Although a family of five lost their new-to-them boat off Denman Island Saturday, the Comox Valley Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue station leader said they’re lucky it sank where it did.
According to RCM-SAR station leader Jim Linderbeck, the family, from Barkley Sound near Ucluelet, had just purchased the older 50-foot wooden fishing vessel in Comox hours before it sank off the northeast side of Denman Island on Saturday evening.
They were just starting their journey to take the boat home by water around the south end of Vancouver Island.
“So it was probably his lucky day even though it did sink,” Linderbeck said of boat owner Warren Robinson. “If he would have got in any place else and there would have been higher waves than what we had here — I believe it would really have been a disaster.”
According to Linderbeck, Robinson, who was with his wife and three children, bought the boat in Comox mere hours before he and his family were huddled in the stern of the sinking vessel hoping help would come soon.
Robinson had checked the boat before setting out, and the previous owner advised him the boat had a tendency to allow a minor ingress of water, according to Linderbeck.
But, shortly after coming around the northeast tip of Denman Island, just before 7 p.m., Robinson noticed something was wrong.
“He was going about five knots when he noticed the engine starting to stutter or shudder, and with the smell of something burning or overheating, and what happened, he checked his forward hatch and there was, the boat was already starting to take water on in the forward compartment,” said Linderbeck. “His bilge pumps had burnt out.”
Bill Coltart — owner of Pacific Pro Dive and service contractor to C-TOW which provides assistance to boaters in distress — was first on scene with his partner after the family sent out a 9-1-1 call on a cellphone because the boat’s radio stopped working due to onboard flooding.
“The bow was quite a bit under water and the family was all kind of huddled on the stern of the fishing vessel when we arrived,” said Coltart, adding the Hornby-Denman ferry was also on scene a little ways off.
“They couldn’t get too close because the vessel was in relatively shallow water for the ferry to be operating and it took them some time to launch their rescue zodiac off the side of the ferry, so we actually arrived just ahead of the ferry’s folks.”
Coltart noted he was surprised to see the ferry in the area, as it’s located down at the south end of the island and it came all the way to the north end.
The family was taken onto Coltart’s boat briefly at 7:30 p.m., then transported back to Comox by Linderbeck at about 8:15 p.m. They had no medical injuries, according to Linderbeck.
Coltart said the vessel was sinking very quickly, and responders realized the boat could not be towed back to shore.
“There was too much water coming on board and the vessel was at such an angle that it would have been impossible to pump any of the water off and salvage it so we just basically stood by with the Coast Guard to deploy a fuel boom, essentially an oil containment boom,” said Coltart. “We had some boom on board, but we didn’t have enough so the Coast Guard went back to French Creek to pick up more… and I understand by the time they got back the vessel had sunk.”
Linderbeck added the shallow location of the sunken vessel, about 16 metres, should allow for easy recovery of oil and other hazardous materials still on board.