When I edited my last blog and read my footnote about the grounding and fuel spill on Edge Reef I realized that the blog’s title was “Over The Edge.” How’s that for a strange co-incidence? Shearwater has been bubbling with all sort of marine recovery experts, divers, Canada Coast Guard vessels and crews, other motley characters including media and enviro-wannabe-activists. It’s a circus. It’s a war zone. This is a situation where if you’re not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. It is best to stay away unless directly involved with recovery efforts. The site of the incident is within my favourite corner of this country, that being a short radius around Ivory Island. All of my information is second and third-hand but I have no interest in being near the melee which must be occurring there. There has been a standing gale warning or randomly a storm warning almost constantly. We all live in dread of worst-case scenarios. The response to the grounding was amazingly swift. Despite claims by Western Canada Marine Response, there are no specific response vessels stationed in Shearwater. Canada Coast Guard did have vessels and a plan in place before dawn of that morning. The problem for CCG is that you can’t go to the bathroom without permission from Ottawa which comes through the Victoria Headquarters, all at glacial speed.
I promised to update news about that tugboat grounding on Edge Reef a few miles west of here on the South beach of Seaforth Channel. Despite claims that the tug had engine difficulties, the track of the vessel before it ran aground certainly makes for easy speculation that the helmsman on that mate’s watch simply fell asleep. Having stood that very same watch for many years, I know all too well how that reality is all too common. Meanwhile Shearwater continues to swarm with people involved in the many aspects of this incident. Plenty of the locals have been out to see the wreck site. I’ve worked at other marine incidents and know It is no picnic. The work is dreary and dangerous and everybody there seems to think they are an expert. Despite all the alleged experts on site these events are often chaos. The empty fuel barge was separated from its tug and anchored in the mouth of Dundavin inlet until it was finally be towed out of this sensitive salmon habitat. Diesel fuel has an amazing property of being able to spread itself over a broad area. One teaspoon of the stuff can look like a replay of the ‘Exxon Valdez’ incident. It also stinks horribly. Urbane journalists and environmentalists eagerly dramatize what they think they are seeing.
The media has reported the total fuel capacity of the foundered tug in varying amounts and quite inaccurately as the whole amount leaked from two of its fuel tanks. Reporters who clearly don’t know port from starboard are offering their uninformed opinions after brief forays to the site of the wreck. I am incensed as usual by the media’s misuse of essential correctness and poetic speculation. It makes blatantly incorrect claims and is apparently determined to milk this story for all it’s worth and more. There are swarms of personnel appearing in increasing numbers. Temporary accommodations are being barged in. This misadventure has become a feeding frenzy for anyone who can possibly involve themselves. Helicopters fill the air. Boats and barges of all sizes come and go constantly. Gaggles of strangers costumed in life jackets and new fluorescent oilskins clomp around in big gumboots looking quite bewildered. Our little hardware store has run out of rain gear. The local restaurant and pub is overflowing. I am told that the sum spent in the past week is around fifty million dollars.
The work to re-float the tug, get it the hell out of here and continue with the environmental cleanup will continue as much as possible despite gale warnings and huge crossing swells with full moon spring tides. There is a storm warning up at the moment but work is continuing with the hope to pump all the fuel out of the sunken tug, then lift the vessel with a monstrous crane onto another barge and tow it away. The first crane towed up from Vancouver has been determined to be too small so another bigger one is on its way from Seattle. Ca-ching, ca-ching. That will hopefully occur in the next few days. The final ordeal will be the horrific effort to clean up all of the spilled diesel and turn the whole situation over to years of litigation. There will be battalions of lawyers wrangling for dollars far into the future.
Here in Shearwater I have spent long hours helping repair a water taxi which was thrown onto that same reef by a rogue swell. The vessel was delivering crew to the wreck site. No-one was hurt and the boat is ready to go again after an intense effort. I’ve no doubt that there will be a huge outcry from the environmentalists. There are plenty of those here, both professional and amateur. This is fuel on their fire (Yes that’s a pun) in the arguments against tanker traffic in British Columbia coastal waters. The over-powered boats they use to zip around this part of the world won’t do very well without tankers of some sort; and, as usual, folks don’t see themselves as part of the problem. Someone else is supposed to provide a magic solution while we all consume all the things we need and want. They are delivered by diesel powered vessels or jet-engined aircraft. Then, to appear environmentally friendly, we ship our recyclables back down the coast. Yep, more diesel! One thing is for sure, there will never be a reliable solar-powered speed boat in the Great Bear RAIN Forest.
