The black radar screen suddenly revealed a huge bright green blip to the south east, approaching rapidly across Queen Charlotte Sound.
Bored, and tired of hanging around at the BC Packers scow in Cascade Harbour waiting for the Fisheries to announce another gillnet opening, we’d decided to go trolling to make some extra money and get away from the float and boat parties. We’d been tied up for 2 days doing laundry, buying groceries and doing minor net mending and gear tying.
We untied the Wild Thing and headed out about 6 am, bound for the Yankee Bank and the Storm Islands. The Pacific heaved in a slow, rolling, greasy, dull green ground swell; patches of drifting, suffocating cold grey fog blanketed the invisible sky. Visibility was down to 100 feet but we had our radar oscillating and our charts out and our depth sounder switched on, the smell of graphite heavy in the cabin air.
The radar screen on each rotation depicted a few small craft moving slowly three or four miles away, and the ghostly green outline of the receding shoreline mirroring the topographical marine chart.
.We were idling peacefully along over the deep slow swell with four lines of trolling gear set out. I could just make out our white Styrofoam pigs on the outside lines, fifty feet behind the stern. The 3 by 4 foot by three-inch thick pigs plowed through the sea attached to the troll lines. Acting like giant rectangular bobbers, they mark and suspend the descending troll line. They are
Trolling lines have paired marker beads every two and a half fathoms which are designed to hold the snaps in a set position. Each snap consists of a flasher, a lure and a hook tied together by nylon line. The flasher’s underwater action imitates the action of a fish in distress, supposedly attracting notice and interest.
Below the snap and flasher are the lure and hook. Lures can be rubbery hoochies of varied colours, shiny brass or silver spoons, and small fish- or squid-shaped enticers for catching salmon.
The pigs dance and jerk if a big fish has taken a hook on one of the outside lines and is fighting to escape. Bells are mounted atop each trolling poll and ring as an occasional salmon strikes one of the inside lines.
We have two sets of girdies on each side of the stern; some professional trollers would have up to 3 spool or gurdies each side. The lines are weighted with lead cannonballs to hold them down in the water, with all their dangling snaps or jewelry cutting through the ocean and hopefully attracting salmon.
I ran one side of gurdies and CC ran the other, his side had the boat controls-throttle, gear leaver and steering wheel.
We were trolling along the edge of the Yankee Bank an hour out of Cascade Harbour. We’d just set out our lines, and had come into our warm, cozy cabin for a hot drink from the always steaming kettle on the oil stove.
It was foggy and cold on deck, even though it was the middle of August, with only about 100 feet of visibility around us. I’d mixed us a couple of hot chocolates and placed some slices of bread on the top of the stove to toast, and the smell of food and drink was welcome.
CC flipped on the depth sounder to see if we could see any fish under us, and the radar was rotating around. I bent over the radar screen to see our position and any navigation hazards near by. I tensed, hands gripping the eye pieces. Something big approaching rapidly straight towards us. We, with 30 feet of trailing lines and gear strung out behind. It would require careful turning to avoid tangling the lines.
I called out to CC to have a look. He studied the plot of the huge green blip in the black oscillating screen. Faster and faster, closer and closer that large menacing blip approached.
We heard the deep-throated woogh of a fog horn from out of the fog, so close I jumped. Was it a freighter, a cruise ship, a coastal ferry? Ships of that tonnage can take up to 12 miles to stop and they don’t turn on a dime either, and this green menace was heading right for us.
There are navigation rules at sea, like rules of the road – pass port to port, do not pass in front of oncoming ships unless there is plenty of sea room, sailboats without power have the right of way, marking buoys have red or green lights to indicate if you are to pass on the port or starboard side to stay in the navigation channel.
I stared at that advancing, glowing green blip. I was confused as to what heading the approaching ship was on; its course seemed erratic and I was unsure about which direction we should turn to stay out of its path. The ship was so close!
Suddenly the blip disappeared completely from the radar screen and a horrible racket of fog horn and the low thrum of gigantic engines echoed eerily from the muffling damp fog. We raced up the stairs and out on the deck, straining to pierce the swirling mist.
Just at the edge of vision, right beside up only 100 feet away, a rusty black-painted hull topped by a five-story building, wreathed and veiled in shrouds of fog coalesced in front of my horrified, terror-stricken eyes.
Heart pounding, held breathe, rigid with helplessness, the behemouth materialized in intermittent flashes. Scattered stateroom windows and port holes glowed dim and ghostly far above.
We turned sharply from the threat, who cares about the gear! CC spun the stern wheel hard to port and throttle up that screaming jimmy diesel engine. Our pigs were plowing deep, shedding green water, half buried. The trailing lines stretched and jerked, the pole-top bells jangling and ringing.
The ghost ship chugged and throbbed beside us, belting out its fog horn mourn on its Alaskan heading. Rapidly disappearing in the enveloping fog, leaving me adrenaline-crazed and shakey, I adjourned to the cabin and added large tots of dark rum to our hot chocolate.
WE looked at each other and clinked mugs, smiling in relief, idling along and sipping. We checked the radar screen – it was working again. The ship had blocked out our signals. Once finished our drinks, we pulled in the trolling lines, unsnapped the gear and layered them neatly in the trolling box. We detached the sytrofoam pigs and lifted the cannon balls aboard. I had caught 4 coho and 1 nice red spring of about 22 pounds. CC had caught 3 coho and a white spring at about 16 pounds. Our gear was fine, we’d made some money. We’d avoided a collision at sea. It was a good day for the Wild Thing, one I’ll never forget. I can still recall the image of a black apartment building as sea, bearing down on us like some nightmare threat from hell.