The incredible ordeal of father and grandfather Jacob Chipps

With daughter and grandchild clutched in each arm, he swam desperately towards the shore.

In July 1993 the Fraser River was credited with having saved the life of Bob Lord. Taken suddenly ill aboard the Vancouver-bound Queen of Vancouver at 11:30 at night, the 42-year-old Victorian fell into the Strait of Georgia. He was wearing only light jeans, a

cotton shirt and a windbreaker when he tumbled, unnoticed, over the side.

He survived by swimming and floating for eight hours before he was rescued by an American sports fisherman at 7:15 the next morning. Although suffering from shock and hypothermia, he was conscious and, according to news reports, made a full recovery. Lord said his windbreaker acted as a facsimile life jacket, his wife accredited his "calm disposition" for keeping him from panicking. A search and rescue official thought that Lord’s sturdy build, the warmer fresh water from the Fraser and strong northwesterly winds combined to save him from being overcome by cold.

Lord’s ordeal recalled an even more remarkable feat of endurance, in July 1907 – one that must be unparalleled in B.C. history.

"With the corpses of his daughter and her infant child, to save who from drowning he risked his own life and established a remarkable record of physical endurance, Jacob Chipps of the Clo-oose Indians, arrived in Victoria last evening on the Princess Victoria," reported the Colonist.

It began off Point Grey when he, his 18-year-old daughter Ida, her infant of 18 months, and three companions were bound for the Fraser River fishing grounds. Chipps, in the stern, was steering. A heavy swell rocking the Strait of Georgia that afternoon caused their small boat to heave awkwardly and when the baby began to cry, he turned slightly to see what was the matter.

In doing so he unconsciously slackened his grip on the tiller. This careless movement of but a moment occurred just as a mountainous wave streaked down upon them and, before he could regain control, the boat was swept over and onto its side, and all six were pitched into the sea.

Chipps and the three passengers managed to cling to the upturned keel but his daughter, her baby still clutched tightly to her breast, was carried beyond reach. Chipps, upon seeing her danger, tore off his clothes and boots, including his money belt containing $700, and swam to her side.

With Ida in one arm, the baby in the other, Chipps – "a magnificent specimen of manhood, strong, powerful and skillful" – began swimming back to the boat. But it and its helpless passengers were hurtled away by the wind, leaving the grandfather with his charges who were by this time unconscious, miles from shore and facing almost certain death.

Jacob couldn’t remember what happened after that. He knew only that he’d struggled ashore about midnight. His companions later estimated that he’d been in the water for seven hours. Rescuers who found him, seemingly lying lifeless on the beach, marvelled at the nightmare he’d endured. They couldn’t imagine what he’d gone through as, somehow, daughter and grandchild wrapped tightly in his arms, he’d dog-paddled the several miles to shore. How he’d managed to swim, perhaps even unconsciously, is beyond human knowing. Blindly, he’d struggled onward, ever onward, driven by a superhuman need to save his family.

When revived, he’d asked of his daughter and grandchild, to be told that they were dead of exposure, probably within half an hour of the accident.

Days later, the S.S. Princess Victoria brought a solemn Jacob Chipps and the bodies of Ida and her baby to Victoria for burial, the funeral being held the next morning at Hanna’s undertaking parlour.

The grieving father and grandfather vowed that never again would he live at Clo-oose "where there are so many things to remind him of his lost ones". The following month, Jacob Chipps was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for his remarkable feat.

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