Story by Jeremy Cline
Pictures by Kate Hives (watermark), Mike Callaghan (kayaking non watermark), Province of New Brunswick (M.V. Cathy and Trevor).
I recently spent (just shy of) two weeks in Nova Scotia working on my personal paddling skills. I spent time with many world renowned paddling coaches from Nick Cunliff to Gordon Brown, Christopher Lockyer to Greg Paquin, Erik Ogaard to Mike Callaghan and many many more. I took courses in Rock Hopping, Surfing, Rolling and spent time with some very competent paddlers from Nova Scotia, British Columbia, PEI and New Brunswick in preparation for a Paddle Canada Level 3 course and assessment.
In the time building up to my course I was having fun learning some of the skills I would need to complete the pending Level 3 assessment.
When the first morning of the 6 day course arrived I was absolutely filled with trepidation. For no reason other than the dreaded unknown: What if the conditions are to rough? What if I get hurt? What if someone else gets hurt? Do I have everything I need? I’ve never been in some of these places and don’t know what to expect. They were all stupid mundane issues that the organizers and coaches work hard to prevent but still I seem to love to worry about the “what ifs” as much as I try not to. The upside is I’m usually the most equipped and well prepared participant.
Part way through the course, my kayak coach told me I need to find a way to overcome this fear if I want to feel comfortable in the conditions I desire to paddle in. He told me something that resonated deeply: “Jeremy I would rather die out on the water knowing I lived than die on land wishing I had have been out there but let fear stand in my way instead”. That was actually part of my reason for being there. I knew I had the fear of rough water and offshore paddling in unknown areas and I did not want that to stop me because it has to many times in the past. I’ve realized however that my most effective therapy is to talk about my problems with others.
Lets step back to where some of my fear of the water stems from:
To start with I had troubles with anxiety during my early years of grade school. If memory serves me it was somewhere during grade 5-9 that I would have anxiety attacks and depression. I attribute them to some sort of xenophobia with a mix of performance anxiety. I would worry about everything and nothing all at once. It happened more in the winter months which could link it to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (coming more into light lately with societies focus on mental health issues). I eventually came to grips with it in my high school years as I met new friends and excelled at Rugby. The anxiety returned when I took a job as a maintenance manager for a food processing facility not long after college. I was in over my head and I knew it, instead of dealing with my issues, I moved to a new job (which fixed the issue immediately). To compound this anxiety issue, I have a fear of rough water.
I remember my father telling me a story of falling into the water as a child when he was helping my grandfather work on a fishing boat down in the little village where I grew up. My father, at the time a small boy, hadn’t been paying attention and fell in, unable to swim he began to panic as his head submerged below the water. My grandfather heard the splash and was able to reach my father’s (at the time) long golden locks to pull him, by the hair, out of the water (my father jokes that that is the reason he is now bald…it doesn’t explain why that wondrous gift was passed on to me!).
Spring ahead now to the mid to late 1980’s and I, as a child, am helping my father paint our Whale Watching boat in that same small village. I’m on the edge of a scow that is being used to paint the boat….up until this point I have taken deep water and my inability to swim for granted…I bend over to look at something in the water and lose my balance just enough to make me start teetering. I realize my father is somewhere on the 60’x20′ boat well out of sight and ear shot of me and if I go in it may be my first and only swimming lesson. It’s spring and the water is still below 10 C, well in the range of cold water shock. I teeter for only a moment and my thoughts go to my father’s story as a gust of wind puts me back on balance and I step back away from the edge of the scow, my heart doing all it can to jump out of my chest. I gained respect for the water on that day.
Fast forward a few more years, I had been witness to a few gale force winds drawn up through the Grand Manan channel and the effects those winds had upon the waters they traverse but absolutely nothing like what I encountered one January day in 1993 when we brought the M.V. Cathy and Trevor back from A.F. Theriault and Sons shipyard in Meteghan River Nova Scotia.
You see our vessel was of a size that it required a annual steamboat inspection through Transport Canada. During one such inspection in 92 it was determined that the wooden hull would require the waterline to the bottom of the keel replaced. The work was completed in January 1993 and the crew from Theriault’s finished with a water tightness check where fresh water is placed in the bilge and a visual inspection was performed on the exterior of the hull to check for leaks. The hull passed the inspection and the boat was launched back into St. Mary’s Bay.
The trip would consist of 2 legs, roughly 21 km to cross St. Mary’s Bay and a straight shot 87 km across the Bay of Fundy from Tiverton Long Island NS to Leonardville Deer Island NB. The total trip was roughly 108 km or 58 Nautical Miles and the Cathy and Trevor would run at roughly 11 knots or Nautical Miles per Hour.
