Victoria Nautical Song Circle's
June 2003 Song Of The Month


Words & Music: Vic Bell
Got a halibut boat, the opening is over
The fish just weren't biting our catch is way down
We're salvagers now, there's logs waiting we just go
Yank 'em off shore and sell 'em in town and we...
Chorus Snap the line tight, and haul them away
Snap the line tight, she's rocking she's free
Snap the line tight, and haul them away
And slide them off into the sea
She's a six foot thick hemlock half sunken in sand
Gotta dig out a hole to pass the lines through
Wrap her around and when she's tied and ready
Then stand clear away and signal the crew to...(chorus)
It's thirty six hours we've been without sleep
Gotta boom them by dawn if we're making this tide
It's a five hour haul with a northwester blowing
And a starboard side swell for a bloody rough ride and we...(chorus)
And our back deck's a mess of anchors and peavys
All sliding and tangling in cable and chain
And we're in the middle with pike poles and chokers
To wrap the logs tight so they're not lost again and we...(chorus)
How many thousands of acres of forest
Lie scattered and heaped by the wind and the tide
The companies cut them and boomed them and lost them
And left them forever to rot where they lie but we...(chorus)

Here's the tale that led to the Vic's creation of the song:
The entire song is true with the exception of the word "starboard" was actually a port side swell but artistic license was employed. This particular adventure, which covered three days in 1980, took place on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia where I lived for seven years. The Charlottes (now often called Haida Gwaii) are located south of the bottom of the Alaska panhandle. For the salvaging operation we used a 50 year old halibut boat called the Finella. As the first verse of the song suggests, fishing was bad and the captain was looking to supplement his income between openings. He took me on as a deckhand for the salvaging. The following year I fished shrimp and halibut with him. The logs we went after were in Naden Harbour which is a large bay on the north coast of Graham Island, the big northern island of the Charlottes. On maps you can find this bay about 15 miles west of the town of Masset. "Harbour" suggests people but it's an uninhabited and undeveloped area with a good sandy bottom, used by fishermen to anchor up in shelter overnight. It's a good place to find shrimp and big crabs. The bay has a narrow entrance which meant the waters inside were fairly calm which suited our purposes for booming the logs. At that time, the logging industry on portions of the north coast of British Columbia regularly dumped logs they cut into the ocean where they were formed into booms for transport to the mills by tugboats. This was particularly the case in remote areas and saved on the cost of building access roads. Needless to say, the weather could be grim and it was not uncommon for logs to escape on the tides or for whole booms to break up, leaving the logs scattered on the shoreline and beached by high tides and storms. Lost logs were piled up on every beach you could see and constantly moved around by the biggest tides of the year. These were the logs we were after...already cut to length, fairly fresh and therefore not waterlogged. Naturally, we went after the biggest thickness logs we could find as that's where the money was. At that time, no one else on the north coast of the Charlottes was salvaging, so we could pick and choose the easiest access logs. Naden Harbour had many smaller sandy bays within it and it was from those beaches we did our salvaging. Rough rocky shorelines were too dangerous to access. I took a 2 inch thick haul rope from the Finella to the shore with a small rowboat. Once I had a log tied up I got on my walkie talkie and gave the signal. The captain fired up the engines and headed out into the bay, using the power and weight of the boat to yank the logs off the beach and into the water. The chorus refers to this process. The haul rope would be floating on the water in a big arc to give lots of slack to increase our leverage. As the captain fired up the motors the arc of the rope would tighten sending rainbows of spray into the air and with a snap the logs would sometimes fly through the air a bit before being dragged down the beach and into the water. Some logs would be held by the suction of the sand and would resist the pull of the boat, rocking in place before being yanked free. Once the logs were in the water, another deckhand untied the log and brought the line back to shore for me. He then started organizing the booming process with the floating logs. The line, "She's a six foot thick hemlock half sunken in sand" refers to a big log that was up on the beach. It had been pushed above the usual high tide line by the highest seasonal tides. I had to dig a deep hole under the log to be able to pass the rope around it. We had to try three times with that log. On the first go the log got mostly pulled out of the sand but it was so big and heavy it jerked the Finella to a stand still. I had to haul slack rope back into shore while the captain reversed the motors to prepare to take another pull at it. Using both the Finella and the rowboat we gathered the floating logs into a boom, pushing them around with peavys and pike poles and tied them together using eyebolts, chains and choker cable. Once we had a boom big enough but still manageable, we left the sheltered bay and headed out into a blowing northwester to take them back to Masset and sell them to a local mill. We were indeed up for 36 hours straight...partly due to our own incompetence at booming logs and partly due to the timing of the tides. Because of the size of the bay and the narrow entrance, there was a very strong tidal current. That meant we had to catch a falling tide to ride the current out through the narrows as we would not be able to pull the logs against an incoming tide. The line, "the back deck's a mess of anchors and peavys" refers to some of the gear we used. The anchors were small, in the typical anchor shape, and were regularly used to hold down the long lines that were part of halibut sets. We used them to hold logs in place during the booming process. On the way home they were lying around getting in our way. What happened was rather hairy. All this gear was sliding in a tangle on the back deck as the boat rolled back and forth. The anchors were the perfect shape to hook any loose line or cable that came in reach. At one point the haul rope holding the log boom got caught in some of this gear and it looked like everything could get dragged overboard and completely foul the haul line. I had to climb into the middle of this ironmongery to untangle it...a fairly dangerous venture on a pitching deck, as I could have been caught in it all and dragged overboard too. At the same time we were fending off the logs with pike poles to keep them from bashing into the stern of the boat. Someone once took exception to the "northwester" as that's not the prevailing local wind. While the usual storms in the Charlottes are from the southeast, a less common storm, from the northwest, blows down from the Alaska panhandle. The southeasters bring rain but the norther usually howls under sunny skies. On the north coast of the Charlottes, southeasters blow cross the islands first and therefore the waters close to the north shore are in the lee and can be fairly calm. Northwesters, on the other hand, kick up a lot of big swells out in the Gulf of Alaska that then hit the north coast of the islands with huge waves. Those were the conditions under which we pulled the logs back to town and the swells caused us to lose a few logs, to our disgust, when a portion of our boom broke apart. The verse "How many thousands of acres of forest" delves into my real feelings about the whole venture. During my years on the Charlottes I was one of the original local environmeddlers who proposed and campaigned to save the Southern Moresby region of the Charlottes from being clear-cut logged. The company attitude to the logs they cut and lost was essentially "there's lots more where they came from". After more than a decade of struggle, our conservation efforts were successful and Southern Moresby is now a National Park reserve and a spectacular maritime wilderness area for ocean kayaking and boat touring.

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