Lord Stanley and the Case of the Coastguard

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

While driving through Stanley Park I had the idea that it would be great to paddle through this area. I decided paddling around Brockton Point was a paddle list item.

As Wednesday approached I had a slow day at the office so I decided to play hooky and take the morning off. The sun was out and the weather was gorgeous. I drove down and parked in the lot between Brockton Point and the Girl in a Wetsuit statue.

After pumping up I walked down to the water’s edge. As I approached the shoreline I was worried my launch point would be too shallow. There were ripples scattered about the water’s surface. It turned out to be bull kelp (nereocystis) and made for a neat launch.

The algae on the rock shelf leading into the water were slippery and I almost bailed but managed to stay upright.

After getting to the shoreline and seeing the Lions Gate Bridge in the distance I decided paddling under the bridge was a bucket list paddle (little did I know how true this would turn out to be). I had previously tried to reach the bridge launching from Vanier Park but never quite made it out to Prospect Point. I would be working against the wind and tide but if I made okay time I would still be able to come back and go around Brockton Point before calling it a day.

As I paddle northwest towards the bridge a ship was departing Vancouver Harbour. It was on the north side but I was still worried about the wake. This was my first time being so close to a sailing tanker. Fortunately, the wake was minimal given its distance and speed.

A view of Lion’s Gate Bridge with the tanker ship passing underneath. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

When I reached the bridge I paddled quickly to get underneath. I didn’t want to be hit by any overhead guano. As passed under the bridge and came prospect point I could see that there was a tanker approaching. Unlike the one that I had passed me earlier that was exiting the harbour and was on the north side this one was entering and was more to the south side. I knew it would be bad if it were to pass me in the narrows under the bridge. And knowing that ships travel much faster than you think I knew I had little time. I turned to head back to be sure I would be passed in the narrowest point by the time the ship caught up to me. It was during my turn that I spotted a boat approaching from near the mouth of the Capilano River. I was not sure that they had me in the sights at this point but I suspected that they did. It was just after getting to the other side of the bridge that the officer pulled up to me. He asked me about my destination. I replied that I was checking out the coastline through the park. Did you see the ship approaching he asked next insinuating the impending threat of its arrival to my safety? I replied that I did, not failing to perceive the irony that his questioning of me was only bringing the ship’s arrival closer without me being able to vacate the area. He then asked where I was coming from. I replied that I had parked closer to Brockton Point. He said I should head straight there and exit the waters. Without asking if that was an order or a suggestion since at this point I did not know what the rules and regulations were, I asked if I would be able to paddle out around Brockton Point. At this point, he kindly responded that it would be best if I were to exit the waters as soon as possible.

As I paddled back to my launch point I wondered if he was purely concerned for my safety? How much of a novice did I look like out there? Was it the fact that I turned around in haste when I saw the tanker approaching? Or was there more to the rules of the water that I had failed to realize?

The tanker passed with very little wake. So little that I was surprised. Which again left me more perplexed about whether the officer’s approach was a safety concern or a legal issue.

On my drive home I decided to call my father-in-law who is an avid sailor to get his input. He initially brought up the issues of strong currents at the narrows and high boat traffic. But with further investigation later we were able to determine that non-motorized vessels are forbidden to travel under the bridge and into the harbour.

In hindsight, I am not certain whether the officer that approach me was a coastguard or Vancouver Police. I was too busy trying to keep steady on the water and my composure. But on reflection, I feel that it was a marine police officer from my memory of the boat colour. My logic is that the red of a coastguard boat would have stuck out more in my mind’s eye.

Here is the information site from the Port of Vancouver Marine Recreational Activities. And the PDF of the Safe Boating Guide for Burrard Inlet.

Below is a screenshot from the guide which shows the area that you are NOT allowed to paddle in, the grided area.

Screenshot from the Port of Vancouver Safe Boating Guide for Burrard Inlet.

This is the legend showing the area that restricts paddling.

Screenshot of the Legend from the Port of Vancouver Safe Boating Guide for Burrard Inlet.

And below is my paddle route. Yup, right smack dab in the middle of the restricted area. Oops!

Not that it matters, but in my defence, it seems the Port of Vancouver made changes to the rules or elected to enforce previously unenforced rules in the harbour in 2017. Under the older rules, I would have been okay to paddle where I was. I admit my bias, but I am inclined to agree with the rationale that any paddlers sticking to the coastline in those waters would be at depths that are off-limits to deep-sea vessels. It seems that the rules in the Fraser River have come under controversy in recent years too.

For comparison here is the historic guide from the Port of Vancouver from 2017.

Historic Port of Vancouver Safe Boating Guidelines from 2017. Source: https://globalnews.ca/news/3791283/vancouver-paddlers-say-new-restrictions-on-waters-off-stanley-park-go-too-far/

And the “proposed” guidelines from 2017 which are now the current guidelines.

Proposed Port of Vancouver Safe Boating Guidelines from 2017 which are now the current guidelines. Source: https://globalnews.ca/news/3791283/vancouver-paddlers-say-new-restrictions-on-waters-off-stanley-park-go-too-far/

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