There was a storm due to come through late in the evening on the day of our departure so we left on the first ferry to Nova Scotia ensuring we would be back across the bay in our boat before the storm hit. Everything went according to plan, the boat was in the water by the time we arrived and we set off for Tiverton where we would stop to say high to long time friend Alger Sollows. During the St. Mary’s Bay crossing our Engineer noted that the fresh water in the bilge had froze and all the bilge pumps were frozen solid which prompted a much longer stay in Tiverton as Alger brought down pick axes, axes and sledge hammers to persuade the pumps out of the ice.
By roughly 9pm everything was freed up and the wind had started to blow. Environment Canada’s Historical weather data shows gusting winds from a bearing of 130 degrees at a speed of 89 km/hr at the Yarmouth airport. In the Bay just off Boar’s Head, Long Island Nova Scotia, the winds were blowing near 70 knots from the south and the tide was Ebb.
My father has a strange way of teaching lessons, life lessons and the sort. He deemed this the perfect opportunity to teach my brother and I a life lesson on not giving up. It was a lesson that not even the many diseases associated with old age will be able to remove from my memory. The lesson was to consist of never giving up despite the odds.
We struck out from the Tiverton Wharf in the dark only to be passed by the running lights of 100′ draggers (40′ longer than our own vessel) near Boar’s head, entering Tiverton passage to get out of the weather. I remember the first few waves off the head being large and I remember the Engineer, Ashel Smith, asking if it prudent to turn around. My father holds to this day that turning around would have had the Cathy and Trevor broach (as it nearly did on a couple of occasions in the shipping lanes between Long Island NS and Grand Manan NB). Dad placed the throttle of the 8V 71 Detroit Diesel engine to the stops, rotating the 9.3L engine at 2100 rpm and our 48″ diameter propeller at 525 rpm. There were times during that crossing that the 48″ propeller came clear of the sea. Understand that the bottom tip of the propeller is normally 6′ under water.
The wheelhouse of the Cathy and Trevor was located on top of the Canteen which was located roughly 4′ above the waterline. This placed the front window of the wheelhouse roughly 16′ off the water and I can vividly remember that window changing color from Green water (with the engine hitting it’s governor because the propeller was clear of the friction of the water) to wind blown snow (when the engine would bog back down as soon as the propeller ceased cavitating). It was bad enough that Dad had the local Marine traffic service closely monitor our position on their Land Based Radar system and check in with us via VHF at regular intervals.
The benefit of the wheelhouse layout was that the main door was located at the back opening to the vessels upper deck where our (3) inflatable life rafts and our soft hulled Inflatable Zodiac were located. The door had an upper and lower section. The lower could be kept closed and the upper portion could be locked open. Luckily the top was opened as both my brother and I used that open portal to project our stomach’s distaste for the night’s roller coaster ride all over the after deck……many, many times.
I started out sideways in the wheelhouse bunk with my back against a side window and my feet pushing against the boats CO2 fire suppression system. If I didnt push with my feet I would end up on the floor. Eventually I gave up and resigned to roll back and forth on the floor, so sick that twice the electric bus heater fell on my head, to sick to move, my father ended up taking his hands off the wheel to move it when he smelled burning hair. Maybe that’s where my hair loss actually came from? I had not, nor have I since, been on a vessel that behaved like the Cathy and Trevor did that night. I truly thought we were going to die. At one point Ashel appeared from below decks wearing a survival suit and a lobster buoy strapped to his wrist so they could “find his body if he fell overboard”. Understand that Ashel had worked on the water for much of his adult life (at the time a man of ~60).
I can remember seeing the light from North Head Grand Manan’s Swallowtail Light Station three quarters the way through our trip and asking Dad if we could spend the night there. His response was that we were very close now and we would be at the wharf in a couple hours. You know, sea sickness doesn’t leave you until hours after you’ve hit dry land and even then your bed takes on the movement of the water.
Years later while working for a salmon grower on Deer Island I had three more encounters that still haunt me from time to time:
One incident occurred not long after I started the job. It was October and I was wearing layers appropriate for the ever cooling climate. I climbed down the ladder onto a fishing boat that our work boat (also an old fishing boat) named the Rachel Charlene, was tied to. I stepped up on the side of the boat to cross over to our work boat and grabbed for a pole at the back of the Rachel Charlene’s wheel house. I don’t know if I blacked out or fell asleep. One minute I was looking at the pole, reaching for it with one hand, and in an instant I remember the red fender between the boats rushing up past me…..woooaaaaaaa green water, hey look it’s the bottom of the boat….Oh crap I’m underwater!!!!! I came up to the surface with my Dunlop rubber boots and multiple layers of clothes all full of water, with no life jacket on.
I took swimming lessons as a child and had made it to the Maroon Badge (if I recall Correctly), I was able to swim on a regular day but on this day panic set in as the temperature of the water began hitting my nervous system. I clung onto the fender for dear life and was absolutely sure I could not swim the 20′ to one of the wharf’s ladders. It was all a grown man and woman (co-workers of mine) could do to pull me out of the water, at which point I was shaking from both weakness and cold. I went home, changed and returned to work.
