Palmarsyl’s Last Run

A different Travel Tale this time, but still related to travel.  When I was a young man, I bought an old fish boat and went fishing up the BC coast.  During this time, larger vessels called ‘fish packers’ used to travel the coast, visiting various locations or ‘fish camps’ where fishermen used to sell their fish, pick up the fish and take it to the canneries in Vancouver.

            At the location where I was fishing, a packer called the Palmarsyl used to arrive periodically, pick up the fish and head off to a few other locations on the way to Vancouver.  Once in a while, one of us would change places with the deck hand on board, to get a change of scenery, and work for a free trip to Vancouver.  At this time the fishing was slow, and I had the opportunity to get my ‘free ride’, so away I went . . . not realizing this was the Palmarsyl’s last run.

Palmarsyl moored alongside Vancouver Shellfish and Fish Company Wharf.
Photo courtesy of Fisherman  Publishing Society Collection – UBC
Palmarsyl moored alongside Vancouver Shellfish and Fish Company Wharf.
Photo courtesy of Fisherman  Publishing Society Collection – UBC

The Palmarsyl was built in 1911, by the .R. Van Dyke & Sons, Vancouver, BC, first registered in 1912 as ‘Lo Olbee’, changed to Palmarsyl in 1938.  She was 64 feet long, 13.1 wide, 21.9 tons.  She had a compromise stern, carvel built wood.  Owned by Lindsay C. Moir, Fish Dealer.

            The vessel sank about eight miles off Porlier Pass, October 9, 1959.

Both the skipper Rod, and deck hand Ian Kent were picked up several hours later from a small, 10 foot clinker built row-boat in Georgia Strait by the crew of a seine boat.

 This is the story of that event:

The Palmarsyl’s Last Run

A couple of guys were up before dawn as that cold nor’wester wind blew,

The skipper was one, the deck-hand made two, the total of Palmarsyl’s crew.

Out of Porlier Pass they left that morn, fighting ‘cross Georgia Strait,

with a load of fish to deliver by noon, hoping not to be late.

They started off good, the pass quite calm, scarcely a ripple was seen,

As they went on, heading into huge seas, the cold winds really turned mean.

The skipper was fighting the wheel, using all his knowledge and skill,

to keep that old ship close to her course, it became a battle of will.

The deck-hand, meantime, busy as hell in the galley, cookin’ a meal,

coffee and eggs and refried spuds to keep them both on an even keel.

The seas grew larger the further they sailed, breaking over bow and beam,

washing ‘cross the deck, pounding things as they went, then running off in a stream.

The boom was lashed down aft on the deck to lessen the strain on the rig,

but the constant barrage of the monstrous seas snapped all the lines like a twig.

The deck-hand then went to calm the loose boom, working in between floods,

but the tip of the spar cracked open a hatch, as it moved back and forth with a thud.

Unable to hold the wild swinging spar, the deck-hand felt he had lost,

as each new wave now did not retreat, so he knew just what it would cost.

“Skipper, you’d better see this” he yelled out, afraid of what he might say,

The skipper didn’t take long to take in the sight, “We’d better call it a day”.

“We’re goin’ down boy, better break out the boat, and I’ll try to put in a call,”

he couldn’t get through, and nobody came, so he turned his mind back to the squall.

Their lifeboat, a ten foot clinker, was painted into her chocks,

the rusty old riggin’ to lift her clear, seized up with an ominous squawk.

The two men were frantic, knowing the dinghy was crucial to their survival that day,

with one mighty yank, the skipper pulled the line clear, and the boat hit the sea with a spray.

“Grab the life jackets and let’s go” he yelled as he climbed down into the boat,

the deck-hand followed with a mighty leap, grabbed the small craft, barely afloat.

The two men then sat in the dinghy, with water up to their knees,

wondering what was in store, their legs felt as if starting to freeze.

The deck-hand then noticed a wooden bung at the end of a string, floating loose,

“The drain plug” he yelled as he bunged up the hole, giving their spirits a boost.

They loosened the oars and started to row, getting clear of the sinking ship,

containers of fish and barrels cut loose as swells tore ’cross the deck like a whip.

The stern and mid-deck were both under now, but her bow was still pointed high,

She slowly slipped back, with a shudder and cough as the diesel started to die.

The skipper rowed quickly away, to get them both clear of the site,

The deck-hand kept bailing, as fast as he could, wishing the dinghy’s hull was more tight.

All sixty-four feet of her slid slowly away, and they paused again in their rowing,

Nothing was left ‘cept boxes and crates, and that mean old nor’wester still blowing.

Soon the crates of salmon were all open, and the fish were back in the ocean,

and a passing pod of Orcas that day had a feed with no wasted motion.

All during this time, another large packer was heading directly towards them,

the skipper was sure that rescue was close, but then he noticed a problem,

The packer went past, blind to their plight, and the skipper cursed out loud,

“damn them, they’re drinking coffee in the galley, the whole damn crowd.”

As their possible rescue faded away, a decision to make on their plight,

row to the island, a much closer shore, or head to the mainland, a nor’wester to fight.

So off they went, taking turns at the oars, while the wind continued to blow,

they tied the deck-hand’s undershirt to an oar, waving it to and fro.

As the hours wore on, many boats passed them by,  

too far away to see them, or even hear their cry.

On board was a small wooden barrel, their emergency water supply,

it had long since dried out, but the deck-hand had something to try.

With his knife, he cut a hole in the barrel, as skillful as fighting a duel,

then some life-jacket stuffing as well, both making an acceptable fuel.

Once lit, the barrel smouldered a lot, sending smoke away far and wide,

“Better than my shirt”, cried the deck-hand, by now bursting with pride.

Hour after cold hour, they took shifts with the rowing,

Pleased with the distance they’d made and direction they were going.

Another boat appeared on the horizon, a large seiner the skipper then reckoned,

the closer it came the more excited they were, jumping around while they beckoned.

The huge seiner came close, then veered away, dashing their hopes for some help,

they jumped up and down as much as they could, all the while with screams and a yelp.

The giant finally hove to, came close aboard, careful not to push them away,

“We’re sorry ’bout that”, they said with a smile, “but we thought you were out fishin’ today”.

Once aboard, the crew of the seiner supplied warm blankets and coffee to drink,

while the skipper called in to relay why the Palmarsyl that day did sink.

Instead of Vancouver, they landed in Steveston, a great place for fishin’ and boats

So for the rest of that day, they repeated the tale of how they both lost their coats.


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