The Koroc tumbles its way through some rugged territory, but thoughtfully presented no long portages or dangerous rapids. On one stretch, however, we were unable to run the rapids and resorted to lining our canoes, sometimes a risky way of moving them downstream fully loaded but under control, front and back. Godfrey and I were stepping out briskly ahead of the others, lining a rather bumpy stretch of water. He was on the bow, as usual, and I at the stern, as we leapt from rock to rock, guiding our fibreglass canoe around obstacles, letting it slip carefully through narrow passages, pushing it out, pulling it in, pausing, running full tilt, and so on. I called for a pause to map a little strategy for the next sequence. Godfrey cried out, “Let’s go around this big rock and then stop.” It made sense, so I shrugged and agreed. We manoeuvred the canoe out, the current caught it, and then the angle changed violently, who knows why?
“Pull in!” I shouted.
No Easy Way
We both strained on our lines. The canoe bore heavily against the current. Then Godfrey, as if he had been in a catapult, suddenly shot into the air, landing in the water beside the canoe some seven metres from where he had been standing. In an instant he was in front of it, bobbing in the water, and moving rapidly (no pun) downstream. That’s when I knew the danger we were in, for the canoe could knock him senseless if it caught up with him. I dug in my heels and wrapped the rope around both hands. The pain was excruciating. Despite the fact that the canoe had but one upstream line now and should have been obedient to it, it simply wasn’t, being already half down the next drop. Finally, though this all took but a few seconds, when the choice was clearly me or the canoe, with all the line played out, I remained on shore. The canoe plunged ahead, a ward of the river now. It bucked over one rapid, took on water, waffled a little, hit a rock, turned, careened over another rapid, filled with water and was lost to view.
Lining rope damage to David’s hands
Although the palms of my hands were bleeding and smarting, I ran as fast as I could along the shore to try to help Godfrey if I could, or grab the canoe. After two hundred metres of swimming, Godfrey found ground under his feet and waded ashore on the opposite bank. So he seemed safe enough.
[Craig’s book notes: “Having managed to survive a swim down a series of cascading ledges, (John) came ashore on the other side of the river. We could see him yelling from the far bank but could not make out his meaning above the incessant roar of the water. Thinking he might be hurt, I waded out as far as I dared to catch his words. ‘Time for a group photo!’ he bellowed.” – Ed.]
Then I saw the canoe, submersed under a metre or so of water, bags all intact since they were tied in, and just barely reachable, wedged against a rock, its bright yellow shape like a crescent moon caught under a tumbling waterfall. The stern line was as taught as a steel rod, obviously caught on something.
By this time the others had caught up and we were collectively considering our predicament. The wanigan had floated out on its own and I had snagged it a little downstream, still upright and everything in it as dry as bones. Stollery and I, gingerly, freed the bags and other gear from the submerged canoe and passed them ashore. Then we tried to get the canoe itself out. It was impossible, and everyone said it was. And yet it didn’t look like an insoluble problem. But we finally faced the inevitable and arranged ourselves and our gear into two canoes.
Two or three things came of this incident. First, we enjoyed the company of three to a canoe. The one in the middle sitting, like Governor Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company making his rounds, didn’t have to paddle and instead gave readings by Robert Service or Charles Dickens or whatever else was available. Second, we were able to justify, with a very brief argument, abandoning the garbage. I even had the silent pleasure, not revealed until we were safely away downriver, of hanging it in a tree and labelling it with a tag from Stollery’s latest trip which read in French and English: “Visit of the Governor General, Senator Peter Stollery.” I wondered what the reaction would be of whomever found this bag of trash.
First Campsite on the Koroc
Another by-product of the incident was a recurring dream of mine, doubtless common to all captains who lose their ships, that I could have saved the canoe. Not after we’d started around the rock, I think, though that was an initial point of accusation to myself – not taking enough care; and not when the canoe was dragging me to Godfrey’s doom, for that was a fairly black and white situation. Rather, I think that we did not think hard enough about how to free the canoe once it had lodged itself among the rocks on the bottom of the river. Given its position, and the canoe’s renowned toughness, what we should have done is tie a line for each of the six of us to the ends and thwarts and prepare to pull on them, and then cut the stern line as far upstream as we could, for clearly it was holding the canoe down, and that, surely, at least in my dreams and nightmares, would have been power enough to dislodge the damned thing. The canoe itself, I have since discovered, would have been serviceable, since they can be dropped from fifteen story buildings and land scratched but otherwise unharmed.