Off she goes! The Carmanah Light, a crab-fishing boat based out of Prince Rupert, is pulled off Rose Spit by the Island Safari after nearly becoming a fully beached wreck. A team of islanders working with D&E Towing handled the contract from insurers Pacific Mutual, and had plenty of help from volunteers. (Stan Hansen/Submitted)

Beached crab boat refloated

The story behind saving the Prince Rupert-based Carmanah Light that ran aground on Haida Gwaii

Many hands and some well-timed weather helped a team of islanders to right and relaunch a crab-fishing boat that ran aground on Rose Spit.

“We just got really lucky,” said Stan Hansen, who was hired along with Port Clements-based D&E Towing to try and clear the Carmanah Light off North Beach. Several volunteers also joined in, unloading dozens of crab pots to lighten the 14-metre steel boat.

“By the time we went to take it off, it was perfect,” Hansen said.

“The old girl almost jumped off the beach like she didn’t want to be there.”

None of its crew were injured, but the Carmanah Light looked like it might be a wreck when Hansen and others got their first look at it on Thursday, Aug. 31.

Beached and tilted into heavy surf, the wheelhouse windows were smashed and waves were dumping sand and gravel into the engine room.

“It was wallowing around, and it had rolled downhill,” said Dave Unsworth, owner of D&E Towing, who has cleared at least four fishing boats off Rose Spit over the years.

If the seas hadn’t calmed before the high tide on Friday morning, Unsworth said, “It probably would’ve been history.”

Some diesel did leak out of the starboard tank, but the salvage team managed to close off the tanks to prevent a larger spill from the fully fuelled boat — Fisheries and Oceans Canada later flew a plane overhead and didn’t report any problems.

Hansen, who served as engineer on the Carmanah Light for 20 years, said there wasn’t much they could do on the first day until the tide came down.

Using pumps from the Coast Guard and O’Brien & Fuerst Logging, the team started pumping water out. They also got a ladder up against it so they could board the windows.

By the time the tide started coming in again, James Schatz had managed to tie a line from the boat’s mast to a pick-up truck on the beach. Every time the boat stood up a bit in the incoming tide, he took up slack in the line, slowly turning the boat until it pointed directly out to sea.

The next day, Hansen said they had a two-hour window to relaunch at high tide.

Wayne Schatz was ready to pull the Carmanah Light off the beach with the Island Safari, and another boat was standing by.

“There were three Schatzs on scene, so that was good,” said Hansen, laughing.

Sheldon Braman, a member of Masset Marine Rescue, stood on top of the Carmanah Light and fired a rocket-launched tow line about 300 feet to the Island Safari.

The boat came off smoothly, and Dave Unsworth said the hull looked sound after he towed it in to the Masset harbour with the Golden Spruce II.

Although it seemed like a write-off at first, Unsworth said there is a chance the 42-year-old boat will be towed to Vancouver and rebuilt because there are so few of that size remaining on the coast.

Crew members on the Carmanah Light said they ran aground because the skipper fell asleep on duty.

Unsworth said while most fishing boats have depth alarms, a lot of people forget to set them.

“There’s so many misfits running boats these days that it’s sad,” he said.

That’s what happened years ago when the Royal Pursuit ran aground on North Beach, causing a significant fuel spill.

Other times, it’s also a matter of bad luck.

Another boat Unsworth cleared off North Beach, Little Momma, got something jammed in its rudder before its anchor line broke.

“It was a pretty dirty day — one guy drowned on that,” he said.

Unsworth said the Carmanah Light must have been built pretty solid to stand the surf-kicking that it got. But he saved most of his praise for everyone who helped get it back on the water.

“It was a real good teamwork effort,” he said.

“Even the Coast Guard guy who was out there was very impressed. He phoned me and said, ‘Make sure they all get paid because if we got that kind of community support in other places, life would be a whole bunch better.’”