A helicopter uses a grappling hook to snare a section of the keel from the grounded MV Pursepa on a gravel bar Wednesday.

Derelict boat removed from estuary

The MV Pursepa has at last reached its final resting place

It’s not as memorable as Davey Jones’ locker, but the MV Pursepa has at last reached its final resting place.

Utilizing a 6,000-pound capacity industrial helicopter, volunteers on Wednesday dragged the last remnants of the 50-foot wooden live-aboard from the Campbell River sand bar upon which it ran aground Mar. 2.

The HeliQuest chopper, piloted by Jay Blythman, lifted broken sections of the hull and keel and assorted other equipment from the sand bar and deposited it on the shore at the end of Perkins Road, on the north shore of the river.

“That’s the second big load,” said cleanup organizer Mike Gage, a retired logger and former chair of the Campbell River Salmon Foundation. “We’ll have an excavator here probably tomorrow, and trucks, and we’ll break it up and haul it off.”

The final cleanup of the wreck, which has been taken apart piece by piece for weeks, came on Earth Day, a fact lost on Gage until his wife mentioned it as he was leaving his house.

“It’s just a coincidence,” Gage said of the timing. “We were waiting for the helicopter for several days, but he was busy logging at Chamiss Bay.”

The Pursepa, built in 1928 as a Fisheries Canada patrol boat for the west coast, grounded in the mouth of the river as it traveled downstream following repairs. Initial attempts to float or tow the craft on the tide failed, and it eventually listed to starboard and took on water.

Several weeks ago, the Canadian Coast Guard contracted the removal of the fuel tanks and engine, but the remainder of the hulk remained on the gravel bar. Gage, a member of the Tyee Club of British Columbia, helped organize recovery of the remaining sections of the Pursepa.

“It’s no one group,” he said. “It’s just individuals, but they’re connected.”

Roughly two weeks ago, those individuals went to the bar and removed the wheelhouse and upper deck in sections, hauling the material to the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Service landfill.

But the remaining hull and keel, with its heavy ballast, proved too bulky to haul off by skiff.

“When you’ve got an expert like this fella (Blythman) that controls the helicopter, that’s the cleanest way to do it,” said Gage.

“Otherwise, you’re taking excavators out on the gravel bar, which we probably wouldn’t be able to do.”

The experience was a new one for Blythman, who has piloted the big, single-seat chopper in logging and a variety of construction operations. Utilizing a grappling hook and 50-foot cable, he wrenched the hull apart and used perhaps a dozen trips to drop the debris, along with a propane stove and other equipment, onto the shoreline.

“I’ve lifted a lot of planes and cars out of gullies, but this is the first time for a boat,” said Blythman.

While he was working to haul out the Pursepa, he also hooked onto a large tree root-wad sitting near the float plane channel and dragged it to Tyee Spit for later removal.

The operation was watched by residents on the north shore and by visitors to the end of Tyee Spit on a sunny early afternoon.

Gage and his fellow volunteers have previous experience with removing such wrecks. Four years ago, volunteers removed a grounded boat just off the mouth of Willow Creek. The $3,800 cost of that cleanup was later reimbursed by the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

For the Pursepa, Gage pre-emptively approached Campbell River council to request payment of the $3,500 cost of the helicopter, and council approved the expense from its contingency fund at its meeting Monday.

“”How can you say thank you to the people who step up when something needs to be done?” asked Coun. Larry Sampson. “We’ve seen what happened in Vancouver harbour and everyone’s pointing fingers. When you have citizens stepping up like this so quickly all you can say is, ‘Thank you’ and support them as much as we can.”

This will likely not be the last such cleanup by volunteers like Gage and Tyee Club vice-president Lloyd Ross.

“The city certainly stepped forward, and we partnered with the city to get rid of these derelict boats,” said Ross. “There are a couple more that have sunk, and we haven’t forgotten about them. They’re out of sight; they’re not an environmental hazard as far as gas or oil. But we’d like to get them out of there.”