An Unusual Job—But I Love It
THE morning quiet is broken by the hum of my specialized boat as I leave Gibsons’ sleepy harbor behind. It is daybreak—time for me to set out in search of my “quarry.”
On the west coast of Canada, many jobs are associated with forestry and logging, as mine is. Few jobs, though, are as unusual as mine. I salvage logs. It is not a new occupation. In fact, some of us doing this work are fourth-generation salvagers. You might say that we were recycling before it was fashionable! I work in the area of Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the coastline of British Columbia. This region is just a part of the Vancouver Log Salvage District.
One of the principal ways in which logging companies move felled trees, called logs, is by gathering them together within floating lines, or booms, or by using barges. Transporting timber via water is economically efficient. And thanks to the Pacific Ocean, water is plentiful here. There are many factors, however, that make the process a little tricky. The wind and tides change quickly, and storms come up quite suddenly. Thus, many logs are lost. That is where log salvagers come in.
Reclaiming Lost Logs
Only licensed marine log salvagers can salvage marketable logs that have escaped from booms or barges. Salvagers pay annually for the license, which when first issued comes with a stamp hammer bearing the unique license number. Any log found floating or resting on the beach below the high-water mark is salvageable. First we stamp it with our identification number.
A well-equipped boat is also necessary. This is not your average pleasure boat. We use rough, tough little vessels ranging from outboards to tugs—but with very thick hulls. Iron teeth on the bow are used for pushing logs around, and we always have a good supply of dog lines. What is a dog line? Approximately 15 feet [4 m] of strong rope with a metal spike, called a dog, attached to the end. When we find a salvageable log, we drive the dog securely into the log and attach the dog line to a tow post on the boat. We also carry all necessary safety equipment.
A new log salvager will quickly find that there is a lot more to this occupation than first meets the eye. Work begins at daybreak in any kind of weather all year round. In the winter we might have to break some ice just to get out of the harbor.
Where do we find logs? Much depends on two main factors: the tides and the winds. The experienced log salvager consults a tide chart before going out in the morning. Extreme tides are the best because they bring us more logs. Besides, logs are easier to pull off the beach when tides are high.
It is always important to keep an eye on the weather. We are constantly gauging the wind, watching the sky and the movements of the clouds, and checking the color of the water. A southeast wind brings rain, while westerly winds most often mean clear skies but rougher water. A northeast wind, locally known as a Squamish wind, will in winter portend freezing temperatures, rough water, snow, and—we hope—lost logs.
Dogging on to a floating log is always exciting, but the real thrill comes with pulling the logs off the beach. Hidden rocks just below the water’s surface could tear at the hull of our boat and cause a great deal of damage. We need to keep alert.
As we collect the logs, we tow them to various sheltered tie-up areas. There they sit until the weekly tow-up day. That is when we collect and deliver all our salvaged logs—anywhere from 50 to 100—to receiving stations where they are weighed and assessed for their market value. Then we are paid according to the value of our salvaged logs.
This may sound like a pleasant way to make a living, but beware! This job is not for the faint of heart. There are many dangers and risks. Failure to take the weather seriously can prove costly. Fortunately, the area of Howe Sound has many sheltered spots for us to hide in while waiting out a storm. Another risk: If a careless log salvager should fall overboard in the winter, only a few minutes in the frigid water could be fatal. And remember those dog lines described earlier? Well, if the dog is not driven securely into the log, it can pull free and slingshot toward the boat. Happily, only a few salvagers have been struck by dogs—but it is an experience that one does not forget.
Personal and Environmental Rewards
Why do I love my job? The Howe Sound waterway is a popular vacation area, where people race their sailboats and outriggers. And with so many islands, there are hundreds of summer homes and therefore lots of motorboats. Ferries run constantly throughout the day to transport commuters and visitors. Because of the dangers that logs present, it is easy to see the importance of our work.
We contribute to the safety of boat traffic when we pick up stray logs. Some logs that are in the water for a long time begin to sink. Perhaps only a few inches of a log protrudes from the water, making it a serious menace to boaters. Nonetheless, it is a viable log for us to salvage and sell. By doing so, we make the waterways safer—and help to clean up the environment as well.
I find this work both exciting and fascinating. No two days are the same. When I am out on the water, the 360-degree panoramas around me change minute by minute. I have seen breathtaking winter sunrises turn the snow on the mountains a dazzling pink. At such times, I love the nip in the cold, salty air.
Wildlife encounters are fairly common. I have seen otters, marten, sea lions, and multitudes of seals. I have watched eagles fishing and deer swimming to and from the islands off the coast. How awe-inspiring it is to see a porpoise frolicking in the wash of my boat’s propeller, gray whales sliding by, or pods of killer whales slicing through the waves!
My grandfather started salvaging in the 1930’s. He passed his love of the water and beachcombing on to his sons. By the way, a beachcomber can be defined as “one who searches along a shore for useful or salable flotsam.” My dad, in turn, passed his love and respect for this occupation on to his children. When I was old enough, I chose this work as well. Of course, it is not the most important work in my life. My service to God comes first—and is far more rewarding. But I have also been fortunate enough to enjoy my secular job—and that for almost 50 years now. I still look forward with eager anticipation to going to work in search of logs.
My own family works along with me too. Sometimes on a warm summer evening, we all go out and work a beach. Towing our logs back into the harbor with a breathtaking sunset at our backs, sea gulls crying overhead, a glistening wake following our boat, and the lights beginning to twinkle on the shore—well, it all gives one a sense of peace and oneness with the Creator. I can think of no better reason why I love my job.—Contributed.
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A salvager securing a beached log
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Wildlife encounters are common during salvage operations
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The Howe Sound log receiving station continues to operate even in winter