Dinosaur-hunting voyage scuttled

The expectations Darren Tanke built up over the past eight years drowned just nine days after he and a crew embarked on scow boat expedition along the Red Deer River.

The replica historic scow and rowboat are prepared for the beginning of the trip in late June: a series of misadventures beset the crew and the trip was abandoned.

The replica historic scow and rowboat are prepared for the beginning of the trip in late June: a series of misadventures beset the crew and the trip was abandoned.

The expectations Darren Tanke built up over the past eight years drowned just nine days after he and a crew embarked on scow boat expedition along the Red Deer River.

Tanke, a paleontology technician with 31 years experience at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, spent most of the past decade preparing for this personal quest to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first major dinosaur-hunting voyage on the Central Alberta waterway.

He aspired to follow the original route and even built a full-scale replica of the boat that Barnum Brown and his team from the American Museum of Natural History used to explore the area in 1910.

The first of many problems arose for the latest group when one of the tillers was smashed after the boat hit a bridge piling a couple of kilometres after launching the scow at the boat launch near Bower Ponds on June 29.

Despite being able to repair the tiller, numerous other issues arose and forced Tanke to end the tour just over a week after embarking on the adventure that was originally to last for five weeks.

“I had just poured all my energies into the project, so when the project actually happened I was pretty exhausted,” Tanke said this week from his home in Drumheller where he is still recuperating.

“And then when we started to have logistical and technical issues, they were just a bit overwhelming for me.”

The crew, which consisted of eight people, had to act quickly before a leaning tree nearly swiped the tent that sat perched on the flat-bottomed boat.

Inexperienced at steering the scow, they also wound up grounded a few times.

A thunderstorm proved the tent was not as waterproof as it was sold to be.

A crew member fell and gashed her hand on, ironically, a box of safety equipment. She received stitches at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre before they carried on.

The scow got stuck on rocks numerous time during the journey, including six times in one day. This is something that still leaves Tanke bewildered as he said such a problem was never recorded in the historic field notes.

Still, rocks proved to plague the modern crew, so much so that the scow was lifted out of the water some 12 km from the launching point.

The vessel was then transported to Content Bridge, where Hwy 21 crosses with the Red Deer River, and they carried on from there.

The venture was officially called off, however, after Tanke fell ill.

He collapsed while on land at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park on July 4 as he tried to find a spot to update the blog on which he recorded the journey.

Tanke was taken to the Three Hills Health Centre by ambulance and it was discovered he was anemic, suffering from low potassium levels and low hemoglobin.

A support crew quickly took over the scow at that point and they arrived back in Drumheller on July 7.

The team never had the opportunity to search for dinosaur fossils as they originally intended and the scow since been put in storage.

“It makes me wonder what these guys were enduring, logistically wise and emotionally wise,” Tanke said of the previous explorers. “It gives you a whole new respect and admiration for the work that these early collectors did.”

But the adventure wasn’t a total writeoff, he noted.

Tanke said, thankfully, members of the public were always near when the crew found themselves in trouble.

Kayakers and fishermen helped free the scow from the rocks while a group of hikers were close by when Tanke collapsed.

Despite cutting their tour short, Tanke said the 2010 scow travelled further downstream than the original explorers, who abandoned ship in 1912 at Morrin Bridge, some 39 km from Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park.

His tour was also the first scow-based expedition on the Red Deer River since 1916.

But perhaps the greatest of all the achievements, Tanke said, are the lessons they learned the hard way, which he hopes will result in smoother sailing for the tour he plans next summer.

“There are some major achievements but certainly not quite how we planned things, but I guess that’s what adventures are about sometimes,” he said.

“There was a lot of time and effort invested and certainly things didn’t work out as I had planned, but I think we can try again next year that much wiser and that much more prepared to make it work.”

Some adjustments that may be made for the redemption journey include adding galvanized steel to the bottom of the nine-metre-long, four-metre-wide shallow draft boat and travelling with an accompanying motor-powered boat, both of which could aid in getting off rocks.

“We can lick our wounds and try again next year,” Tanke said.

“The Red Deer River has not seen the last of me and that scow.”

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lynne McConnell, a Red Deer single mom who runs a delivery company, is left without a car for her business after her vehicle was stolen twice in about 48 hours. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Masks were made mandatory in any workplace setting across Alberta as the premier introduced sweeping measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)
Kenney declares state of public health emergency as COVID-19 cases rise

High schools shift to online learning, businesses face new restrictions

Highway 11, from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House, is about to be twinned in a $120-million project announced Friday. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Town of Sylvan Lake likes Highway 11 twinning plans

Province plans to twin Highway 11 to Rocky Mountain House

Lynn Van Laar, chair of this year’s Christmas Wish Breakfast, said the event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

QMJHL Roundup: Armada down Olympiques to extend win streak to seven games

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Nashville SC ends Toronto FC’s season with stunning 1-0 extra time upset

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Juve, Barça, Chelsea, Sevilla advance in Champions League

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) brings the ball up court against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) during the first half of NBA basketball action in Toronto on January 28, 2020. The Raptors officially annoucned that VanVleet has agreed to a multi-year contract with the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet says contract negotiations were “easy”

FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch waves to the crowd before an MLS soccer match against the Portland Timbers in Cincinnati on March 17, 2019. Canadian Premier League team FC Edmonton has hired Koch as head coach and director of football operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, John Minchillo
FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

FC Edmonton names Alan Koch coach of Canadian Premier League club

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Time running short for NHL to start next season Jan. 1

Former Chicago Blackhawk Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous pro hockey players, is honoured at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks game in Edmonton on December 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL pioneer, dies at age 86 after presumed COVID-19 case

Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL pioneer, dies at age 86 after presumed COVID-19 case

Thanksgiving lessons jettison Pilgrim hats, welcome truth

Thanksgiving lessons jettison Pilgrim hats, welcome truth

Most Read