Tactical Custom Boats’ new model is called the Adventure 44. To pull off three different activities in one day, “adventure” is absolutely the imperative word.
Photos by Phoenix Toomath
Tactical Custom Boats’ new model is called the Adventure 44. To pull off three different activities in one day, “adventure” is absolutely the imperative word.
What if I told you that experiencing the finest of what Vancouver has to offer in a mere 10 hours is limited only by your imagination? That, with the right boat, you can pack four days’ worth of activities into just one day? That it is indeed possible to challenge the very idea of time itself and bend it to your uncompromising will?
The nice couple sitting next to me on the flight into British Columbia thought I was kidding. “You’re going to do what?” the husband exclaimed. Even their infant daughter sitting in his lap stared at me with suspicion. And though she couldn’t talk, she pointed one finger accusingly, as if to say, “father, this man, seated in 23D, is depraved.” In response, I stuck my tongue out at her. She placed both hands over her face and giggled.
Honestly, it was hard to explain. The short of it was Tim Charles, owner of Tactical Custom Boats, had invited me to take part in a crazy plan he had concocted aboard the next-generation of Tactical vessels—the Adventure 44, or Tank. Once we left the dock there would be no going back, and no time to rest, if we were to complete BC’s trifecta of boating-accessible activities: chinook salmon fishing and prawning, a round of golf and, finally, some twilight skiing. Or what he had taken to calling “fins, skins and skis.”
“Bottom line is it’s a brick shithouse,” said Tim over the phone. “It is a tank all the way through its name, and it’s an absolute beast on the water.” A trifecta was all in good fun, but it was also meant to illustrate the versatility of this vaguely militaristic vessel. Our biggest impediment was time, of course, but also the wilderness, with its legion of deadheads floating ominously below the waves. The Greg Marshall-designed, all-aluminum Tank is outfitted with triple 300-hp Cox diesel engines, which combine for 1,470 ft. lbs of torque that results in a cruising speed of 30 knots. If one of the three propellers were to make contact with a piece of driftwood, it may not be game over, but we would be limping our way through the low-lying islands of Howe Sound, and perhaps never reach nirvana—the perfect trifecta—at the peak of Cypress Mountain. And I am, after all, a professional journalist, so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.
When he asked if I’d like to tag along I said yes immediately.
Prelude: Cheat to Win
So, the rules governing these shenanigans were slightly flexible. Since we wouldn’t be catering to an adjudicator from Guinness World Records, and only needed to answer to one another (and linear time), we set down a vague agenda. Vehicular transportation would be allowed to traverse the places Tank couldn’t reach—as in, you can get close to Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver, but there’s no direct route from the shipyards to the peak. And the A-44 would be responsible for hauling more than two-thirds of our gear, spread out between the two staterooms and cockpit storage locker, mostly out of necessity.
6:30 a.m. I awaken before the sun comes up in my room at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver Airport. Turning on the shower, the water falls in sheets like a torrential downpour. Outside is not much better—I open the shades to reveal a wet, cement-gray morning. The odds for pulling off this madcap undertaking already seem poor. As I rip the tags off my new ski gloves, I wonder what will happen if we’re rained out. In an email outlining the day, Tim had referred to himself as a “loud talker, over-promiser and decent boat captain.” Such humility was solely in reference to executing a full day of activities, but it did nothing to calm my fears that this would become the bifecta—or, worse yet, the “one and done.” All frosting and no cake.
I rush across the hotel sky ramp to meet Tim outside. Hundreds of glass raindrops interspersed with lights hang at various lengths above the ramp’s walkway, creating an undulating effect not unlike a wave. Through the glass partitions, I spot the terminal, already reverberating with the frenetic pace of departing travelers. There are words, too; maxims on travel by everyone from T.S. Eliot to Henry Miller and Lau Tzu. One in particular catches my attention. An old Moorish proverb: He who does not travel does not know the value of men.