The Heiltsuk First Nations have justifiably reacted to the grounding with great alarm. Traditional seafood resources are in direct threat of long-term contamination. This is in the heart of what they know as their ancestral sovereign waters. Heiltsuk warriors in days past held a reputation of being fierce and formidable. They turned back the intrepid explorer Alexander Mackenzie and held their own against the notorious and formidable Haida raiders who frequently attacked from adjacent waters. That legacy is honourable and respectable. My writing champions native rights and traditions but not on any level above other folks. The Heiltsuk allow us to all interact with each other as people first. No bad guys, no good guys, we’re all just people first. Parochial rights come second. There is a willingness to openly share, but not impose, their culture and it’s richness. Before this sad and stupid tug boat accident a few Heiltsuk vigilantes had already taken to patrolling regional waters to confiscate any unattended prawn and crab traps they find. They are destroying the respect and goodwill which the rest of their people have worked so hard to to establish. Natural resources have a global value. They do not belong to any one community. If we truly want them protected, let’s work together to preserve them.
On a very happy note, I’ve found it! A treasured book I have describes some ancient petroglyphs carved in solid granite on a nearby island. This book was first published in 1974 so the description of this site had to be made sometime before that. For all I know, I’m the next visitor all these decades later. Certainly the site is overgrown with moss and there was a bit of luck in finding the tiny secluded spot at all. Fortunately I earned my bushman’s eyes long ago. The location was described as being on a ridge when in fact it was below the ridge in a rocky saddle. The sky was overcast and the moss needs scrubbing back to take good photographs on a sunny day. Now that I know the location I can return and try to take better photographs.. My feelings at finding this ancient art are immense. I want to tell the world but will keep the site’s location secret out of respect. I’ve consulted with a Heiltsuk elder who asked me not to “rip up the forest” but cautiously sanctioned my interest after he’d explained that this is a very sacred place and doesn’t want the site over-run by intruders. Nor do I. These images were made in solid granite. All that arduous work was done with the full knowledge this sacred art would rapidly disappear beneath forest debris and a thick layer of moss. To have found it at all is some sort of miracle.
There are other petroglyph sites in surrounding waters. There is nothing like having a cause to justify poking about with old ‘Seafire.’ Wish you were here.
On another note, CBC live-broadcast the final US presidential debate this week. This is political leadership at its lowest. Both of these candidates are terrifying. Their arrogance and blatant stupidity is stunning. Hollywood could never have scripted anything so crass. It is hard not to despair. I subscribe to a daily electronic bulletin board from La Manzanilla, a small Mexican fishing town which is inundated with winter visitors from our northern latitudes. The following message was posted on the board. I transcribe it here verbatim in illustration of sentiments aroused by American election storm clouds.
“To the deplorable living in La manzanilla:
We are good people, we welcome everybody to our house and our country without question,
we love and share our culture our food and our humble lifestyle, we don’t ask much in return, because we understand that best things in life need to be share and treasure.
We are also proud people and as history tell we don accept disrespect from nobody not matter who they are and were they came from.
We are not Pendejos* neither, don’t get confused about it, we know what is going on in the world and who is who, some of you are trump supporters and thats ok, BUT if you are and brag about it please move back to trump tower because la manzanilla is definitely not for you, since we were call all kinds of names and disrespect our people and country in the most lower manner.
So this is for the deplorable who live in La Manzanilla
A world of advise be careful what you wish for.
Most “mexicans” in town know your names and who you are by now and believe me they are not happy about this, you don’t want then to go cinquo de mayo on you, so please go back to trump tower,
I love this little missive, complete with it’s spelling and grammar errors. It is a message of dignity and stubborn indignity. I have found the warmth and hospitality of rural and small town Mexico absolutely wonderful. Even a barefoot Mexican possesses a quiet pride and graciousness which we “Gringos” cannot emulate nor fully understand. However the Latino self-esteem can only be bent so far. That character, despite a person’s station in life, is one of the beautiful resiliences that draws me back to Mexico. Mucho Gusto!
If I could get rid of me, I could do anything.” …Steve Earl.