Tale of survival on Quesnel Lake

Sam Fait photo A sunken boat and the remnants of a community wharf called the corrals by locals are all that remain at the site where a powerful storm pounded an area on the North Arm of Quesnel Lake Tuesday evening.
The aftermath of the storm
Remnants of the community wharf on Quesnel Lake
A victim of the storm
The Jolly Roger survives Tuesday’s wind storm
Several docks in the junction area of Quesnel Lake were displaced and boats were damaged during a severe wind storm Tuesday evening. Judy Gerich photo
Dave and Diane Dunaway saw a tree uprooted at their home in Soda Creek during Tuesday evening’s wind storm. They also had minor fence damage, which Diane said could have been worse. Diane Dunaway photo.
Quesnel Lake seasonal resident Joe Gerich secures his boat at the junction during a massive wind storm that the area Tuesday evening. Judy Gerich photo

Tuesday evening’s powerful wind storm will be something boaters on Quesnel Lake won’t soon forget.

“All hell broke loose. It was unbelievable,” said Rick James from his home in Quesnel Thursday.

James and his girlfriend Shelley had spent the sunny long weekend at McLeese Lake and thought they’d extend their holiday by another day with a trip to Quensel Lake, where Rick shares a 28-foot boat, the Jolly Roger, with his brother Rod.

The two boarded the vessel from Elysia Resort Tuesday afternoon and headed up to a community wharf commonly referred to as the corrals, situated on the eastern shoreline of the North Arm, for the night. The couple barely got into the sheltered harbour when a storm that was chasing them heading north changed course and without warning began slamming into the shore from the west.

“I’ve always had respect for the lake, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rick said, who has boated on Quesnel Lake since the 70s. “All hell broke loose. It was unbelievable. Wicked, wicked, ten-foot waves were coming in sets of three right at us. It was mayhem. We were scared.”

Rick’s boat was tethered to the dock, as was that of a father, son pair who had just set up camp for a week-long trip.

“It was like something out of the movies,” said Williams Lake teen Sam Fait. “My dad was running from the boat and the dock was blowing up behind him as he went. Another 18-foot boat was stood straight up out of the water by the waves before it sunk. It was crazy.”

Their 21-foot boat broke loose of the dock in the storm and left the wharf “like it was being driven” said Rick before it was pushed back to shore and reboarded by the owner.

Rick said he also ran back onto his boat in an attempt to save it.

“I probably shouldn’t have gone back on, but I knew if it came loose it would sink.”

At the height of the storm, Rick’s 12,000-pound boat was lifted 10 feet by the waves and almost set up on the dock while in another instance his boat was also stood on its tail and took a wave into the window before settling back down with Rick on board.

“My girlfriend said she thought I was going to die,” he said. “It was wild. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Rick said his boat has scars from the storm, including a sheered off leg, but there is no structural damage while the 21-foot boat escaped with a crack in the cowling. Another boat belonging to a pair of hunters didn’t fair so well and remains sunk below the now-destroyed docks, which have survived 30 years on the lake. They have not yet returned to witness the loss of the boat.

Rick credits the father and son with helping them during the life-risking situation, and also thanks Quesnel Lake seasonal residents Don and Kris Cleaver with assisting in the aftermath Wednesday, damaging their own boat in the process.

The powerful wind storm also tossed private docks onto the shore at the junction of Quesnel Lake and on land toppled trees onto power lines causing outages from Likely to Horsefly to Black Creek and also west to the Meldrum Creek and Deer Park Ranch areas.

More than a 100 BC Hydro customers in those areas were still out of power 48 hours after the storm.

Hydro crews worked around the clock restoring power to 225,000 customers impacted by the storm, which also hit the Okanagan and Lower Mainland areas.

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