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Wild Pick, chapter six: The rescue

The life and adventures of Linda Syms, oyster farmer of Desolation Sound
SAVING SHIP: The fisheries patrol vessel pictured above, Tanu, now a Canadian Coast Guard ship, rescued Linda Syms and crew off the coast of Vancouver Island in November 1974.

Chapter five recap: After crossing the Pacific Ocean on a leaky sailboat that had endless problems, Linda Syms, her boyfriend Wayne and two other crew members made it to within 50 kilometres of Vancouver Island, but with no proper sails remaining, and no engine, they couldn’t navigate the boat to landfall. With their food running out and fresh water lacking, for the first time in the voyage, 21-year-old Linda feared for her life.

Day 29 of the voyage was November 14, 1974. Linda finally thought she could spot what had to be Vancouver Island, on the eastern horizon, in what she could only describe as a murky dark shape below the cloud bank, but she couldn’t quite make out any actual land.

Then the wind picked up again from the east and the darkness on the horizon faded as if they were pushed away by an invisible hand. Even worse, they were finally out of beer.

The crew fell into despair as they drifted back out to sea, but their mood picked up when they were joined by a large pod of dolphins that danced gleefully all around them. In the fading light of the fall afternoon, the dolphins eventually left the crew to drift in silent circles in a clammy world of grey. That’s when Linda thought she could hear something.

On deck, she turned and strained her eyes in the dusk. The sound was getting louder. She called out to the rest of the crew. All but Lenny the surfer joined her on deck. Lenny had refused to leave his bunk for the previous few days.

Emerging out of the mist was a hard-charging ship headed straight for them, its bow cutting through the waves like a giant shark fin. It was a mighty 940-tonne fisheries patrol vessel. The 170-foot Tanu was built in 1968 and has been on patrol along the west coast ever since, now as a Canadian Coast Guard vessel.

About 100 feet away, the Tanu came to a stop. The loudspeaker onboard crackled to life: “What are you doing out here?”

It turned out that the town of Tofino was 35 kilometres to the northeast. The Tanu could tow them in right then and there, an offer that Linda and the crew readily accepted. They took one last frantic ride, the tow so rough that Wayne was worried their boat would be torn to pieces, but they finally entered the sheltered waters of Clayoquot Sound and spotted the welcoming lights of Tofino Harbour.

After a month at sea, one can only imagine Linda’s euphoria the moment she and the rest of the crew set foot on the solid wooden planks of the government wharf. Even Lenny the surfer came alive, having trouble believing they had been rescued.

The crew had a wild night at the pub, and had to convince the RCMP waiting back at the boat that they weren’t drug smugglers. Then they packed up, and the four-member crew of the Felicius unceremoniously went their separate ways. Before leaving the boat for the final time, Linda and Wayne met a group of hippies hanging around on the dock.

Linda asked them if they needed a place to stay. They said they did, and so Wayne tossed them the keys to Felicius. Linda told them to feel free to move aboard, and together they walked up the gangplank and never looked back. Months later, they had one very tense meeting with the owner of the boat, but he never did retrieve it.

Solid ground

That near-deadly voyage across the Pacific didn’t deter Linda and Wayne’s passion for sailing. They had many more adventures, including many more successful crossings of the Pacific in a trimaran called the Play, but after years of boat living they felt the need to finally have solid ground under their feet. If they had learned anything, they knew that wherever that land may be, it would have to be well beyond what Wayne referred to as “society’s madness.”

Like the pioneers of generations before them, they wanted to buy a piece of land, build their own home, grow their own food, and live life as much as possible without using money. After years of searching, one day in the late 1970s, they happened to spot an advertisement in the Vancouver Sun newspaper offering waterfront property on the cheap in a place called Desolation Sound.

The man who placed that ad? My dad. Answering the ad would once again change the course of Linda’s life, and turn her from an open-ocean sailor into an inlet homesteader and an oyster farmer. 

You’ll read that story in the next chapter 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 a radio personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. He will be sharing his experiences at his live “Stories and Songs” event at the Patricia Theatre on Wednesday, May 25.

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