7:20 a.m. Tim is already waiting for me outside with the engine running. Besides a pair of Simms waders, he’s decked head-to-toe in Tactical apparel. I climb into the passenger seat of his black GMC Yukon and we take off, accelerating past slower traffic, for downtown Vancouver and Coal Harbor Marina. “He’s the definition of an asset,” says Tim about the final person to round out our triumvirate. “If you have a zombie apocalypse team, you need him on it. I called him and he’s like, ‘I’m in 120 percent.’” As I would later learn, Chris Beltgens is also the ultimate Canadian.
The two had met a few years back at a marina on West Thurlow Island, 100 miles north of here. Chris was aboard his 30-foot Pursuit, and Tim was impressed with how bright and spotless he kept it. “I’ve got to ask you something: Are you a surgeon or something?” said Tim by way of introduction. “Because everything here is just precision perfect.” Since then, they’ve fished all kinds of offshore derbies together.
If we are planning to catch anything today under the “fins” category, Chris, a consummate angler, is our ace in the hole. But still, nothing is promised. Chinook salmon are notorious fighters, and we would only have about an hour or so to set a hook and reel one aboard. I would need to knock out the champ in one round.
8:02 a.m. Tires squealing on the cement floor, Tim swings the Yukon into a parking garage like Vin Diesel and grabs a dock cart. We fill it with all manner of fishing, golfing and skiing gear, as well as beers from local breweries. To an onlooker, we must look like the world’s most indecisive extreme sports team—maniacs who know how to have a good time. As we arrive at Tank, Chris and our photographer for the day, Phoenix Toomath, are already aboard. A box of donuts greets me in the galley, as does the distinct feeling of déjà vu. Three years ago, I made the journey to this exact spot to test Tactical’s prototype, the T-40. That boat was outfitted with twin 627-hp Seven Marine outboards and had a top end of 42 knots. The next-gen A-44 isn’t as fast, but thanks to triple diesel outboards, it has better range and fuel economy. Not the worst attributes as of late, when a single trip to the pump can feel like taking out a second mortgage.
After introductions are made, Tim summons all three of us over to the cockpit for a pep talk. “So today, the number one thing is having fun,” he says. “It’s important that we listen to good music. It’s important that everyone stays hydrated. And it’s important that we have a really good time.”
8:14 a.m. The sky is still covered in an obstinate layer of clouds as we idle past a sea plane in the harbor. We make a beeline under the Lions Gate Bridge, and out into the relatively shallow-sided fjord of Burrard Inlet. Passing through the inlet, we arrive at the Salish Sea, where the rugged area’s deadheads lie in wait. As if on cue, Kenny Loggins comes blasting over the speakers: Highway to the Danger Zone … Ride into the Danger Zone.
8:41 a.m. We make our first stop. Chris points out on the paper charts where we are, in languid waters just south of Bowen Island. He’s brought with him a portable line hauler and two sets of traps. Before doing anything, he consults the cockpit’s starboard-side helm screen, where he has meticulously placed spot-prawn locations using a dense thicket of green triangles. “What did somebody say once … prawn spots are to be earned, not shared,” says Chris with a smile. “But these are pretty well known.” He affixes the line to the pulley system and sends the strings down to the briny depths.
We’re doing 3 knots and burning well below 1 gph. We could literally do this all day if we wanted. As Chris baits the downriggers, Tim warns me that you have to go trolling for hours to really catch something. The chinook salmon is the largest of the Pacific salmon species, often hailed as the “king of the seas” and a nice prize for the West Coast angler. But it’s early March, and the season peaks in late summer. Though we’re all optimistic, nobody is fooling himself, either.
10:08 a.m. We’re somewhere south of Bowen Island when the line goes taut and my associates get excited. Tim hands me the rod. I set the hook, then proceed to pump and reel, trying my damndest not to let our only catch get away. Chris looks on approvingly. If the fish is 30 pounds or larger, I can theoretically become an honorary member of British Columbia’s Tyee Club—tyee being pidgin for “the chief”—even if the club’s rules stipulate that one must be caught from a rowboat, and the A-44, without a single piece of wood used anywhere in the construction, is just about the furthest thing from one. The fight is short. A long black net is procured from the rocket launcher and used to scoop up the prize … all three ounces of a chinook.
