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Wild Pick, chapter 12: The punishment

The life and adventures of Linda Syms, oyster farmer of Desolation Sound
OYSTER HAUL: Linda and Wayne’s trimaran, weighed down by oysters at the Okeover government wharf in the mid-1980s.

Chapter 11 recap: After Linda and Wayne had been alerted by a neighbour that a poacher was stealing from one of their beaches in the dead of night, Wayne gave chase and inadvertently smashed his boat right into the back of a poacher’s boat after a wild pursuit in the dark down the middle of the inlet.

By some seafaring miracle, neither the poacher nor Wayne were hurt in the early morning collision. After the shock of the crash, Wayne realized over the poacher’s angry screams that the bow of his boat had slid up and onto the rear of the poacher’s skiff, threatening to swamp it.

Wayne’s propeller on his 115-horsepower outboard was still submerged, so he slammed it into reverse and, in one mighty scrape, dragged his boat off the poacher’s stern.

If there was ever an endorsement for aluminum boats, it was this: besides some scratches and dents, neither boat sustained any serious damage, or even took on much water, but tempers flared in the night as the poacher and the oyster farmer yelled back and forth.

They were interrupted by Wayne’s crackling VHF radio. It was “Shell Games,” the CB radio handle that Linda and Wayne used to communicate with one another and other oyster farmers. Linda was radioing from back at their cabin, informing Wayne that she had called the RCMP, and they would be waiting for them at the Okeover Government Wharf.

As dawn broke over the Bunster Hills, the two boats motored into the marina with the cops waiting for them on the dock. Wayne angrily gave his side of the story, then the poacher let fly with his own.

The police climbed aboard the poacher’s boat, searching it with a flashlight. The cops came up empty handed.

Wayne was stunned. He glanced around the boat: the gunny sacks containing the stolen clams and oysters were gone. Only traces of mud and sand, clam digging tools and some empty bags sloshed in the hull.

At some point, the poacher must have thrown the bags overboard.

Wayne was already known to the police for other previous altercations with poachers. What didn’t help his case was that he had a permanent criminal record from his younger days, mostly from minor skirmishes with cops, born from Wayne’s natural aversion to authority.

After the police surveyed the damage to the rear of the poacher’s boat, and the dents on the Ambush One’s bow, to Wayne’s further outrage, the poacher was released for lack of evidence, but Wayne was charged with reckless endangerment.

Wayne was livid, and so was Linda when she heard the tale. A court date was set.

Community service

At the courthouse in Powell River, no amount of Linda and Wayne’s arguments for protecting their livelihood would convince the judge. Citing previous altercations and his record, Wayne was found guilty.

Wayne and Linda were incensed. Linda considered it unthinkable that Wayne would be the one penalized for chasing down the real criminal.

The judge lectured them, barking that Wayne should consider himself lucky that he wasn’t going to jail. Wayne received a sentence of 100 hours of community service.

Later, when Linda and Wayne read the fine print of the sentence, to their utter astonishment, they realized that a local authority figure had to sign off as a witness for the completion of Wayne’s community hours.

That court-assigned witness? The president of AMMA, the Active Malaspina Mariculture Association. As you read in Chapter 11: The poacher, the president was none other than Linda Syms.

Wayne burst into laughter. He was off the hook! But Linda couldn’t do it. She couldn’t justify a forgery.

Wayne was outraged all over again. There was no way his wife was going to force him to do community hours…would she?

After a long, loud and colourful debate, Linda somehow managed to convince her extremely disgruntled husband that picking up a little garbage, or painting the railings of the government wharf, and helping out with other odd jobs around the dock, for 100 hours, wouldn’t be that bad.

It would be Linda who found herself at the centre of their next all night oyster adventure, alone on a remote beach, in the dark, without a boat or a light, over two kilometres from her cozy cabin. There was nothing but craggy cliffs, dense rainforest and an inlet in between.

You’ll read about that in chapter 13 of Wild Pick, the life and adventures of Linda Syms, oyster farmer of Desolation Sound.

Grant Lawrence is the author of the new book Return to Solitude and considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. His book and Linda’s two books: Salt Water Rain and Shell Games, are for sale at Pollen Sweaters in Lund, and Pocket Books and Marine Traders in Powell River.