Sailing Away From Winter

Sailing Away From Winter

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On July 21, 2004, Silver Donald Cameron and his wife Marjorie Simmins set sail from DEscousse, in Cape Breton Island, towards the white sand beaches and palm trees of the nearest tropical islands. They were sailing a 31-year-old Norwegian-built ketch named Magnus. Accompanying them was their BFD, the Brave and Faithful Dog otherwise known as Leo the Wonder Whippet. Two hundred and thirty-six days later, with more than 3000 nautical miles behind them, this distinctly trepid crew rowed ashore in Little Harbour, in the Bahamas. 

The skipper was an old age pensioner. His youthful mate, though she had once been a deckhand in the BC salmon fishery, was new to the cruising life. The arthritic BFD was 13, an age at which most whippets have gone to the Great Kennel in the Sky. When they rowed ashore in Little Harbour, they were carrying musical instruments and heading to Petes Pub, a palm-thatched tiki bar on the beach. There the skipper and his mate would celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary by eating conch salad and lemon hogfish, drinking bargain rum, and playing Cape Breton jigs and reels with a muster of sun-browned international vagabonds.

The skipper, formally dressed in bathing trunks, raised a glass of rum.

"To Marjorie's voyage with two old dogs," he said. "And to absent friends, God help 'em, frozen stiff and buried in snow."

The skipper felt he had earned the right to be somewhat smug and self-congratulatory. He had dreamed of this trip for 30 years, and had spent many laborious hours upgrading the old boat they had bought specifically for the voyage. He had persuaded the mate that their marriage and their solvency would probably survive the trip, and that the venture would not unduly compromise the comfort and well-being of the Ship's Dog.

And here they were. All three had lost fat and gained muscle. They were not in debt. Friends had remarked that the skipper and mate looked ten years younger, and the BFD was capering about like a puppy.

Mind you, there had been moments…

In Jonesport, Maine, when the skipper smashed the boat into a wharf and punched a hole in the bow. In Southwest Harbour, when massive electrical upgrades punched a hole in their wallet. In Long Island Sound, when the engine had unexpectedly died - the beginning of a problem that persisted intermittently all the way to Florida. In Norwalk, Connecticut, when Magnus lay hard aground on a sandbar with the US Coast Guard standing by.

It had not been much fun off the deadly coast of New Jersey either, in a screeching gale with the boat rolling her side decks underwater in the middle of the night.

But there had been plenty of thrills and pleasures, too. Fireworks over the Tall Ships in Halifax Harbour. Schooner racing on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. The tranquility of September villages in Maine, and the absurd little boulder which was Plymouth Rock. Careening down the East River at 10 knots with Manhattan whizzing past to starboard.

Feasting on hush puppies, grits with chicken gravy, sugar toads, ankle-biters and prodigious heaps of shrimp. Low Country boils and Gilded Age mansions on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, shrouded in live oak and Spanish moss, with vibrations of voodoo hanging in the air. The ancient streets of St. Augustine, and the dazzling opulence of Fort Lauderdale.

The boisterous 75-mile crossing of the Gulf Stream - and then the Bahamas. The vivid turquoise waters of the Sea of Abaco, rimmed by narrow islands with pastel villages clustered under the palm trees: Spanish Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Man-o-War Cay, Treasure Cay. Making music in the cockpit in Hope Town. Coral reefs crowded with tropical fish, yellow and scarlet and black. Wood-carvers, painters and wreck-divers. Wild Spanish horses in forests of palmetto and casuarina. And yachts from exotic ports: Auckland, San Francisco, Bordeaux … and Toronto.

Happy anniversary, said the mate. And to you, said the skipper. They kissed.

Woof, said the BFD.