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The Narrows: Trip worth lying for

World's fastest tidal current is fascinating to see, difficult to spell

The Skookumchuck Narrows - tricky for a writer to spell and challenging for a reader to pronounce.

But navigating this fascinating, yet potentially treacherous, stretch of water by boat is a landmine best side-stepped by pasty landlubbers.

The phenomenon that is these famous narrows is part of the Sechelt Rapids on the Sunshine Coast and boasts a Guinness-recognized fastest tidal current in the world at up to 16 knots.

Without getting tangled up in too much of the nautical science, this geographical wonder is created by the rise and fall of the tide cycles and water levels in the Strait of Georgia.

When the water level of the strait varies from the Sechelt Inlet, a current develops through the narrows.

The speed of the subsequent current then varies depending on the height difference between the two bodies of water.

The result is a weird-looking mini-wall of water where the two bodies meet, causing families of large whirlpools to form, any of which could prove fatal without local knowledge.

Which is why it's a pretty good idea to enlist the services of someone like Bryce Christie of Sunshine Coast Tours, who has been navigating the narrows for many years.

Christie's tour company operates trips up and down the inlet, some with dinner, some without and some that venture farther north into the Princess Louisa Inlet, where you'll get to see the world famous Chatterbox Falls.

For our little taste of the Skookumchuck (spell-checked) tour, we departed from Backeddy Marina, nestled near Egmont.

I neglected to mention to my nonswimming wife and still-learning-toswim eight-year-old anything about the fastest current in the world and the giant whirlpools, preferring, instead, they assume we were going on a nice little picnic to see bald eagles, seals etc.

But I was waiting for Christie to break the news as we motored out from the dock. It took 30 seconds.

They were surprisingly calm and there were no chalk-white faces or Chief Brodie-(Roy Scheider in Jaws and Jaws 2) style "we're gonna need a bigger boat," demands.

Easing the family into the idea gently, Christie sailed north, away from the "danger" while waxing lyrical about the history of the inlet and its shores, pointing out salient slices of folklore and fact along the shoreline.

Whatever this guy doesn't know about the area and its rich history or wildlife isn't worth knowing, so be sure to listen intently and ask him anything you like.

But we - sorry, me - had come here for a show, to see up close and personal, the fastest tidal current known to man, so it wasn't too long before we turned her around and headed towards the action.

And although we were told the variation between the two waters wasn't that great on the day, it was more than enough to generate "oohs," "aahs" and "what the hell" as we glared in wonder at the narrows.

Christie, realizing he was guiding a family of land worshippers, navigated a wide course around the whirlpools, which expand and contract, disappear and pop back up unannounced 30 feet away.

He took us safely around the "wall of water" for us to enjoy the rapids from a different angle.

Then, after luring said wife and child into a sense of security, he politely asked us to hold onto something before booting it back over the "wall" and skirting a tanatalizing and glancing blow around the edges of the whirlpools.

I can't recall for sure if it was a matter of minutes or hours before my wife allowed me to look in her direction after the trip.

But let's be clear here: Neither she, nor my son, would have gotten on that boat had I been less economical with the facts and neither would have been able to say they rode the fastest tidal current in the world.


Website: www.sunshinecoasttours. ca; email: info@sunshinecoasttours. ca. Tour prices start at $42 for an adult, including tax. Other tours and cruises, with and without dinner, are also available.