Adventuring Around Vancouver by Water with C-Tow Captain James Middleton

Captain James Middleton

June 29, 2023

Captain James MiddletonBy Jill Snider

What started out as a request for C-Tow’s Vancouver Captain, James Middleton, to take me around the greater Vancouver area by boat, turned into the best real Vancouver boating experience that a Great Lakes girl could ask for. The plan was for me to meet James at 8am Wednesday morning, June 7. Tuesday, I arrived at my Vancouver hotel and at 5pm, texted James to confirm we were on. I planned to hit the pillow early. Then James called.

“Are you interested in going out right now?” he asked. I stumbled, “umm, well, I am ironing my shirt…”. Fifteen minutes later, James was parked outside my downtown Richmond hotel, with his C-Tow RIB (rigid inflatable boat) in tow. We took a scenic road trip with boat on trailer through the greater Vancouver area and James filled me in on his work with C-Tow and his passion project, Ocean Legacy. Ocean Legacy Foundation is an exciting ocean plastics clean-up founded by James and partner Chloé Dubois in 2013. It is such a great initiative that it will be highlighted in another upcoming story. Forty-Five minutes later we arrived at Cates Park where we launched into the Burrard Inlet, Pacific Ocean. The boat we were using was a large RIB with a Volvo Penta inline 6 diesel inboard engine, large capacity fuel tank and plenty of torque for towing.

Captain James Middleton launching at Cates Park.

We headed North through what is known as Indian Arm toward Deep Cove where we stopped briefly for a quick visit with one of James’ tow boat captains, Dave Elvin. Dave and his wife Tanya are surrounded by beauty like no other. Mountains encapsulate this sheltered cove and give you the feeling that there is nowhere else on earth.


Deep Cove, Indian Arm, BCDeep Cove, Indian Arm, British Columbia.

There was work to do so we got back to it. A few minutes later we were a half nautical mile or so up shore and we pulled in to our destination. The mission was to pull a deadhead out from under a resident’s dock that must have come in with the tide at some point. Even James said this was a huge deadhead. Fortunately, it was not grounded or stuck and James’ customer had even managed to secure a tow rope to it in advance. A few minutes later we were off and heading back with deadhead in tow. By this time, it was 8pm and I was curious where one takes a waterlogged deadhead weighing half as much as the boat at that time. James had a plan. Here is what is crazy about James. He knows the Greater Vancouver area water so well that he knew the exact location of an anchoring pin not far away. So, we pulled up alongside the rock shoreline, I held the boat and James tied off the deadhead to the anchoring pin. James has since returned to the deadhead and towed it to another spot where the deadhead can be dried out and serve another purpose.  James was adamant that a bowline be used to tie that roped to shore so that he could return the customers rope to him – he has since done that as well. What great customer service.

Towing the DeadheadTowing the deadhead out from under the client dock.

Here’s where it gets fun. Amid the deadhead mission James got another tow call. He had warned me previously that if we got a call while I was onboard, I would be crew. I was game for any adventure opportunity and secretly I was hopeful. I don’t wish ill-fate on anyone, I’m just saying that if someone was in need of a tow, I hoped it was when I was onboard. Lucky me.

A sailboat’s outboard was stuck in reverse in Vancouver Harbour a nautical mile from Granville Island. James said that he had never seen an outboard stuck in reverse before. Typically, calls are for no starts, no fuel, lines wrapped around props and running aground but an outboard stuck in reverse was a new one. Fortunately, the sailboat’s crew was able to drop the anchor, secure the boat, shut the motor off and wait for C-Tow’s arrival down below.

Sailboat RescueSailboat rescue in Vancouver Harbour.

We finished up our deadhead mission. We made another quick stop at Dave and Tanya’s where we were satiated with a handful of chips and bubbly water. Off we went again, and I layered up the jackets that I had brought. I had prepared for cooler weather, but I must admit, I could have used a winter lined jacket even though it was early June. I know better too, so I was kicking myself a bit but soldiered on and didn’t complain about the temperature. I am pretty sure that James could see me shivering uncontrollably.

Boating in Vancouver Harbour at night is an experience within itself. The harbour lights, the five white sails atop Canada Place, the giant steamships and the mountainous shadow for a backdrop kept my head turning. If you were dressed for it, you could bob out there all night. James’ client was doing just that when we found him. Coming up from below, they didn’t look too frazzled when we arrived. Their calm was exemplary of lesson #1 in distress – don’t panic. The vessel’s captain and James managed to get the tow line secure, and we turned the boat around, heading to their homeport at Granville Island. The crew and I both thought that the marinas fuel dock would be a great place to land the disabled boat, but James wanted to get his client back to their slip. So, we ventured through the full marina with sailboat in tow, and at just the right moment, the crew released the tow line and managed to have just the right amount of inertia to glide into the dock. Once secured, James and the sailboats’ captain signed up for a C-Tow membership on the spot, James took me to a public pier so that I could Uber back. By then, it was midnight, PST but I was shivering and still on Central time so I opted-out of the boat ride back to Cates Park.

Vancouver Harbour(Left) Vancouver Harbour in the distance from the C-Tow RIB. 


The scenery and spontaneity of this experience was the obvious reward but there were a few important lessons that I was reminded of as well:

1. Ironed shirts are overrated.

2. Whatever you think will be enough foul weather layers for boating at night at any time of year in Canada: bring at least 2 more. Reflective clothing is a bonus.

3. One word: lifejacket.

Captain James Securing The Tow Line4. Bring snacks, lots of snacks and water: mountain air makes you hungry.

5. Be prepared for the unexpected: have a plan for an emergency or urgent situation and ensure that your crew is aware of it.

6. Don’t Panic.

7. Tow company option and contacts: this should be part of the back-up emergency plan. Research your options and choose wisely. If you ever need a tow, James is the type of person you want showing up. C-Tow can be reached at 888-419-CTOW.

(Right) Captain James securing the tow line to the vessel in distress.

Special thanks to C-Tow and Captain James Middleton for providing the Vancouver tow boat adventure. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Jill Snider is Vice President and Publisher of Kerrwil Media Limited, publishers of Canadian Yachting

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