Sunday, 19 August 2012

Preparations and Incidents: A Newfoundland Folk Tale in the Making

The pontoon where the first incident occurred

A couple of days after we arrived in St.John's, a fellow Englishman joined the Taniwha crew. Matt Whitney, like me, has been travelling without flying: he left England by bus for Gibraltar 8 months ago, and having crossed the Atlantic on a catamaran has been travelling in the Caribbean and the Americas. 

During the time we have been spending in the harbour at St. John's, we have been spending time on various projects to ready the ship for the big crossing.

These projects included creating "The Snack Shack", a restraining area to store all the spare packets of crisps, nuts, biscuits and nibbly bits so that they don't fly around when we are on the lumpy ocean:

We also safely stowing the anchor and spare sails (a good chance to practice our knots), rigged the storm sails and series drogue to be ready for heavy weather, and cobbled together an autopilot system which will hopefully help us with the 1800-odd nautical miles of steering ahead of us. 

This involved wiring together the various electronic instruments of a tiller pilot as well as linking the electric ram of the tiller pilot to a windvane steering mechanism that was already in place. (More interesting knots to tie.)

This project in particular had a backdrop of events that could in time become a Newfoundland folk tale to rival the ones I mentioned in my previous post. The project necessitated the drilling of holes in the deck astern of the cockpit area, to hold an aluminium stanchion to support the motor arm of the tiller pilot. Drilling these holes and screwing bolts into them meant that at least one of us had to crawl into the dark narrow space behind the greasy steering mechanism in the back of the boat. Different stages of the project needed different activities in the cavity, so we took it in turns to crawl in there, using foam pads to cushion ourselves from the spars that form the shape of the hull against which the crawler is forced to lie. 

The dark hole into which we took turns to crawl
During my turn in the stern, Nick was drilling holes in the deck, and I was in voice contact with him to ensure that the holes went accurately either side of a beam that was supporting the deck. Being in voice contact made being in a narrow space relatively bearable. Nick had drilled the holes, and I was getting ready for a couple of bolts to be pushed through the holes, when suddenly all went eerily quiet. I heard a scream and a splash, and then nothing. I called out to Nick, but all voice contact was lost.

Lying there in the gloom, the hull struts pressing into my back through the cushion, I pondered my situation.
I could stay there and wait, or I could extricate myself and find out what was going on. 

The first option was problematic inasmuch as I was now, without the reassuring contact with Nick's voice, beginning to feel rather claustrophobic in that small space, from which a fast escape would not be easy.

The extrication option was no more favourable, however, as it would require no small effort to get out of the space, and in all likelihood, whatever disaster had occurred would, I guessed, be over by the time I emerged on deck, with very little that I could do to assist matters, and I would simply have to crawl back into the space to finish the job. So I stayed where I was, avoiding claustrophobia all the while by sheer force of willpower.

I called out from time to time, consistently getting no answer from either Nick or Matt, both of whom had been around and in earshot until just before the silence began. I began to think that perhaps a strangely calm apocalypse had occurred, and I would emerge from my aluminium cave to find the world in a state of disarray, or even perhaps no living being remaining. 

When I was on just on the verge of making the decision to get out of the space, Nick's voice reappeared, apologized for his sudden absence, and told me that a boat that had arrived opposite had had an incident that required both his and Matt's immediate attention.

After we finished attaching the aluminium stanchion to the deck, I crawled backwards out of the narrow space, and everything was explained to me. As I was not a primary witness, I will leave it to Matt's blog to provide a more accurate explanation of the story as seen from the outside. Suffice to say that it involved a boat and a falling dentist, and a lot of fending.

<== The boat that had arrived on the pontoon opposite was one we had first met at the harbour in Port-Aux-Basques

Very shortly after the incident, and while I was still under the deck wondering what was going on, there was another incident nearby which could not possibly have been linked, but elevates the whole scenario to the local gossip circuit, and possibly even to folkloric status. According to Nick, there were suddenly a lot of people running around the Harbourside Park area, (not 20 yards from our mooring) shouting such things as "Ya! Call tha Cops!"

By the time I had resurfaced, the cops had arrived and started an investigation, cordoning off the area with "POLICE - Do Not Cross" tape. They came to both boats asking for witnesses to interview. I did not offer my services as a witness, since I had only been able to hear the inside of the boat when the events took place.

Apparently there had been a stabbing, after which the stabbee, bleeding, had chased his assailant (apparently unknown to him) through the park and down the street, leaving a trail of blood drips that is still visible after several rain showers:

And there were we thinking we were in the more refined and calm end of St. John's harbour.

What with stabbings, wartime relics and repercussions, and enough ghost stories to fill volumes (being discussed by the staff of the laundromat I am in as I write this), don't ever tell anyone Newfoundland is a place where nothing ever happens.

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