You would think it is 3,000 ounces by the way we celebrate.
After releasing the fish back into the frigid depths from whence it came, I look up, and realize that the cloud cover has burned off to reveal a picturesque mountain range. But there’s no time to get lost in the austere geography’s overwhelming grandeur. We quickly double back to Chris’s waypoints to check on the traps that have been sitting for roughly two hours. As rods are swapped for the line hauler, Tim hands me a pair of blue work gloves. “You’re interactive in this process,” he says. It doesn’t take long to see why. Hauling up the line by hand is hard work! We’re sitting in 315 feet of water, so it takes a while, but finally the traps are bobbing on the surface.
As we wrestle them aboard, only three or four translucent tails are flicking around inside the black netting. The mood dampens—but only slightly.
“All right, we got some,” says Chris.
“At least we got enough so we can do a proper prawn toast,” adds Tim.
The next two are even heavier to retrieve than the first. Hand over hand, we bring them up to reveal the motherload: Inside is an enormous mound of rose-tinted crustaceans, their tails flicking spastically, with hundreds of pitch-black eyes glinting in the warm sun. Tim brings out a small Tupperware container filled with a healthy amount of soy sauce and a dollop of wasabi. We each grab a prawn and toast to our luck thus far. Ripping the head clean off, I down the contents of the tail like raw sashimi. It’s impossibly fresh; a salty taste giving way to a smooth, velvety finish.
“That’s not an average haul; that’s really good,” says Tim. “This is how we’re going to pay for the golf course.”
12:04 p.m. By the time we pull into the Bowen Island Marina, Chris has de-shelled almost the entire haul, filling up a jumbo-sized Ziploc bag. “This guy’s a machine!” laughs Tim. The only downside to his industriousness is the unruly avian audience trailing in our wake. We tie up and carefully retrieve the golf bags out of the cockpit storage locker before piling into a pick-up driven by one of Tactical’s beret-wearing welders—a stoic Frenchman named Kevin—on our way to the Bowen Island Pub for a bite to eat.
Over lunch, the topic of Vancouver’s natural flotsam problem comes up. Chris recounts a family anecdote: As a boy, his father and aunt were aboard a 16-foot runabout driven by his grandfather off Vancouver Island. Things we’re going fine … until the bow collided with a vertical piece of wood lying placid in the water. The resulting force nearly cleaved the boat in half straight down the centerline.
“There’s a reason we don’t have a lot of go-fast boats up here,” explains Tim. “It’ll be a little rougher at the end of the day when the wind picks up. And then it’s being prepared if something happens. How do you deal with it?” Without naming names, he tells me a few weeks ago, another journalist had tested Tank and managed to damage an engine in flat-calm water. Man, do I not want to be that guy.
1:41 p.m. “This one’s for Bowen Island!” I yell. The first hole is 360 yards away, all the way uphill, meaning there’s a premium to be placed on a long, straight drive. Try as I might to do my best Bryson DeChambeau impression, my driver connects and sends the ball careening away from the first green—a nice shank. Chris is only a little better. “I wasn’t invited for my golfing ability,” he laughs. “I already did my part.”
Tim, clearly the scratch golfer of the group, winds up and unleashes a cannon shot that puts him within striking distance of the hole. He strides up the green with his putter and a chipping wedge over his shoulders.
There are only two hazards, and I nearly find my way into both of them. We do some quick arithmetic, and come to the realization that a full round of golf probably isn’t in the cards. So after making our putts, we hop into the golf carts and pull a U-turn, heading for the adjacent ninth hole. Russ Olson, the architect of the course, is no dummy; the Bowen Island Golf Club’s finishing hole rewards you with views straight out of a postcard. Honestly, it’s a shame we’re in such a rush. Such a scenic, challenging course feels wasted on three guys with no time to spare.
