Towline tales

Towline tales: decades of coastal logging

Sooke historian remembers when logging was a water-based industry

he tug JWP is seen steaming towards Victoria, c1930, towing a Davis raft put together by Cathels & Sorensen’s logging outfit in the Gordon River at Port Renfrew. Owned by Arthur MacFarlane, this 75 foot vessel towed on the coast for three decades.

Generally the log booms or Davis rafts were headed for Cameron’s Sawmill in Victoria, or to mills on the north arm of the Fraser River. A marine wire towline was used here, and while the boat carried 1,800 feet of line, only a few hundred feet were employed in this photo.

Fierce storms that developed suddenly along the coast were a threat to towing, and skippers generally breathed more easily when the tow reached the somewhat more sheltered Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The mouths of Jordan River and Muir Creek enclosed “booming grounds” where agile men would leap from log to log with their pike poles, shaping the spinning logs into a boom, shackled into formation by boom chains and tackle. Within these tricky creek areas, the hours the men worked were governed by the tides, and often they worked at night with a headlamp clamped to the forehead.

For these boom men, a successful tow out of the river, often through a narrow passage, drawn by the tugboat which had stood waiting for the tow rope some hundreds of yards off, is what brought their pay cheque.

In 1946 my personal experience as a 14 year-old assistant, which demonstrated my total ineptitude, led to an afternoon of stress for Muir Creek’s boom man.

Visiting at their family home on a Sunday, at high tide I was asked to accompany the boom man in the rowboat as he rowed out towards the tug, with the manila tow rope coiled neatly on the floor of the small boat. As the boom man was pulling the oars with all his muscles to get out of the creek, my job was to pay out the coiled rope behind us, ensuring that it did not snarl and threaten the process.

Well, you guessed it, guiding the uncoiling the rope in an orderly fashion at high speed was beyond my capabilities, and the snarled tangle that developed earned me the distinction of hearing shouted exclamations I had never before encountered.

Needless to say, I never forgot my disgrace, and probably the watching crews didn’t either.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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