March / April 2022

Small Boat, Big Mission

A 17' Hampden boat helps train future mariners
Small Boat, Big Mission

EMERY JACKSON

In a calm, the 17’ Hampden boat OYSTER rows up Hole-in-the-Wall Passage in British Columbia after shooting Okisollo Rapids. The boat is part of a rigorous training program for mariners. (The unusual pole mast on the transom supports a radar reflector and an AIS transponder.)

On a particular day in 2017, two maritime academy cadets dipped their oars rhythmically, their boat making a stately 2 knots along the tree-lined shores of the Inside Passage in British Columbia. Wedged in the sternsheets, a third cadet was at the tiller, occasionally gazing at a laminated chart on her knee. Subtly but suddenly, the sea state changed, without warning or any perceptible wind shift. The captain, sitting next to the helm, expected this. He wondered how long it would take his crew to notice the swirling cells of turbulence mottling the strait, like water beginning to boil in a cauldron, soon to change into pinwheels and whirlpools.

The boat’s headway slowed, and soon it was no longer leaving trees behind. The skipper, Bodhi Clarke, had foreseen all this. He told his perplexed crew at the helm and oars, “Your tide predictions are off by an hour. Slack is over. The flood is starting. Soon it’ll be 4 knots against us, with tiderips. See back there?” He pointed astern to a patch of whitewater that hadn’t been there when they passed that area not long before. “See that shoal? We get swept over that, you can kiss your asses goodbye. So, what’s the plan?”

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