Jan. 7 – Sea Lion

Chamber of Shipping > Blog > Ship of the Week > Jan. 7 – Sea Lion

The Sea Lion had been sitting derelict in Maple Bay for the past five years and was removed in November because of environmental concerns, after the abandoned vessel began listing to one side. After successfully bidding $393,000 to dismantle the tug for the federal government, Jim Drummond and his crew at the Canadian Maritime Engineering yard in Nanaimo is salvaging parts from the vessel for museums.

The Sea Lion was built on a one-piece keel from a 120-foot fir log, milled three feet deep and two feet wide, and launched into the waters at Coal Harbour in Vancouver in 1905.  It is the oldest wooden tug boat on the West Coast and it played a significant role in the province’s forestry and maritime industries. it was the first tug to pull massive Davis log rafts weaved together with chains and cables, some 500-feet long and carrying 2.5 million board feet of lumber. The tug answered the call for spruce used in aircraft production during the First World War and for lumber during the Second World War.

The Sea Lion had a number of unusual features for a tug at that time including steam-powered steering gear and towing winch, a steel tow line, dual steering and engine controls on the aft deck, and eventually, the first ship-to-shore radio and searchlight in B.C.

The Sea Lion was also at the centre of the conflict involving the migrant freighter Komagata Maru that tested Canada’s immigration laws in 1914. That summer, the tug was loaded with 125 armed immigration officers and police in an attempt to force the freighter from Vancouver harbour, but angry passengers repelled the tug by throwing coal and bricks. The event remains a scar on Canadian history.

Operating as a tug until 1969, the Sea Lion lived many lives and engine changes since, through several owners — as a private yacht, live-aboard home, charter boat, ecotour vessel and fishing lodge.

Drummond marvels at the original craftsmanship of the tug. “The joinery work is incredible,” he said. “I think of all the hours poured into building this boat and how they did everything without power tools. They used chisels, adzes, planes — everything was by hand.

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