Qualicum fisherman upset at boaters

Linda Owens has been fishing for salmon off the Big Qualicum River for years but she admits to being “gobsmacked” by what she saw there Saturday.

As a fisherman in an underpowered canoe battled desperately against a sudden Qualicum wind, boat after boat motored past him, ignoring his pleas for help.

“We watched the water build from glass to whitecaps in merely 20 minutes,” she said.

Owens and her sister were just in a 12-foot aluminum boat, so they began to head for shore to get out of the rapidly worsening weather. However, as they did so, she heard a cry for help.

“I looked around and saw a fellow waving a paddle in the air,” she said.

There were six larger boats closer to the man, so Owens and her partner tried to get their attention.

“We cut right in front of a boat and waved a lifejacket at them and shouted to let them know someone was in trouble,” she said. “There was no reaction.”

As they watched, other boaters also appeared to ignore the situation.

“I frantically pulled in the rods and deep lines while the captain motored to what turned out to be a man in a canoe with an electric motor and all the paddle power he could muster to try to keep from capsizing in the waves,” she said. “He was being pushed further and further offshore, as he was unable to bring his bow into the wind.”

The electric motor didn’t have enough power to make way into the oncoming wind, so he was on his way to Lasqueti Island or perhaps a watery grave unless somebody gave him a hand.

“It was two women in a 12-foot Lund that hauled in lines, cleared the gear from the gunnel and braced the boats while the gentleman leapt with skill and agility into our boat,” Owens said. “There could have been a widow made in Qualicum Bay that night.”

The man was taken to shore, no worse for wear.

“Why did no one come to help a lone man bucketing about in a canoe in sudden rough water?” she asked.

“Why did no one come to help two women in a small boat who were attempting a risky rescue? Was it too much bother to bring up their lines? Was my standing up in our boat, shouting and waving an orange life vest not clear enough?”

Owens has herself been towed off the water when a steering cable snapped and she has towed in others when they experienced engine trouble.

“One time my sister had my 85-year-old father out on the boat and he had a mini-stroke,” she said. “He passed out and was convulsing. She had to scream for help. It happens.”

Her message to boaters is to be aware of what’s going on around them, beyond what might be happening at the end of their fishing lines. If there is trouble, they should take responsibility to do something about it.

“If something doesn’t look right, check it out,” she said. “Get over there.”


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