Vessel rescue prevents potential oil spill

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The Nov. 13 storm that delayed ferry passengers travelling back to the mainland after the long weekend and caused power outages across the Southern Gulf Islands did not spare the boating community, with an estimated 20 vessels pushed up onto the rocks in the area.

Salt Spring-based marine towing and salvage firm Eagle Eye Marine Services pulled 11 of those craft off the rocks once the storm had subsided, including at least one boat that could have produced a dangerous fuel spill in local waters.

Fulford Harbour resident Patricia Baldwin watched in awe that Monday as the winds drove a large sailboat that had been moored near Isabella Point across the water to the edge of her property.

“It was really, really stormy. There were big whitecaps and waves on the harbour and this 50-foot sailboat just came right across,” said Baldwin, who lives near the foot of Reginald Hill. “We’ve lived here for two years. This is the first time we’ve had a boat crash into our door.”

Baldwin said the boat was caught up on the rocks beneath a steep embankment. A neighbour came over with some rope to try to tie the boat down but the approach was too dangerous to continue.

“Your biggest fear is it’s going to hit the ferry or some other boat further down the harbour. And of course my biggest fear was there might be a fuel spill — because that’s really scary,” Baldwin said.

Badlwin called the Coast Guard to report the incident. Nick Boychuck of Eagle Eye Marine Services was called by the Coast Guard and the boat’s owner. He assessed the situation Monday and then called Baldwin to let her know he was putting together a plan to remove the boat at around 2 p.m. the following day.

Baldwin was out that morning but returned just after 1:30 p.m. to find the vessel assist team was already at work.

“It was really windy and stormy again. I never, never thought they could get it out in those kind of waves,” she said.

It turns out Baldwin’s fear about a potential fuel spill wasn’t far off. Boychuk reported the sailboat had around 400 litres of diesel on board when it crashed onto the rocks.

“Any amount of fuel in the water over about half a cup is a lot of fuel,” Boychuk explained. “If the boat stayed there and got blown around by the other storm, it would have been all over Fulford Harbour.”

Boychuk and his crew towed the boat to Sidney. Three pumps needed to be running the entire time to keep the water out.

Baldwin remains impressed that Boychuk’s team was able to retrieve the boat and get it out during last Tuesday’s continuing poor conditions.

“He’s the kind of guy that followed through on what he said he was going to do,” Baldwin said.

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