Small Frye Episodes

In Search of Happiness – Part Three

Leonard Lea Frazer
Route of Mike Frye and friend, Lorna, on the return trip to Prince Rupert.
Route of Mike Frye and friend, Lorna, on the return trip to Prince Rupert.

Around noon we drifted in to Powell River, after an enjoyable trip among the small islands nearby. The crowd that met us insisted that we stay at the hotel and let the town foot the bill. That suited us fine, but next morning we were up early and on our way.

Around nine o'clock in the morning, we met a patrol boat coming down the channel. We were afraid that we'd missed seeing Ripple Rock, so we flagged down the boat, and the captain stepped over for coffee.

I explained to him that we had come down from Rupert and were on our way back and were anxious to see the famous Ripple Rock.

"Well me bye, you passed it twenty miles or more back. But, what do you want to see that monster for?” he asked. "If I were you, I'd stay away from that demon. We've lost some good men on that rock and some good boats."

We knew of the danger, I told him, but we wanted to get a look at it.

"Then keep well back, and stay out of the undertow." He gave us his map and we saw how far back it was, ten miles past Gibsons.

"Should we go back, Lorna?” I asked. "We could stop at Gibsons overnight.”

"Sure, Mike," she replied. "We have all summer to do as we please.”

"I'm right with you, little lady," I said, and turned the boat around.

We made good time and arrived at Gibsons a bit before dark. We looked the town over, had an early supper and hit the sack.

We awoke to a glorious day. The water glowed like a large blue lake, with the sun shimmering. We knew that the wind would come early, and according to the weather forecast on the radio there was to be a record tide. The Ripple Rock whirlpool was bound to be rough.

That suited us fine, as we wanted to see the monster at its worst. We had breakfast, packed the boat and were soon off down the channel.

It was about nine o'clock when I saw the first sign of the big beast of nature. It was a sight to behold. We stopped the boat a good three hundred feet from the whirlpool, but could still feel the pull. I had to start the motor to fight the suction, and we let it idle as we watched the debris being sucked into the mighty maw.

A huge round circle of frothing water held all sorts of stuff in its terrible grip. Every once in a while we saw huge slabs of wood thrown in the air, drop into the maelstorm's mouth and disappear.

We were so engrossed and petrified by the churning that we did not notice our boat drifting toward the swirl until Lorna screamed, "Mike, get back, we're being dragged in!"

Gaining control on my senses, I put the throttle to full speed. The suction was so strong that we barely made headway, even with Lorna paddling. By the time we did get away, I was sweating and Lorna was white as a sheet. "Mike, let's get away from that thing. I've seen all I want to." To tell the truth, I was darn glad to get away from its claws, but I did get back (years later) to see the last of it. (Editor’s note: Mike has described the location of Ripple Rock incorrectly.)

Many years after Lorna and I explored the fearsome Ripple Rock, I was working in the interior for Canadian Betchel, building pipelines and compressor stations. One quiet summer we heard that Ripple Rock was going to be blown out of the water. It was to be the biggest peace-time explosions then known to man. I was overjoyed at the chance to work on this project and took off for Vancouver to look over the job.

The first thing that had to be done was to survey an undersea tunnel, twelve feet high, in solid rock, from the shore to right under the big Ripple. Once underneath, we had to survey three Coyote holes, each as big as the tunnel. One was in the middle, and another on each side of the rock.

There were six of us in the survey crew and we used two large boats to sound the water depths. Two men in the first boat used a long steel rod to measure the depth of the water at ten foot intervals, and I followed up with a steel tape attached to a sinker, double checking the measurements. We wanted to be sure at least five feet of rock was left above the roof of the tunnel to keep the sea from coming in.

It took us nearly a month to survey the tunnel, then I was called back to Kamloops on another job. Over a mile of tunnel was later excavated and track was laid in the tunnel for a small railway to pack black powder to the base of the rock. It must have been some job for those men, under the sea, a good mile from shore, smelling black powder all day.

I asked my boss to have the day off when the blast was set to go. I arrived just in time to see the last of Ripple Rock. When the dust settled there was no more threat to navigation.

So much for the destruction of Ripple Rock. That was still many years in the future when Lorna and I first went to see it. It took all the power our boat motor had to get away from the whirlpool that surrounded the rock when the tides flowed.

Finally we were free of the grip of watery jaws. The boat surged ahead, knocking me on my seat. Lorna gave a sigh of relief.

