Sea Lion VI

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Sea Lion's History

Charles Robertson's shipyard, at the foot of Cardero Street (now the site of the Bayshore), launched Sea Lion into the waters of Vancouver's Coal Harbour on May 25, 1905. Her one-piece keel, cut from a 120-foot long fir log, had been curing on the way since 1904. The completed tug, with a length of 114 feet overall, a 22 foot beam, and a moulded depth of 19.5 feet, registered at 218 Gross Tons, was powered by a single Mckie and Baxter triple expansion marine steam engine that delivered a reputation for being one of the best pullers on the coast.

Robertson built the tug for Captain George H. French, the first independent log tower to operate out of Vancouver. Ken Drushka's Against Wind and Weather: The History of Towboating in British Columbia called Sea Lion “ the classic log-towing boat”. In addition to her power and her seaworthiness, the boat was designed with the comfort of the crew in mind. She had a spacious salon, equipped with a piano; and the whistle had a sliding scale upon which the crew played a somewhat haphazard repertoire of songs, learned and practiced during the long tows down the coast”. Drushka also records some less colorful, but significant details; “ she had a number of unusual features for a tug at that time: steam-powered steering gear and towing winch, a steel towline, dual steering and engine controls on the aft deck, and, somewhat later, the first ship-to-shore radio and searchlight in B.C.”

After first working for French and British Canadian Lumber Company , Sea Lion entered the fleet of Young and Gore, a towing firm founded by the tug's first captain, Harry Young, and her first engineer, Lloyd Gore. While under charter to Young and Gore, Sea Lion played a significant role in the dramatic story of the immigrant ship Komagata Maru. The Indo-Canadian community in British Columbia, as well as others, remember the Komagata Maru incident. As historian Hugh Johnson aptly notes, it was a direct challenge to Canada's “colour bar” of exclusionary imagination policies. In May 1914, a group of 376 passengers – 340 Sikhs, 12 Hindus, and 24 Muslims, organized specifically to test Canada's laws, sailed from the Orient for Vancouver on the freighter Komagata Maru . The ship, chartered for the voyage, had been specially fitted out to accommodate passengers instead of her usual coal cargoes. Arriving on the shores of English Bay on May 23, 1914, Komagata Maru and her passengers were caught in a tug of war between the vessel's organizers and the Canadian government, who refused to let them land. “We are determined to make this a test case and if we are refused entrance into your country, the matter will not end here.”

As hired immigration boats with armed guards – including Sea Lion – circled Komagata Maru , battles in the courts and the pages of the newspapers played out for more than two months. The passengers endured extreme discomfort, privation and government harassment, which escalated over time. In the early morning hours of July 19, 1914, Sea Lion, with 35 specially deputized immigration officers, armed with riffles borrowed from the Seaforth Highlanders, and a large contingent of 125 Vancouver Police Officers, approached Komagata Maru to force the vessel from Vancouver harbour. As Sea Lion approached, the officers discovered that the enraged passengers aboard Komagata Maru were awake and ready to resist any effort to board their ship. Manning the rail, an armed group shouted and threatened to board the tug if she made fast. Nonetheless, Sea Lion's captain brought he in close, grappled and then tied on to Komagata Maru . Passengers an police then battled as one man with an axe chopped at Sea Lion's line. Using the tug's pumps and a fire hose, the police opened up with a cold stream of water. As Hugh Johnson notes, though, “the advantage was only momentary because the hose would not take the full pressure of the pumps, and the passengers were prepared with piles of coal, fire bricks, and scrap metal which they had brought up from the hold. They stood five meters above the deck of the Sea Lion and with that advantage loosed an unanswerable storm on the people below.” Several police officers were hit, one knocked unconscious, and others cut. The missiles smashed all the windows in the tug, cutting the faces of several men, including the tug's captain. As the police moved to avoid the missiles, the tug listed dangerously as men shouted for order and to pull away. Finally, as a gunman aboard the ship opened fire on the tug, the line was cut and the tug retreated “looking as if it had run under a coal chute.”

