New Boats to the Outpost!

Harold Written by 

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Guests and perishable food (pretty much the same thing to a bear) came up to Branson’s by plane, and everything else (boats, motors, fuel, canned goods, etc.) came up by ice road.

I don’t know the details about the ice road, but we used to show guests the exhaust pipe of a bulldozer sitting about a foot below the surface of the lake down near Sawmill Bay. I expect there were risks involved.

At the end of the 1984 season Mavis and Ernie decided they could build a better boat more suited to the Bear - and they could do it for cheap!

The plan involved shipping up thick sheets of aluminum (and the lodge mechanic) by ice road, and having the mechanic build the boats over the long winter.

Can you imagine being there alone for months of no daylight, howling winds, -50˚ temperatures, and nothing to do but weld and talk to yourself?

Apparently the ice fishing was good!

Happily he seemed to make it through the ordeal with all his marbles, and when we all arrived at the end of June, the boats were finished, shiny and new with no paint, and only a few bumpy welds and errant grinding wheel tracks.

I can’t remember how many he actually built, but I’m going to guess around 10?

This was the 1985 season - my second year. The year before I’d guided the captain of the largest container ship on the Pacific safely home through waves that scared even him, and forced a couple of my fellow guides to overnight in the bush.

The writer of the original feature film The Omen was in my boat. There were also Saskatchewan wheat farmers, a penny-pinching postman, a Swiss banker, a judge and his wife from Buffalo (“Look honey, the water is the same colour as our new curtains! Is it safe to drink?”), and a few other fine folk I can’t remember just now. I’d seen it all! I was an expert.

Or at least I knew enough to get my guests their fish.

This was also my first year fishing out of Arnie's Grease City –aka: The Outpost.

Very early in the season we flew up with Hartley in his Beaver and in a Cessna with one of those Air Canada pilot-in-training types. The pilots lived in an old falling down log cabin at the edge of the lodge area and never spoke to us lowly guides - heck I’m not sure Hartley ever spoke to anyone.

The fishing was great.

We caught lots of pike and grayling. Maybe that was the time I got the 34 – pounder? I saw the grave with the skull with red hair still on it. We fed sic-sic’s our apple cores, and ate Arnie's horrible cooking.

We even made it over to Mackintosh Bay. But then one morning what was left of the winter ice blew off the lake and in to the bay, and the planes couldn’t land.

For two days they’d fly up in the morning and check for a clear path, but nothing doing, so they’d fly back empty. I don’t remember anyone being too stressed about it all, but we did have to get our guests back for their flight home.

In desperation we decided to play icebreaker. Early one morning we took out two of the Lund’s with a guide on the motor, and a guest in the bow with a paddle, and pushed the ice here and there until we had our "landing strip”.

A plane appeared and took out the guests. Victory! I think the ice finally started to melt and break up, and the rest of us eventually made it out.

Now back to the new boats - don’t worry, it all ties together.

As we were sipping our expensive beers back at the lodge, Ernie came into the Guide dinning room. "Who wants to volunteer to take four of the new boats to the Outpost?”

Someone asked “When?"

“In about 6 hours. We leave at 2am, and it will take about 14 hours to get there.”

This was too good to be true. It would be a real adventure, over 250 kilometres from the lodge to the outpost, most of it too far from shore to know if it was even there. Woo hoo!

We spent the next few hours getting our gear together and pretending to sleep for an hour or so. The party, as near as I can remember it, consisted of Ernie, a Hungarian baker, who was the father of one of the guides who decided to take a working holiday with his son that summer, me, Murray, and one other guy. Noel, was that you, or did I imagine it?

The weather was perfect. The lake was like glass and the sky was a solid sheet of featureless gray. You couldn’t tell where the water and the sky met. There was no horizon. Oh, and Murray and I decided this was an excellent time to drop our two tabs of acid.

