The Great Disastrophy by Bob Fowler
The Stollery-Godfrey canoe was tail-end-Charley at this point, and I was poised to chronicle their descent. They took the corner wide and, at first, worked to get back towards the centre and our sand-bar near river left. It seemed as if, finding that difficult, they intended to pull in on their right, but then realizing that that would be hazardous, given a smaller and then a huge boulder ahead of them in the stream but almost touching the right bank (and directly opposite to where the remainder of us were standing, barely 15 metres away), they made a late, but valiant effort to force their way back to the centre and our bar, but there wasn’t room and there wasn’t time.
As they angled toward their left, they smacked into the smaller, more submerged rock and abandoned ship as their canoe rode up on that boulder, flipped, filled with water and, now perpendicular to the river, proceeded toward where the bow-man, John Godfrey, had ended up; up to his waist in the eddy behind the smaller rock, but with his back almost touching the larger one.
Downstream of a canoe filled with water and gear, coming at you broadside with your back against a huge rock is about the worst situation imaginable. I expected to see John turned into a strawberry jam smear on that rock within a couple of seconds.
The canoe did indeed smash against the large rock and scrape mightily against its surface as it proceeded downstream, only to have its back broken across another mostly submerged rock only a few metres further downriver. John, though, had avoided being smushed by backing into a small niche or crevice in that boulder while the water and gear filled canoe (with a combined weight of, perhaps, two tons) scraped across the front of that small cavity.
John and Peter were safe but the canoe was destroyed. The gunwales had splintered, looking like the business end of a witch’s broomstick. The thwarts had popped out with a loud crack. The ABS plastic was impaled upon and moulded onto the top of the rock and pinned there as the river surged over and around its broken shell. Clearly much of the cargo had been lost, but there seemed to be a couple of canoe packs still lashed to something, just visible within the wreckage. As we contemplated this horror, it began to rain and seemed to get appreciably colder as reality set in. It was day three of a two week trip and, although the inventory taking was yet to come, we had clearly lost a great deal, including, we all presumed, a quarter of our transport, with half a thousand kilometres left to paddle to our rendez-vous with a motorized barge on the Peel.
But all was not lost. Over the next many hours, those sodden packs were rescued, with calculation and brute force the torn canoe shell was stripped from the rock, and due to the skill, ingenuity and perseverance of our crew, all was not lost. The repair party, led by Ted Johnson, moved in to attempt what first appeared to be impossible – salvage the shattered canoe. Armed with a small saw, an awl (where did that come from?), a spare paddle, nylon rope and rolls of duct tape, the canoe was resurrected, restructured, and re-floated to the amazement of everyone. Of course she was immediately christened “Lazarus,” and was sturdy enough to run the difficult rapids ahead (albeit with a reduced load) and complete the trip. The Godfrey/Stollery canoe was back in business.