A dad and his two-year-old daughter believe they’re lucky to be alive after a mini tsunami-style wave almost sucked them out to sea.
One moment, Stuart Sequeira was on shore fishing in the fading Saturday sunshine around 6:45 p.m. at the sheltered inlet behind the new Garry Point dock in Steveston with his daughter, Chloe, and his father, Mike.
The next moment, both adults looked up to the surprising sight of a large container ship, carrying cars, sweeping past them at what they thought was only 50 metres or so out from the floating dock.
Within just a few terrifying seconds, Sequeira and his father watched as the sea was sucked out from the shoreline, exposing a 15 foot-drop in depth to sea grass and rocks.
Before he could even finish warning his father about what might happen next, a “rushing swell” of water cascaded towards them, forcing Sequeira to make a life-saving grab for his little girl, who was happily munching away on a snack and sitting on a camping chair five feet from where the water’s edge used to be.
“The swell went straight up towards us and I scrambled to lift my daughter up,” Sequeira told the Richmond News, recalling the harrowing moment.
“Before we knew it, the water was waist deep, all our belongings were floating and all the drift logs in the area were afloat.
“I struggled, really struggled, to stay upright, holding my daughter in one of those fold-up camping chairs. And just as I had gained some balance, the swell withdrew.”
But that wasn’t the end of the drama for the family because the powerful surge that initially engulfed them was about to rush out as fast as it had advanced on the previously tranquil beach.
“I braced as much as I could, but the logs on the beach were huge and I was pushed forward, ending up in the water up to my neck,” Sequeira said.
“My daughter fell forward out of her chair and I scrambled to hold on to her as the water retreated with a ton of force.
“I don’t know how I held on ... the logs were so heavy, so much pressure. I used all my strength to stay upright.”
But hold on he did.
And after the water receded, a stunned Sequeira carried his equally shell-shocked daughter to the safety of higher ground, before looking back out to wonder just what the hell had happened.
“[Chloe] was certainly in shock as she went fully under," said Sequeira. "She had that million-miles-away stare.
“Half of my tackle box contents were gone — drawn out with the retreating water — the rest of our stuff was all over the beach and under logs that had lifted high at the shoreline.
“We lost all our electronics — camera, phones — everything had been fully submerged or filled with sand from the surge.”
In the moments after the incident, Sequiera and his father tried to piece together what had caused such a powerful and unexpected wall of water.
They recounted how they were amazed to see the ship — which was sailing west out of the Fraser River’s south arm — heading on such a direct course with Garry Point.
“Having grown up in Richmond, I’ve seen these ships a million times, but this time was different — the ship was close,” Sequeira said.
“The water at the beach withdrew as the ship’s displacement [of the water] took effect.”
Sequeira said his dad has now written to Port Metro Vancouver, which is responsible for ship traffic on the river.
“We need to know if the ship was off course, because it was actually making a large arc turn and we saw it head back out into deeper water,” he said.
Freight is carried up and down the river estuary under the authority of Port Metro Vancouver (PMV).
PMV’s harbour master, Yofs Leclerc, said Monday he’d yet to receive any information, but added that the piloting of such vessels is controlled by the Pacific Pilotage Authority (PPA).
The PPA’s director of marine operations, Brian Young, said he had been made aware of the incident and is investigating what path the ship in question took.
Young said he’ll consider inspecting the area on the shore with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) to ascertain if there’s an ongoing public safety issue.
But he said it’s not uncommon for a large vessel passing through a narrow channel to create a hydro-dynamic effect which, in turn, can cause water to recede from the shoreline.
“These large ships have to stay within the designated channel, or they risk running aground,” Young said, noting he doubted the ship on Saturday came as close to the dock as 50 metres away.
“It might be more of a perception that it’s closer, especially for one of the big car carriers.”
The actual course taken by ships entering or leaving the Fraser estuary can vary, Young said, depending on the flow of the river.
Young was concerned, however, about the lack of signage on the shore alerting people to the possibility of the waterline receding and surging.
Sequeira, not surprisingly, agreed. “The beach needs signage. People need to be aware of this danger and someone at the port authority or other governing agency needs to check the speed, size and course of these large vessels that are in such close proximity to a popular family beach area,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sequeira shudders to think what might have happened had little Chloe been any further than arm’s reach away from him. “The logs would have crushed her, and she would have been swept away,” he said. “We’re fortunate there were no other kids on the beach at the time.”