Riverboat

About 17 years ago, as my father prepared for retirement, he planned on buying himself a property in the very small community of Penny, BC where he had worked as a station agent for the Canadian National Railway in the 1950s and 60s. Penny is situated between the CN Rail tracks and the Fraser River (about halfway between Prince George and McBride). There is no electricity, telephone, or any other utility so a resident has to be virtually self-sufficient. One of the greatest necessities for a Pennyite is a river boat and my father decided to build himself one (it was not the first boat that he had constructed for himself). He was living in Vancouver at the time and he put the craft together in the garage of a friend’s house. It was 21 feet long, made of plywood and two-by-fours, bolted together and painted green. With its new 20 Hp Mercury outboard motor, it worked wonderfully.

At that time, I was working in central BC for the Northern Initial Fire Attack Crews (NIFAC) unit of the BC Forest Service (see the Voice, Aug. 01, 2001). I had lots of use for Dad’s new boat so he allowed me the use of it while he remained in Vancouver. In the autumn, my hunting partner (Rick Mayhew at the time) and I decided to go moose hunting up the Fraser River in Dad’s river boat. The landing at Penny is anything but a boat launch, with a steep decline from the parking area to the river’s edge. Looking the situation over, I decided that it would be difficult to drive my truck back up the bank once the boat was in the water, so Rick and I decided to remove the boat-trailer from the truck and walk it to the river by hand. I backed the truck and trailer to the edge of the drop-off and we prepared to launch the boat.

The bank dropped steeply for ten feet and then leveled out for a further sixty feet to the water. We had not noticed that when I had parked the truck, the wheels of the trailer were just over the crest of the drop-off. Assuring each other that we were both ready, we lifted the tongue of the trailer off the truck hitch and it took off like a jet toward the river. After the first step I was being dragged through the sand face-down but unwilling to let go of the boat. Rick was taking giant leaps trying to keep up to it and we both lost our grip at roughly the same time. I lay in the sand watching as the boat receded from me toward the water and Rick stepped to the side and began a running commentary.

“It’s in the water; water is swamping the boat now; there goes the motor, it’s completely under now:” I just lay on the sand in complete disbelief, blowing particles from within my nostrils. Regaining our senses, I ran to the truck, turned it around and we spooled out the winch-cable down to the boat-trailer. Up came the trailer without the boat so we hooked the cable directly to the front of the water-filled boat. It strained the 8000 lbs. Ramsey winch to its limit, but Dad’s pride and joy finally emerged from beneath the murky waters of the Frazer. After bailing out the boat and removing the spark-plug to blow out the water, the motor fired right up and all’s well that ends well”?or so we thought.

We went hunting with no further mishap and I had fun retelling the story to Dad over the phone (I played it to the hilt before confirming that all was well) but it wasn’t until the next summer that the incident came back to haunt me. That story is for next week’s Voice.

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