Another Incident occurred while returning from our salmon site on Passamaquody Bay. We were in a 21′ open work skiff that had a 1 ton xactic tub on the deck, one quarter full of dead salmon. The wind had come up and we were coming in early as a safety precaution. As we entered Little Letete Passage between Pendleton Island and MacMasters Island the Westerly wind was running up against the flood tide creating standing waves. My co-worker and I didn’t realize the height of the waves and when we fell off the crest of the first wave, the xactic box and its weight slid forward as we impacted the back side of the second wave. Our momentum stopped and the wave completely filled our boat to the top of the gunwales, the xactic was floating, inside our boat. I looked around and the only evidence that we were still in the boat were the ropes floating up from the cleats at the stern of the boat where we were. My co-worker had the quick sense to open the throttle on the 2 stroke Yamaha outboard which raised the bow out of the water and forced much of the water in the skiff to pass over the transom in the stern. We opened the stern plug and let inertia and gravity empty the rest. That was my first real encounter with standing waves and a tide race and it scared the ever living lifeblood right out of my farm!
One of the most profound incidents I have faced, on the same level as our Bay of Fundy crossing occurred, again, in Little Letete Passage. Blair Banks owned a company that serviced Acoustic Seal deterrent devices for Aquaculture sites in Charlotte County. I worked on a Salmon site with is wife and his friend Dwayne was our Regional Supervisor. Blair also delivered our salmon feed on a weekly basis and ran a salmon processing vessel. We all knew Blair and considered him a friend. My wife and I baby sat his kids when they stayed with their mother on Deer Island while my wife and I were dating.
Even now, it is very hard for me to recount this series of events as it has effected me and my fear of the water.
From all accounts, Blair had just finished maintenance on a “Seal Scarer” at the Macs Island site, a salmon site on the Passamaquody side of MacMasters Island, North of Deer Island. I don’t think Blair ever donned a life vest in his life, there was one on the boat he was operating by himself ( a deep-V hulled offshore fishing craft with a center console and a 200hp Mercury Outboard) and it stayed where it was stowed. The boat was designed to get up and go fast in all types of weather but the outboard had enough torque to turn the wheel if you let go at full throttle. It was foggy but not overly rough on the day that he went to Macs. The best that folks could figure is that he either let go of the wheel momentarily or hit tide as he neared the Starboard Conical Lateral buoy on the Eastern side of Little Letete passage. He didn’t return to the Wharf that night and every salmon site worker around as well as Coast Guard SAR, Fisheries and Oceans, my father’s vessel working as a Canadian Coast Guard Auxilliary Vessel and many other fine individuals searched the islands for any sign of him or the boat.
The boat was found upside down in a fishing weir just off the ferry track at Jameson Island and the SAR soon turned into a recovery operation to give the insurance company the bitter proof it needed so that Blair’s wife and family could receive the much need funds to pay for their needs and the funeral. We searched for 2 weeks (if I recall correctly) to no avail, roughly a month later, periwinklers found Blair’s body washed up on a beach very near Butler’s Point Deer Island and he was finally laid to rest.
My most recent trip back to Tiverton and Boar’s head by way of the sea wasn’t until 2008 when my brother and I delivered the old Long Island ferry, the M.V. Joshua Slocum (renamed the M.V. Walter Grey), to Tiverton in order to transfer salmon smolts. We left on Blacks Harbour NB on the evening of December 21 when we reached boars head the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Brier Island was
attempting to retrieve a man off the cable ferry William Pitt II (after the tug towing it to Halifax snapped the tow line in heavy seas and dropped the crewman off on the ferry to re-attach the tow). He was successful in re-attaching the tow but the tug was unable to get him off the ferry (all the doors were locked and the deck was awash). The water off boars head was so rough that my brothers truck shifted on the ferry’s deck. When we woke up in the morning we learned that the Coast Guard Vessel was successful in retrieving the stranded crewman but the tug was along side our ferry and the William Pitt was on the rocks. The tug had entered Tiverton passage against the advice of the Coast Guard Vessels captain who had warned that the tide would prevent the tug from making way and the wind would likely push them against the mainland….guess what happened? Those Coast Guard guys know what they are talking about!
My final dramatic episode with water was during my very first kayak lesson. A specific skill was being taught near the end of the day which was set up in such a way as to result in a wet exit for those who were shall we say balance challanged? I was wearing neoprene gloves and I’m pretty sure my skirt handle was tucked in. Over I went and try as I may I could not seem to get out of the cockpit. Luckily the instructor recognized what was going on and had my head above water in no time flat but it still had an affect on my psyche.
