Whirlpools On The Canadian Border

June 11, 2015


Last night over a few cold Beers we were talking about boating from Northern Washington up into Canadian waters. There are some narrows where the tide change is so severe that there are rapids and standing waves that can be very, very dangerous. My father took his boat to Alaska through these waters, and had to wait for the exact time when the tide was going the right direction and his boat could make it through. Kayakers flirt with these rapids and no doubt some get in trouble.
But the absolute scariest event is when these conditions create huge whirlpools. People have described to me how huge logs get sucked into these whirlpools, travel underwater for some ways and then rocket out of the water like a breeching whale. If one came up into a boat, it would destroy it.
Several years ago a friend had his 25-foot sailboat north of Matia island. He was towing a dingy and motoring towards shore with an outboard motor mounted on the transom. All looked well, he and his girlfriend were going to anchor and camp for one more night before returning home. All of a sudden he heard what he could only describe as a loud waterfall, it confused him and he looked in every direction. Before he could react, he had motored or been drawn into a huge whirlpool, larger than his boat. Of course, there was that moment of panic as he told his girlfriend to get below deck and put on a life jacket. The sailboat was spinning, spinning, spinning. He could see into the vortex below him, and the next thing that happened was the dingy smashed into the outboard motor and broke it off its mount. The outboard disappeared into the gaping hole in the water. Could things get worse? Well, yes. The dingy began to fill with water and start dragging the stern of the boat down, down into the sea. He grabbed his knife and cut the dingy loose, and it too sank into the dark waters.
With the dingy and outboard gone, he went to the mast and did the best he could to get the main sail up. Gradually, he was able to find a point of sail and managed to inch his way out of the toilet bowl. Nearby, a group of boat campers had seen him in trouble and one motored close by. They threw him a line and he gratefully accepted a tow to safe anchorage, an expensive and dangerous lesson had been learned.
My drinking buddy Bob ordered another Beer and told me this story. When he first started boating in our area he went out a lot with Roy, an old and very experienced commercial fisherman. They were out in Roy’s 18-foot outboard skiff when they came upon just such a whirlpool. Bob said he was scared to death, thinking the boat would be sucked under and they would be killed. Old Roy, who had dealt with these threats many times drove right into it. Bob freaked out. Roy went with the flow of the giant spinning vortex and they circled around and around. Roy calmed Bob down and explained that if they didn’t fight it, the whirlpool would spit them out, which it did.
Everything about the water is more powerful than we are, the solution to these problems is simply – “Go with the flow”.

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One Response to Whirlpools On The Canadian Border

  1. Bob P. on June 11, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    I go with the flow every morning!

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