the busy road. We don’t know who he belongs to. We have a call into the animal shelter.”
Now this incited in me an urge to pass on the kindness they were doing, by responding in full measure to their plea. We took to the water with enthusiasm for the task, rounded the shallow spit that ran out past the jetty and turned into a bay, where reeds and willows formed a protected nesting ground for Grebes. Signs were posted to leave them undisturbed. In the middle of a shallow bay a huge pontoon boat rested up against the reeds. We paddled over and assessed the situation. When we tried to move the boat with the bows of our kayaks, it wouldn’t budge. I circled behind and discovered the motor was down and sunk heavily into the mud bottom. The boat was comprised of a large cabin on top of a pontoon deck with yet another story from which one could drive the boat or fish.
It is not in our nature to give up. So, even as we measured the enormity of the job, we looked for solutions. The man stood on a walking path separated by swampy water and responded to our calls. When I told him the propeller was driven into the mud preventing us from moving the boat, he told me there was a button on the right side that would raise it. Again I maneuvered in close, banging my new Perception on the metal edges sticking up under the hull. When I pressed the button nothing happened. I was later to find the battery had gone dead the night before. He had removed it, tied his boat to a float in the lake and gotten a ride to shore with another boater. Meanwhile, the rope anchoring the float had broken freeing the pontoon boat to ride the wind induced waves till it became mired. Ludicrous indeed that he would suggest there was power to raise the long arm of the engine. I dug the propeller out with my paddle, tied a rope on low at the bow and started rotating the boat around in a half circle pointing out of the bay. My sister pushed the nose of her kayak into an angle on the stern and paddled hard. We loosened it from the mud and inched forward. Because of the shallow water on the spit, we had to go out and make a wide circle in toward the launch. We were pulling enormous weight and the strain on shoulders and arms was painful. Did we say, “This is ridiculous, let him find someone with a power boat?” Not for a minute. We dragged the huge boat toward the launch, where he stood with his wife, neither of them making the least effort to help. They didn’t so much as take off their shoes and socks and step into the water.
As I closed on the ramp, my concern grew. I was dead centre of the boat, and while I landed, exited my kayak and dragged it clear, momentum would carry the pontoon boat onto me. I called to my sister to come around front, and prepare to catch the boat. She was not happy about leaving me to pull it alone, but was in the water and ready to receive by the time I hit the ramp. Meanwhile, it became apparent the man wanted the boat up against a small wooden dock to the side – too little information, too late. My sister steered it over to him.
“Thanks,” he said, as exhausted we panted over our floating kayaks. “Just pass it up,” I responded, a little short tempered with pain.
We prepared to launch and go for the quiet paddle first planned, and the woman called out that they’d found the dog’s owner, and elderly lady delighted to get him back. “I was happy that two good deeds had been done that morning, and paddled away feeling better.
“Well don’t hit her!” I heard my sister yell and turning around found the pontoon boat, battery installed, motor running heading right for me, as the man, oblivious to my position untangled his fishing line. My sister’s call saved me a nasty accident. His engine died. “Oh, I didn’t see her.” He called to my sister, without an apology for almost running me over. He saw me well enough when he wanted help, I concluded. There has to be some irony here, somewhere. Can you find it? I’m still too flabbergasted to try.
Perception – the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
My sister, Barb (co-author, best friend, and adventure buddy) purchased bought a kayak in Courtenay, BC at Easter. She planned to drive from Calgary to Vancouver Island to bring it home, and invited me to go along. This provided the opportunity for another super kayak adventure. I decided if I could find the type of kayak I wanted to add to my growing fleet of floatables, I would purchase it and take advantage of her vehicle to get it home. This would allow us to sea kayak while there and try paddle several new lakes on the way home. Winter sleet trailed us out of Calgary and spring blossoms met us in Vancouver. We enjoyed a glass of wine on the balcony of a downtown condo.
Early morning we were ferry bound and stepped out at Departure Bay in time to lunch with friends. We arrived at Comox Valley Kayaks & Canoes in Courtenay, where Barb checked out her new Perception, a 12 foot Carolina with rudder added. I trialed several other styles, my priorities fast, light and with more cargo space. I wanted touring capacity over performance, as most of my kayaking is done on a long, long lake and I go out for several days at a time. I found a 14.5 foot Expression made by Perception equipped with a skeg rather than a rudder. When trimmed the kayak tracks like a dream. It was fast and light on the water, and had two large cargo holds. The one drawback was the lack of a day hatch. My skirt compensates with a couple of net pockets but I’ve been spoiled by the attachable caddy on my Pongo 120.