In golf, “skins” is a game where players put money down on every hole and play for a pot. Before I wind up on my approach shot, Tim bets me “$10 American” that I can’t make it onto the green. Being a betting man, I graciously accept. Just behind the green, a ferry glides past across dark waters in front of a large, imposing mountain range.
I still owe Tim that money.
3:12 p.m. Back on the boat, I take the last leg from the Bowen Island Marina to North Vancouver’s Shipyards District behind the helm. Spirits are undeniably high. With two of the trifecta’s activities already in our rearview, it feels like we’re running up the score. We’re doing about 30 knots. The engines have a little more salt on them, and I’m dragging far more than I like to admit, but still—nothing, and I mean nothing, can keep us from accomplishing our task at hand …
“LOG!” yells Chris.
I yank the wheel hard-over to port and then back again. Tank, behaving very much unlike a tank, responds immediately, with the control almost instantaneous at speed. We narrowly avoid the deadhead. It’s tough to say how bad the damage would’ve been—mostly to the well-constructed image of myself that I carry around in my head. I keep my eyes peeled as we duck under the Lionsgate Bridge, counting my lucky stars that I’m with a group that has incredible situational awareness as we dock at a transient slip in front of the Shipyards District.
3:46 p.m. I’m reliving the close call at a café, waiting for a much-needed cappuccino, when Phoenix catches my attention through the glass. He points to a nearby skating rink and with the other hand held horizontally, imitates a person gliding over it.
“Tim is checking to see if we can rent some ice skates for you,” says Phoenix as I come outside. I laugh at the good joke. “No really, he’s in the shop right now.” It appears the joke is on me. I’ve just started to take up golf, which is the reason why a sand wedge is my best friend. Skating, on the other hand, has always alluded me.
3:54 p.m. I lace up my skates as Chris, the Ultimate Canadian, is executing triple axles on the ice. All around him, little Canadians, boys and girls, practically infants, are taking to skating as naturally as you or I breathe. (When you’re born in Canada, it wouldn’t surprise me if the doctor hands your parents a pair of ice skates.)
I do my best to stand upright on the blades. Two of the women skating instructors look on with dubious stares.
“He’s never skated before,” says Tim.
“Have you thought about a helmet?” one asks sincerely.
With a little instruction, I’m gliding around the rink, the city’s modern skyline rising above the harbor. Fins, skins, skates and skis? Yes, the trifecta had suddenly become the quadfecta. Yes, Father Time had been stuffed into a locker. No, we weren’t sorry about it.
Finale: Connect Four
5:27 p.m. We’ve done it. After pulling up to Cypress Mountain, and borrowing a pair of bright yellow ski boots from Tim, I’m bombing down snowy runs as the setting sun stains the clouds pink. In just 10 hours, I have reeled, released, hauled, dipped, cranked, shanked, chipped, putted, skated, carved, jumped and slalomed my way through Vancouver and the surrounding area. Doing so was a testament to this crew, but also to this rugged vessel. Far below us the city was bathed in lights. Feeling on top of the world, and inhaling the crisp mountain air, I’m reminded of something Tim had mentioned earlier in the day. “Our clients want to get romantic with visiting Vancouver in the beginning,” he said, “but then the reality is most of them are so busy, they never follow through.”
Our frenzied mission proved all those excuses can be chucked right out the window. We packed three—wait, make that four—highly unique activities into one day. The right buyer of an A-44 will assuredly utilize the storage for kayaks, paddleboats, inflatable tenders and bikes, too. With the purchase of this vessel, Tactical also includes a submersible drone submarine and Mavic Pro Air that can be plugged into the 42-inch LED television in the salon so you can relive all your wildest endeavors. Naming their model Adventure wasn’t just a smart marketing ploy or a nice suggestion—it’s an incontrovertible fact. When you see one, you realize there’s no other way to use it but adventurously. The only limitations are time and your own imagination.
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