On a stormy Sunday evening in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Mom, Dad, Francis and I were getting ready for church. Dad, however, was preoccupied with the weather because a hurricane, possibly Hurricane Alma, was coming up the coast. The sky looked menacing and the sea was upside down. Before long, the full force of the hurricane would descend upon them.

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West Head November 27, 2014-hurricane

Our house overlooked the water. As Dad peered through the window he noticed something strange taking place. A yacht was going around in circles in dangerously, shallow water. How had the sailor avoided the many rocky ledges and islands? Was he lost? Had he suffered a medical emergency?  Was there even anybody in the yacht?

Dad felt compelled to intervene. He could not go to church and abandon a sailor and his yacht in a life and death situation. One thing was certain. Without help, the boat would run aground on one of the many outcroppings of small islands and ledges and all aboard would perish in the wild, frigid water.

Dad put on his fishing clothes and walked down the hill to the beach. Another fisherman with an outboard offered to take him out to the foundering yacht. They came alongside the yacht and the distraught sailor gave Dad permission to board. The other fisherman returned to port. Dad discovered a lone man on the yacht, lost, confused and fearing for his life.

After assessing the situation with the wisdom of a seasoned fisherman, Dad came up with a plan of action. He would try to get the yacht safely in nearby Townsends’ Harbour to wait out the storm. That proved unsuccessful because the tide was out and the water was too shallow for the size of the yacht. That left one option — hunker down and wait out the storm.

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While the winds raged from every direction and the seas pounded the yacht, Dad found out a little more about its owner. He had spent years building his yacht. It was his pride and joy. Three days earlier, he had sailed out of Halifax Harbour with the French Shore as his destination, even though a hurricane had been forecast. At this point, the poor man had no clue where he was.

The yacht was poorly equipped for sailing. It had no navigational equipment — no radar, no loran, no sonar —  just a compass and the stars. Even worse, the sailor had no means of communication — neither CB nor VHF radio. He had no way to send out a mayday call.

Miraculously, he had made it this close to shore without running aground on the rocks. He must have only missed them by a hair. The storm raged on, showing no signs of weakening. They tried to anchor the yacht for added security. The rope came undone and they lost the anchor. A sailor with a million-dollar yacht who could not even tie a proper knot?

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Dad suggested another option. Given the gravity of the situation, the wisest and safest solution may be to run the yacht aground on the sand beach below our house. At least they would be safe. Then the yacht owner’s insurance company would pay for the repairs. The sailor objected strongly because he had no insurance on his expensive boat.

Now what?

Dad could see Carter’s Island Lighthouse in the distance near the entrance to Lockeport Harbour. They had to pass through treacherous waters from where they were to where they wanted to go. If they could make it that far, they could safely enter Lockeport Harbour. Their first attempt failed.

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On the second try, Dad told the sailor he was setting his sight on the lighthouse. He then ordered the frazzled man out on the bow in the wind and rain to watch for a certain rocky ledge. They had to pass east of the ledge if they had any hope of surviving. Dad took the wheel and the sailor had been instructed to knock on the window when he spotted the rocks. It was slow going in the storm. Relief flowed through Dad’s veins when he heard the thump, thump, thump. An hour later, they were approaching Carter’s Lighthouse. Their trial was almost over.

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With a generous dose good luck, skill from years of experience and help from the man upstairs, Dad and the stranger reached the safety of the south wharf in Lockeport Harbour on Monday morning at 3 a.m. — eight hours after the nightmare began.

As soon as Dad scaled the ladder to the wharf, the yacht owner headed back out the harbour, without as much as a simple thank you.

Dad had something to say. He sneered sarcastically, “Sonny, that feller  didn’t know if he was in Lockeport Harbour or New York Harbour. What kind of a numbskull would strike out with a hurricane bearing down on him?”

Remarkably, within a matter of minutes the winds abated, the rain ended and the stars came out as the hurricane moved out to sea.

Those who had slept through the storm refused to believe the story. They chalked it up to just another Gene Roache yarn. Even I would have agreed with them, except I watched the whole nightmare unfold before my eyes from the kitchen window.

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