Drama at Sea – Miracle on Uchuck III

I’m standing at the starboard rail aboard the MV Uchuck III out of Gold River, BC, en route for historic Yuquot – Friendly Cove. We’re about to put into Nootka Island Lodge to make a quick delivery. I’m wearing my standard field trip rig: a wide belt fitted with slots to hold pouches for my long lens, notebook and sundries. I’ve got a small daypack on my back.

I’ve just shifted the camera in my hand, all my attention focused on the captain’s maneuver to get his 136-foot vessel into position within a miniscule cove to pass items by hand across to people waiting on the dock. This is not a regularly scheduled stop. Almost in unison, the man and woman standing beside me cry, “Oh, you’ve dropped your notebook.” I look down at the deck to retrieve it. Nothing. More urgently I look over the rail to the deck below. Nothing. With a vice gripping my heart, I look overside.

Floating away on the slight swell is the white butterfly of an open reporter’s notebook. If blood can truly run cold, mine had turned to ice. The thought of three full days worth of action-packed research – including hours at the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre where photos are not allowed, forcing me to produce reams of notes and sketches – drifting away with the tide … I began to tremble.

A lady on the deck below called up, “Tell the captain, maybe they can get it.”

Seriously? Most times I wouldn’t want to cause any trouble, but those notes …

I stepped up to the bridge door but kept silent. Captain Fred was completely engrossed in nosing the Uchuck in to that cove. I looked back and saw the butterfly still floating, white wings spread in the blue-green wavelets.

After about a thousand years, Sean, the captain’s son and a captain in his own right as well as co-owner of GetWest Adventure Cruises, came onto the bridge through the interior passage. He didn’t look preoccupied, so I ventured, “I have a strange request.”

He smiled encouragingly. “We get a lot of strange requests.”

Not like this one I thought, but plunged ahead, quickly outlining the situation. By this time we were in behind a small rocky point and I could no longer see the precious notebook. Sean talked briefly with his dad and came to me with instructions.

“You be his eyes and let him know where it is – if it’s still afloat. I’m going to try to find a net or something to grab it.”

Captain Fred backed the Uchuck out of the cove and as we cleared the point I held my breath. No – it was gone.

Wait – over there – a glint of white drifting past the point. Captain Fred saw it before I could say a word and started to edge the vessel toward my precious book. (Really think about this: 136-foot ship/12-inch notebook.) Meanwhile, I can see Sean on the foredeck lashing a plastic milk crate to a boat hook. Passengers lined the port side taking in the spectacle.

Gently, gently, Captain Fred edged the Uchuck forward. Sean made his first swoop down with the makeshift life-saver and that was it – he had it. Cheers and applause rose broke out all over the ship. My knees went weak with relief as Sean started toward the midship companionway with the sodden victim. I climbed down to meet him, but he had disappeared.

Some minutes later he found me. “I’ve taken it down to the engine room,” he said. “If it dries the way it is, the pages will stick together and it won’t be any use to you. Nathan is ripping the pages out and spreading them separately to dry. Don’t know if it’ll work, but he’s trying.”

“Anything’s better than a total loss.” I said. Feeling a surge of hope.

He nodded, then grinned. “We’ll log it as man-overboard drill.”

I was shaking all over. My stomach felt like it was trying to move to another body. I went in search of the kindly couple who had raised the alarm to thank them and give them an update. Turned out they were from Denmark and we had quite a conversation while my heart rate returned to normal and we arrived at Friendly Cove.

Sean stood at the foot of the gangway. As I was about to pass he said, “Have you got another notebook?

“No,” I admitted.

“You can’t go to Friendly Cove without taking notes. This is the most historic place in Canada!” Without waiting for my lame reply, he leapt over the gunwale onto the deck calling over his shoulder, “The cook’s got a notepad.” Moments later he returned with a lined tablet and orange Sharpie. I gratefully accepted the paper, but was okay for a pen. I had a spare one of those.

After an astoundingly productive exploration ashore (details in another post), part way back to Gold River I went down to the galley to return the notepad. There I was met by the cook holding forth a sheaf of wrinkled pages, streamers of torn coil ends hanging askew – all clipped together by the original PaperMate!

Apart from a few random rust marks where the pages were laid out on various engine room hardware to dry, my notes are as clearly legible as, well, as my notes ever are.

My sincere gratitude to all the crew of the Uchuck III – especially Captain Fred for seamanship, Sean for ingenuity, cook for being prepared, and Nathan for going the extra mile.

Thank you.

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