Connie: There are so many times that people have walked by and said, “Oh, I know this boat…”
Dale: …or, “I have a story and a connection to this boat and this coast.”
Connie: A family came by yesterday and told Dale an incredible story about the elder man’s father who was an engineer on this boat.
Dale: He was a fellow by the name Mr. Ramsey. You know, I’m just working on the dock and on the boat and two older gentlemen about sixty five and two younger guys about twenty five say, “Hello, we have a connection with this boat.” I’m like, “Oh great, nice to meet you” and started chatting and the next thing you know he says, “Yeah, my dad was an engineer on this boat from ‘50 to ‘52,” and it happened to be that out of Port Hardy they were working on it and, then he goes, “…and we lost our father on this boat.” I’m standing on the boat looking at the two sons and two grandsons of this man as they tell me about him being an engineer on this same boat and that he bumped his head and knocked himself unconscious and fell in the drink and he drowned.
She’s had a very active life on our coast. Nesika was built in 1933, launched July 8th, and it served for the B.C. Government and also for the Royal British Columbia Museum.
What brings us to it is that my great-grandfather, Herbert Daddy Gann, designed her and built her in 1933, launched it as a private yacht for a fellow where today’s Capital Iron sits - that’s where my great-grandfather had a shipyard. It served as a yacht about until about ‘38…the fellow who had it commissioned and built by my great-grandfather passed and it was sold to the BC Government.
Connie: But that fellow…tragic death too.
Dale: Yeah, the whole history of this fellow passing in Oak Bay…there’s a whole story of basically, his wife found him and…
Connie: …he committed suicide. There are bizarre stories associated with this boat.
Dale: So, back in 1933 my great-grandfather who’s a naval architect on the coast designed and built her - we found the the original drawings in the attic of the house - and fast forward to today, it came for sale last year and they contacted us and said, “You think the family wants it back in the family?” And so we purchased her back. It’s really interesting to be on an 81-year-old boat that was designed and built by your great-grandfather.
There’s a National Film Board video called The Water Dwellers, because the big part of its history is that the vessel served as a Rangers vessel. Our whole beginning of the B.C. Forest Service involves the government buying all these old yachts and converting them into more of a work boat and then putting them to work. And there was a whole fleet of them to basically monitor forest fires and mills up and down the coast. So this boat drove up and down the coast outside, inside, with the Ranger on it and also with an engineer - as we learned yesterday - and went just about everywhere. There’s a fleet of them that are still around and so we’re just in the process of trying to put some love back into her because she’s been sitting on a mooring for three years and been completely neglected. My great-grandfather built quite a few boats and the time it takes just to look after one, let alone build one, is mind-boggling.
And to hear the stories…there’s just so many people still around that have spent so much time on it, they go, “Oh, I remember being on this boat out on the West Coast and getting sick.” And the Museum used it for botany trips up the coast looking for all kinds of stuff on Brooks Peninsula. The R.C.M.P. had it for a while where they were doing some undercover stuff up in the West Coast. You know, it just goes on.
Like the fellas yesterday said, “This thing has over a hundred thousand miles on her - it’s been everywhere. Though, my mother almost sank it…” What? “Oh yeah, you know, my dad and my mom were for some reason bringing her from Port Hardy down to Vancouver on their own and he’s down in the galley and she’s up in wheelhouse and the next thing you know he had to come up and push her out of the way, he said, because she’s about to hit a rock. And he turns the wheel hard to starboard and avoided putting her up on the rocks. There’s all kinds of things…
It’s like a piece of art, it’s history, it’s a part of B.C. history - the B.C. Forest Service recognizes them as one of the historical parts of the Service. But most of the owners are much older people and the stories of these boats, they’re not really captured in any way, they’re all floating around in a bunch of heads and through lots of pictures, but they haven’t been collected in any meaningful way.
Her name’s Nesika, it’s a First Nation’s name that means “Our.” And in the National Film Board film they make a point of referring to it as “Our Boat,” “Our Coast.”
(If you’d like to learn more about Nesika, her history, and the rest of the fleet of former BC Forest Service Vessels, you can do so at the page Dale and Connie have built for their labour of love and her stories at BC Forest Service Vessel Nesika. And while you’re cruising Facebook, head over and visit Dale’s other labour of love, I Love British Columbia (which I learned about in the course of our conversation) - the stunning stories of our province’s coast and further inland won’t disappoint.)