The beginning of the trip was uneventful. Ernie took the lead, compass in hand, and we all loyally followed each man alone with his thoughts in the midst of a great void, some more colourful than others, I suspect.

I remember stopping for ‘lunch’ after about 4 hours. The lake was still dead calm. The last engine was turned off, and the boats bobbed about in the quiet. I stood up, stretched, and said, at the top of my lungs: “This is fucking beautiful!” And then, "I have to take a dump!”

Somewhere through the buzz I thought my enthusiasm and words might be a bit over-the-top, but Ernie just said, “Yes, it is beautiful, and you’re lucky. I can never shit when I’m on the water”.

I put-putted a little ways away, and after a half hour of peeling off the layers, trying to make sure my boat and butt were pointed in the right direction, putting it all back on again, and eating a sandwich, we were off again. Only 10 hours to go!

Then we noticed that some of the boats weren’t keeping up. A couple of us started shouting at Ernie to stop, and eventually we were all in a group again. At this point we were pretty much in the centre of the lake, probably 20k from the shore on either side.

The Baker was the first to speak up, “My boat is sinking”.

Uh oh.

We all looked in his boat and there was 6 inches of water at the stern. Then we looked in our own boats. Some had nothing, and some had a little less than the Baker’s. Mine had a couple inches. Ernie’s was fine.

Hmm…

Ernie had us all make sure we had something to bail with, and commanded that we stick together, and keep an eye out for trouble. It didn’t look too bad if we carried on. Re-start your engines!

We figured out that due to how the boats were constructed, there was a big space between the floor and the hull. I think it was compartmentalized, and as each compartment filled with water, the weld joint to the next space might crack, and the water would move there.

Eventually I guess some of us had fifty to a hundred gallons of water sitting in the belly of our boats, and we couldn’t get at the water under the floor. All we could do was bail out the water above the floor, and hope we made it to shore before it was too late.

The boats just got slower and slower.

We’d all been awake since 7am the day before, so maybe about 30 hours with no sleep. I was drifting off to sleep, so I started splashing my face with bilge water over and over and over again.

I took off my gloves, hoping the cold would keep me awake. I shouted. I sang. I screamed.

I looked back for the Baker, and he was nothing more than a dot. I looked forward for Ernie, and he was a dot also. Everyone else except the Baker was ahead of me.

It was everyman for himself, as each boat started to slowly go under.

My extreme exhaustion was wrestling with the tail end of the LSD, and I remember hallucinating that Noel Alfonso, (Guide of the Year, 1985 - was there every such a thing, really, Noel?) and another guy huddling at the front of the boat and pleading like a couple of 4 year olds: “when are we going to get there, when are we going to get there!”

As you may have guessed we all made it, with the Baker being the last to come in. I’d love to say I hung back and made sure he was safe, but the truth is I kept just enough ahead of him so that I could see him, and still feel like I had a chance to live.

The next week Ernie sent out the mechanic to patch the welds.

A few weeks later Wally and another boat were over in Mackintosh Bay, and when heading back to the Outpost at the end of the day the boats started to go down.

They couldn’t bail fast enough.

The welds must have really cracked open, and the six of them barely made it to the little island halfway across Smith Arm. They spent at least one night on the island (with no camping equipment) before they were airlifted back to the lodge.

No extra charge for that adventure!

Let me leave you with one final fishing story.

While we were tooling around after dinner in the shallows of the bay in front of the Outpost, one of my guests hooked a two pounder.

He was bored so he let it swim around a bit, and then a twenty-five pounder ate it! Swallowed it whole.

Everyone was shouting advice, as you can imagine, and my guest played it perfectly and landed the two fish.

We got the scales out to do his weighing, but as he was hefting the bigger one, the smaller one popped out, so he wasn’t able to record the total weight He thought about stuffing it back in, but that didn’t seem legal.

There was a fair bit of cursing.

More to come, and thanks for reading!

Last modified onSunday, 05 January 2020 10:47
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