The government's answer was to send in the naval vessel HMCS Rainbow to evict Komagata Maru from the harbour at gunpoint. The ship finally sailed on July 23, escorted by Rainbow and Sea Lion . The handling of the Komagata Maru affair was a major embarrassment for the Canadian government, as well as a cause celebre for the Indian community and India itself. The inequality of Canada's immigration system, demonstrated by the voyage of the Komagata Maru , took many decades to be redressed. To this day, the name of the ship evokes powerful memories and emotions.

Sea Lion 's next brush with history was less controversial. During World War I, British Canadian Lumber Company introduced the concept of large log rafts, which was an innovation in towing that had first made its appearance on the east coast. These first rafts, known as “Davis rafts,” as they were built to the specifications of Bert Davis, superintendent of British Canadian's Vancouver Island camp on the west coast of the island, were made in 1916. According to Drushka, they were generally between 150 to 250 feet long, and were made “by weaving a mat of logs, chains and cables” into which loose logs were piled, and then the entire mass was cinched up tight and cabled into a cigar-shaped bundle that carried, as experience and comfort with the rafts grew, into 500-foot long rafts containing 2.5 million board feet of lumber.

Sea Lion is said to have made the first tow of a Davis raft from Quatsino Sound in 1916 – with Davis aboard to supervise. That tow, with a raft carrying 800,000 board feet of spruce for wartime aircraft construction, was a slow and steady pull of two and a half to three knots from Quatsino to Vancouver. Towing rafts engaged Sea Lion through both world wars as she made a name for herself as a steady and hard working- as well as noteworthy (because of her whistle) tug in the important lumber industry. In 1930, the tug left her name on the coast in a more permanent fashion when she struck a rock in Yaculta Rapids and sank. The tug's name stuck even though she was raised and to this day “Sea Lion Rock” remains on the charts.

In 1952, Island Tug & Barge acquired Sea Lion when they absorbed Young and Gore. Under Island Tug & Barge's ownership the tug was modernized in 1957 when she went into Burrard Drydock for a $200,000 refit and the replacement of her original steam plant with an 800-horsepower Enterprise Diesel engine from the badly damaged tug Active, which had hit a reef in 1956. Too badly damaged to be repaired, she was stripped and beached to rot on Galiano Island, and two years later, her 1952- vintage engine was placed in Sea Lion . In 1969, when Island Tug & Barge merged with the Vancouver Tug Boat Company to become Seaspan, Island Tug's owner, Harold Elworthy, retained Sea Lion and converted her into his private yacht.

Elworthy sold the tug in 1972 to Sea Lion Charters, and since the she has passed through several hands, working both fishing and oceanographic research charters. In 1985, the tug passed to owner Ernie Kanzler, who intended to rebuild her as topsail schooner and cruise in the South Seas, but Kanzler's plan never happened. Sea Lion underwent an extensive renovation at Lovric's shipyard in Anacortes, Washington, that a March 2001 article in Mariner Life describes as “lots of upgrading and interior refurbishing…including the rebuilding of the 800- hp, direct-reversing Enterprise…”

By 200, owner Rick Woods brought the tug back into Canada from Washington, re-registering her as Sea Lion VI and outfitting her “as comfortable, well-appointed sport fishing mothership,” according to Mariner Life 's report. Then, in late 2000, Sea Lion grounded in Port Neville. Apparently going adrift from a float while moored, but still anchored, she sank when her bow grounded on the beach and she rolled over a low tide. The vessel was raised within 24 hours, but the flooding with seawater and Diesel fuel had saturated the interior. The tug was sold at auction to the current owner, Living Planet Expeditions, Unlimited, of Calgary, for the use as a floating eco-lodge, but the good condition of the hull and the vessel after a refurnishing by Living Planet raised the possibility of the potential use as a small eco-tourism cruise vessel. As Living Planet investigated the potential for such an operation, the need to move the vessel to Vancouver from Nanaimo, where she was berthed, initiated discussions with the Museum to see if a berth was available in Heritage Harbour.