Comox Valley Kayaks sits on the estuary of the Courtenay River, so it is easy to trial kayaks from its concrete launch. The staff members we spent time with – Don, Lauren, Gabriella, Erin and Chris all went out of their way, providing every kind of help with patience and smiles. The experience and tips they passed on were invaluable. I highly recommend this business if you are looking to buy or rent. Barb tested her new rudder on the river, while I established I liked the Expression better than the other models I had trialed.
We spent a day paddling out of the estuary into the sea, heading for a point called Goose Spit. We were working against an incoming tide, though at 1:00 pm it had slowed, and also against a light wind. I swear that spit kept moving further away. As we approached we saw the Navy Cadets maneuvering their small sailboats in a shipshape circle. A whistle would sound over the waves and the boats would come about and circle in the opposite direction.
After three hours of paddling Barb touched her hand on the sand of the spit and we turned and headed back, trying to make it to the launch before the shop closed for the evening, as we wanted a lesson in loading with the new roof rack Barb had purchased. Ocean kayaking always provides a special thrill, and we were well satisfied with our day and our purchases.
The next morning we headed for Comox Lake. The weather was perfect, the water like glass. The lake, surrounded by high rock walls, costumed in many shades of moss and trees, provided uncountable scenes of beauty. We paddled down one side, crossed over at a narrower neck and followed back up the other. Driftwood works of art studded the shoreline and the lake was so clear you could see the tracings of downed trees across its bottom. An RCMP gun range, located on the far side of the lake, provided the only negative with sporadic peppering’s of gunfire. We picnicked under a roofed arbor, while looking down on the weathered pilings of an abandoned marina.
Leaving the island the next morning, we took the ferry from Duke Bay to Tsawwassen and aimed for Harrison Hot Springs. We arrived midafternoon and had difficulty finding a place to launch. The Marina attendant was on a power trip and would not allow us to use the main boat launch on the boardwalk. After reconnoitering the town and shoreline we checked into the Ramada Hot Springs Hotel. We headed back to the lakefront to look for a picnic site and found instead a helpful woman who told us there, was a Provincial Park with a boat launch on the east side of the lake. Here we found everything we needed, from a cement ramp to barbecue tables. We started our briquettes and floated our kayaks into the most beautiful of settings. It was five o’clock, with a temperature of plus 25. A determined sun highlighted the emerald trees and sapphire water. As we slathered on sunscreen we felt summer had arrived.
Hills heavy with coniferous greenery embrace Harrison Lake and the small settlement at its end. Rocky islands rise like sirens from its crystal depths, tempting you to paddle to them and stay forever. After a quick supper we were back on the water, unwilling to lose a second on its pristine surface. Geese with their goslings, ranging from downiest new baby to gawky toddler watched on, probably wondering… what was the big deal? They could float on the water anytime they desired. We stayed till the sun lost itself behind a mountain and dusk cooled the air. We took ten minutes off our original loading time, as practice began to pay off.
Reluctantly departing Harrison Hot Springs the next morning, we headed east again. As we passed through Hope and began the long drive up the Coquihalla Highway circumnavigating Shuswap Lake below. It was such a beautiful afternoon, again no wind and the lake looked like blue glass inviting one to touch down. After several false starts we found the Bayside Marina and Grill with a boat launch along the highway. This southwest arm of the lake is surrounded by mountains, most still flaunting snowy caps. It was in this setting of majesty and purity that Barb named her kayak Praise. The shades of blues and purple reflected in the water painted a glorious circular mural. We enjoyed a picnic at the marina and paddled for two and a half hours before loading and hitting the road again. Salmon Arm was just fifteen kilometres ahead. We checked into the Podollan, a family owned hotel that has improved consistently year after year, providing the highest standards in a beautiful garden and pool setting. We enjoyed a delicious five star meal in their dining room and settled in for the night. Our last day of paddling, we woke determined to savour yet another summer day. We launched from the ramp on Marina Drive in Salmon Arm. Again we had blue skies and quiet waters. Our Perceptions slid into water edged either side by protected Grebe nesting sites. Here in lies the story of helping a stranger recover his marooned pontoon boat. See blog Pontoon Rescue. After we crossed the lake, we enjoyed some quiet time on a beach composed of feldspar, quartz and shale – super skipping stones. Once the last tie down was snugged into place we headed for Calgary and the end of this adventure. The journey provided new learning around navigation, loading and unloading, patience and awareness; and on communication (who knew that sisters would still be trying to figure that out after so many years?). We experienced unparalleled beauty and moments of deep thanksgiving. We were tested by small and large obstacles and we triumphed. And we were blessed by having the opportunity and the courage to make this voyage into the unknown.