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July 4th, 2014
July 4th, 2014

Remembering Farley

Martyn Carrying Margaret Aboard Ayesha, July 26, 1969  Photo by Joseph Schmid
Martyn Carrying Margaret Aboard Ayesha, July 26, 1969 Photo by Joseph Schmid
Farley Mowat, Canada´s iconic and iconoclastic author and environmentalist, passed away on May 6th, 2014.  His books have been translated into 52 languages and 17 million copies sold worldwide.  He was famously refused entry into the US in 1985 as an “undesirable” which became the excuse for another missive laced with wit, sarcasm and Mowat´s views on bureaucracy and misplaced patriotism.  He titled it My Discovery of America, tongue firmly in cheek.

My memories of Farley are of a very different sort.

In the spring of 1969, my bride-to-be, Margaret, and I had purchased the little Stevens designed and built gaff schooner, Ayesha, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  It was my job to get the honeymoon vessel to Toronto in time for the wedding in July, which was just managed with a little leeway with the help of my friend Paul MacKeown: and no thanks to a recalcitrant diesel engine; a faulty exhaust system; a broken bowsprit; and every attempt of the mighty St. Lawrence River to impede our slow, ever so slow, advance against its determined march to the Atlantic Ocean.

With scant days to spare, the Ayesha arrived at the foot of York Street to be made ready for the wedding and the voyage.  Once underway, wedding presents haphazardly stowed aboard and our gift to each other, an eight-week-old Sappho the seagoing Siamese, asleep in the tea cozy, we could relax at last.  Approaching the diminutive harbour of Port Hope, I felt it was time to impress my bride and display Ayesha´s handiness combined with a bold display of seamanship.

Scrutinizing the chart at length, it appeared to me that with the westerly wind behind me I could turn to port through an opening in the breakwater, reach up the harbour with the wind on my beam and then come head to wind as I eased Ayesha´s bow alongside a conveniently placed government dock.  No need for an engine; the sails could be lowered once we luffed up or dealt with at the dock.

All went well until I turned to port and discovered that the wind was a lot fresher than I had thought.  The docks on either side were full of holidaying boaters, firing up barbeques or pouring out generous helpings of gin and tonics.  My apprehension was not reduced as one after another of those ´yachties´ ceased whatever they were doing to watch, unimpeded, the rapidly developing scenario.  One most likely to end in a disaster of magnificent proportions.  And wholly entertaining, so long as Ayesha´s bowsprit ended up poking a hole in someone else´s wheelhouse or port light!

The time had come to turn into the wind and glide at a leisurely pace to the wharf, the head wind acting as a brake.  I had already tried to slow the schooner´s mad dash down the harbour by easing her sheets and spilling as much wind as I could.  As the bow turned, I handed the helm to Margaret and went forward as nonchalantly as possible (though inwardly tempted to race for the halyards) and let the fore and mainsails down on the run with the weight of the gaffs doing a splendid job of bringing the canvas down to the deck.

As Marg brought her alongside the dock I dropped a stern line over one bollard and a bow line over another more by good luck than good management.  Looking up I saw a short man with a bushy beard and a pair of twinkling eyes gazing at me intently.

“You ever been in here before, son?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“Well either you know what you´re doing or you´re a bloody idiot,” he retorted.  But the eyes twinkled.

“In either case,” continued Farley Mowat “it was a fine performance.  Dinner´s on me tonight.”

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