"Mike, I've seen all I want of that thing, let's get ashore someplace to build a fire and heat a hot toddy. My nerves could use one. We still have a bit of snakebite remedy, don't we?”

I slowed the motor a bit and headed up the channel back towards Gibsons Landing where there was a nice inlet to build a campfire and rest up. It would take us about five hours to get to Salmon Inlet, near Powell River, so we drank coffee from our thermos and ate sandwiches as we travelled.

Evening was upon us by the time we turned in Earls Cove and into the canal that led to Salmon Inlet. We were getting tired by the time we saw our campsite.

It was a beautiful spot, plenty of room, a tree to camp under, lots of firewood, deep mooring for the boat, and a beach that was a bit of heaven. While I made a fire and set the tea pot on, Lorna, still in her bathing suit, took off up the beach. She squealed with delight when she hit the cool water. When the tea water was hot I called to her, "Come and get it, I found the snakebite remedy."

She came up out of the water near the boat. I can tell you there is no sight in the world that compares with her beauty as the water cascaded off her golden hair and down her dripping body. I soon forgot about Ripple Rock - my mind was on other things.

We spent an enjoyable night near Salmon Inlet and the next morning we were again underway. Following the Inland Passage, we bypassed Powell River and swung in at Mansons Landing. We motored past Redona Bay and up the Toba Inlet to the mouth of the Toba River, where we found a place to fish and pick wild fruit.

The next day we explored Bute Inlet to the end. We camped at Jackson Bay at the entrance of Johnson's Strait, where again we fished and picked berries.

As we entered the strait, Lorna shouted, "Look ahead of us, Mike, Coho by the thousands, making their spring migration up the strait. Let's set the gill net."

We could do with a bit of cash. Here was the chance to clean up - we were the first boat in the strait. "Yes, let's Lorna," I replied. "This is a good time to make some dough, and we don't have any competition."

A gill net for Coho was woven together with a three-inch mesh. Our net was about three hundred feet long and thirty feet deep, with lead weights at the bottom and big floats on top. The end away from the boat was attached to a wooden platform, large enough to hold a lantern.

The boat-end of the net was attached to a winch called a girdy. The girdy was the full width of the stern of the boat and was cranked by the propeller shaft. The girdy could be put in neutral when not in use, or to let out the net.

We got the net ready to set and I pulled over to where the fish were making the water boil as they fought up the strait. When I was ahead of the Coho, I kept the boat steady while Lorna slipped the net over the end and let out the girdy.

I gently backed the boat away from the wooden platform and the net nicely unfolded. When it was all let out, the net started to surge with the weight of the fish as they became entangled in the web.

Nelson Brothers had several packers cruising about the fishing grounds. Fishermen could take their catch directly to them. They paid cash and never asked any questions about where the fish had been caught. It was illegal to fish within the boundary of a channel, but many of us went for the easy fishing there.

You had to watch out for patrol boats and keep your nets covered and hidden. I never got caught, but I never took any chances either.

Lorna and I had done a lot of fishing before, so she was a great help in taking in the net and untangling the fish.

The packers paid fifty cents a fish, big or small. A good catch could bring in twenty dollars. If you lived on the boat and fished day and night you could double that take, or if you were lucky, bring in much more.

After we had finished letting out the net, we drifted with the tide for three hours, watching the net fill up. I slipped the girdy in gear and started rolling in the net. Taking out the fish was soon as much as we could handle. By the time the wooden platform, at the end of the net, reached the boat, we had at least three hundred Coho salmon.

We went hunting for the packer, and soon met her coming down the strait. We sold our first catch and made two more good ones that day. We were supposed to be on holidays, but with fishing like that, we decided to spend some time at it.

For a month we cruised around Douglas Channel, fishing and enjoying ourselves, before we decided to call it off. We worked our way back to Prince Rupert, where we divided the money. I turned the boat over to Lorna and took off for the old homestead at Albreda, south of Valemount.

I never did see Lorna again, but I got several letters from her saying she missed me, and that she was doing well fishing.

Robson Valley Courier Editor’s (Jim Swanson) note:

So ends "In Search of Happiness,” Mike Frye's story of his adventures on the B.C. coast one summer in the Thirties. We hope to soon publish more of Mike's work.

Leonard’s note: At this time, in 1983, Mike Frye was recovering from a stroke at his home in McBride. No more Small Frye Episodes were submitted. However, Mr. Frye’s “The Bootlegger’s Lady” book, with the help of Ed Sayer and Handcock House, was published in 1984. A third printing was made in 1993.