On July 16, 1974, Brian Walker launched the 70′ wooden staysail schooner “Passing Cloud” from his small shipyard in Portage Inlet, Victoria, BC. But this wasn’t as easy as it might sound.
Portage Inlet is very shallow, and much of it dries at low tide, so Brian knew that he’d have to launch his masterpiece at high tide and slip out of the inlet and into the Gorge in order to get to her new home in the Victoria inner harbour. The larger problem was Craigflower Bridge. Anyone from Victoria knows that there’s not a lot of water under this bridge, and that it’s not a very high bridge. So, Brian had to time Passing Cloud’s launching precisely such that the tide was high enough to float the ship, but not so high that he’d collide with the overhead structure of the bridge.
The first pages of Passing Cloud’s first ship’s log read as follows:
23:30: Launched with Dora [his wife] christening. Followed buoyed course under own power to Craigflower bridge. Victoria tide 23:10, 9.1 ft. Stern anchor out to hold her in line, 2 bow lines to bridge opening.
00:30: Gordon Fenski left on board, anchor holding astern (70 lb Northhill)
02:30: Passing Cloud aground alongside Craigflower bridge, tide dropping.
16:30: Rising tide, still aground. 7.5 ft tide at 18:30 rising to 9.2 ft at 00:30. Cable across channel further up (NW) with line from there to bow. With engine, 2 stern lines to bridge pilings and bow line to pull her bow around. Measured 6’ depth through bridge opening, six 45 gal. drums of water on bow. Still stable. Maneuvered stern first through bridge – just grazed her sides. Deckhouse roof cleared by 5”. Bow rollers cleared by 3”. [Reportedly, Brian had his chainsaw running as they squeaked through/under the bridge!]. Continued down Gorge without incident.
At Gorge bridge, went aground in back eddy, tide still flooding (4 kt current). Stern line to piling, Gordie in outboard (18 hp) pulling bow. Manoeuvered clear, proceeded through. Greeted by harbour seal off Sunnyside. Waited 1/2 hr for trestle bridge to raise. Went through, continued on, under Ft. Ellice bridge, and under Johnstone St. bridge.
20:00: Moored at the Dept of Fisheries Wharf.
23:00: Report on TV of “Passing Cloud” aground at Craigflower. “Local residents said she was too high or channel not deep enough but experienced hands said the “Phantom owner” would find a way, and he must have because today she was gone”.
Within a year, Passing Cloud, Brian and his family were sailing in the South Pacific and exploring the islands of French Polynesia, and beyond. Today, 42 years after her launching, Passing Cloud’s adventures continue, at this moment in the waters of Haida Gwaii.
Happy 42nd Launching Anniversary Passing Cloud, and thank you Brian Walker for your vision, ingenuity, craftsmanship, seamanship, and inspiring sense of adventure that created this wonderful ship that has sailed so many places, and touched so many lives.
Do you have any stories of Passing Cloud’s history and adventures? If so, we’d love to hear them!