So you can see I have a culmination of experiences that make me pay great respect to rough and tidal water. Strangely though I (an many other people I’ve encountered) have some subconscious connection to being close to shore with it being somehow more safe? I’ve had customers tell me, when wanting to buy a recreational kayak to use on the Bay of Fundy (ask me why that’s a bad idea and I’ll write you a book),: “I’ll be OK, I’ll just stick close to shore”. In actuality that’s not always the best place to be (unless you want to go surfing, we’ll get into that near the end of the post) if something happens. Offshore winds could blow your kayak out to see if you capsize and get separated from it. On shore winds can create surf at the beach as the waves get pushed up by the ever shallowing bottom. For some reason, that subconscious connection is still there for me though. I feel safer surfing an 8′ wave at a beach in 25 knot winds then I do offshore with a 15 knot tail wind. It seems to be the proximity to land and that “what if” devil on my shoulder. My fear is my biggest limiting factor when developing personal paddling skills.
Fast Forward now to my first day of the Paddle Canada Level 3/4 course. I know that we must lead and be lead in certain environmental conditions to successfully pass our assessment (for me, the Level 3 skills). I must be able to lead a peer group and my skills must meet a certain criteria in wind and sea state. Of course my anxiety builds as we eventually Paddle into the Tusket Islands in 25 knot winds. It ends up being fun. Our path is carefully selected and we paddle sheltered into the wind, in the partial lee of spectacle Island then we pass through the small opening between Big Tusket and Spectacles, over to Eagles, to Turpentine then Owl’s head, stopping at a drying rock in Ellenwoods passage en route to Ellenwoods Island. The wind slowly builds but it remains oddly fun. We pass by Candlebox light (pictured above) on our way back down to the Northern Tip of Spectacles and I’m actually having fun as our splinter group surfs a small tide race between Deep Cove Island and Spectacle. We return to the Wharf and I feel as though I’ve accomplished something, I had a blast in 25 knot wind.
Our next day had us surfing at Greenville Beach which was a blast. I was on a high, I had spent a day under the tutelage of Gordon Brown at Stony Island Beach on Cape Sable Island just days before during the Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium. I learned a great deal and built a ton of confidence. So during the torrential downpour of our surfing day I was doing my very best to catch the biggest and most energetic surf I could find. For me it was the best day of my entire 11 day trip.
Then came our 4th day. Rock hopping near Sambro. It had been blowing gale force southerlies since the Day in the Tuskets but had switched to a Northerly wind (offshore) for our Day out near Sambro. We launched from Long Cove in West Pennant and headed out for Pennant Island. My Anxiety had returned at this point, all the confidence I had the day earlier surfing at Greenville was gone. I knew based on the energy I could see being abruptly stopped by Croak Rock off in the distance, as we got geared up and in our boats, that today would be big waves and increased perceived risk on my part. I had already stated to everyone on the course, at the start of the course that one of my main goals was to increase confidence and this would make or break me…..no pun intended. We made our way past Pennant Island out to Black Rock. I saw the swell and the energy being dissipated onto Black Rock. It scared me. The picture above (taken by Kate Hives) shows the scene.
Our mission? To get as close to that rock as we could comfortably get, capsize and get out of our boat while still holding on to it and our paddle. We then needed to swim our boat away from the rock so that it would be safe for a rescuer to assist us getting back in our kayak.
My turn came, I went in close and actually stayed in the boat long enough to tap my hull three times (a level 1 task that shows you have your wits about you enough to calmly perform the task under duress). I then reached for my cockpit skirt handle, came out and was asked to attempt a re-enter and roll, a skill I had demonstrated a few days previous on the Argyle River in current but my mind was focused only on the danger at hand. I tried once then twice then stopped. I was then instructed to pull my boat away from the rock where an assisted re-entry was performed. I was done at this point I was absolutely brain dead in fear. I think my instructors recognized that and we regrouped in a small cove on Pennants Island where we discussed what worked and what didn’t. For me, at the time, being in that situation wasn’t working but I cleared my head and was determined to overcome this feeling of anxiety that has plagued me off and on when ever the road ahead is difficult. I went in and did what I was trained to do and felt better about myself for it. I was still way off guard around some of the other work we did but that one task was a small victory that brought my confidence up just a little.
I was granted a conditional pass and instructed to work on….you guessed it, my confidence and I’m doing just that by slowly increasing the level of difficulty of the conditions I play and have FUN in. Like my Kayak coach told me: “Jeremy, it’s only kayaking, it’s meant to be fun!”.
I have since started a small group here in Saint John called the Fundy Storm Riders where skilled paddlers from all over New Brunswick are invited to bumpy water events we have when the conditions present themselves. I’m now checking forecasts for wind, not to avoid wind. I hope to wrap up my Level 3 assessment in the summer of 2016.