The past is a mirror to tomorrow!

1 Nov

Wow, cool title eh? I thought it sounded pretty catchy and in a lot of ways, it describes Richard and I to a T.

So I guess it’s time to introduce ourselves and give you some background which will also give you some insight into what we do now.

We both seem to have travelled a great deal during our formative years, though in different ways. My family moved to Vancouver in 1959, driving from southern Ontario before the Trans Canada Highway was built. Then every 2 years we drove back out to visit, trying to take a different route every time. I can’t tell you  how often I’ve been across the US and Canada. My Father was also a fanatic  fisherman and because my sisters had no interest, I became my Dad’s fishing buddy. As often as he could, my Dad loaded up the car and boat and we would hit the ocean or a lake somewhere in the hinterlands of BC.

Richard’s childhood consisted of little boats, sailboats,  and airplanes. His father was a pilot and half owner of a series of small planes and so at any given time would pack up one or another of the kids and head off anywhere they could reach.

At the time we met, Richard had been home 6 months, and was already working for the Canadian Coast Guard, having spent the previous 2 years in Europe and Israel. I had been struggling with a failing business after spending 2 years in Canada’s western Arctic, and was contemplating joining the Canadian Navy. We were destined to meet, when a friend of my parents, mentioned a really great job opportunity available with the  Coast Guard, which had recently gone co-ed. Having expenses to repay due to the failure of my store, and at loose ends, I took him up on the offer. I had discovered that woman recruits, regardless as to rank achieved, were not allowed to serve regularly on Naval ships and that’s what I wanted, to go to sea. The Coast Guard would give me that opportunity.

CCGS Vancouver

The job I was being offered, was as deck crew on the CCGS Quadra, a Canadian Coast Guard Weathership.  The weatherships,( there were 2 of them, the Vancouver and the Quadra) were purpose built ships designed to fill a niche in meteorology, oceanography, national defense, and safety at sea. Built in the Burrard Dry Docks in Vancouver, they were 414 feet long,  50 feet wide and drafted 17.5 feet, with a crew compliment of about 80. In our time there were 10 women and 70 men.

The ships were based out of Esquimalt and operated in rotation, with seven weeks at sea (one spent steaming to and from station) and five at home, and  there was always a ship on Station. That station was  Station ‘P’  for “Peter” or  as it was later known”Papa”, Canada’s exclusive weather station at 50°N, 145°W. The ships were required to maintain a presence  on station which was approximately 900 miles west from Vancouver, over waters 4220 meters deep. Station “Papa”, was continuously occupied from  December 1949 till June 1981.Weather stations had been designated at various positions throughout both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the positions chosen so as to fill the gaps where there were no shipping lanes and from where no weather reports came.

All of the original weatherstations

So I can hear you all saying, “well, that sounds like a pretty good job!” and you’d be right, but it was also the most stressful, difficult and terrifying job I’ve ever had, but neither one of us would have given up a second of it.

Off to the interview I went for this “great job”, on the ship itself. That went very well, and my Mom and Dad  who had offered to drive me, were waiting for me in the Mess. Sitting with them was this slim, red headed, gorgeous man with hair down to his waist, talking to them. When I walked through the door they all turned and looked at me. Now, I’ve never been a believer in love at first sight and even now I’m not sure I do, but I knew Richard was the man for me the second I laid eyes on him, and I told my Mother as we drove away, “I don’t know who that guy is but I’m going to marry him!” She laughed.

Now, try to imagine going to work in an office building, or a store, along with all the people you work with, and when you get there, they close the doors and don’t open them again for 7 weeks (147 days).   They feed you well, and there’s lots of food available, but you work 4 hour shifts, 8 off, 4 on, every day. Every day! For 7 weeks! You sleep in a cot just big enough to fit you, raised up on one side so you’re cradled against the wall, in  a room that might be 10×10 feet square, along with a sink, a small porthole that may or may not open, a desk,  a setee, and a ceiling to floor closet. Not even enough room to swing a cat! Try to imagine 20 people singing, dancing and drinking in a room this size.( It can be done, but that’s a story for when I know you better). On top of that, make the floor never stop moving, sometimes very violently.  This was the romantic background to the start of our relationship and love affair. Don’t you wish you’d been there?

Station Papa, Out in the middle of nowhere!

Station “Papa”, was an active storm area, where 20 foot swells, an overcast sky, and the wind blowing at a sultry 20 knots (23 miles per hour for those of you who don’t have a nautical bent)  was considered to be a calm day. We had winds in excess of  120 km per hour  many times, a couple of times hitting Category 3  hurricane winds, that’s over 200 km per hour!  There’s nothing like trying to walk when the path you’re  following is constantly changing, from uphill to down hill and back again, while at the same time, rolling from side to side, rapidly. The ship was kept on station, meaning we couldn’t move more than 100km away from the actual marked spot on the water. While there, scientific tests were run, and ship maintenance was constant, both in the engine room and on deck. We spent our time trying to survive whatever nature threw at us, and overcoming feelings of isolation and depression. This was accomplished by working, fishing, watching movies in the crews mess, partying, drinking and since it was the 70’s, smoking a lot of pot.Oh and did I mention partying? We did a lot of that! It was a lot of fun but it was also deadly serious. Storms were always a major danger and there were a few times when all talk turned to how to survive if the ship rolled over. Every rookie was told not to worry, land was only 2 miles away……straight down! On at least one occasion, the ship rolled so far over that all of us on the bridge, including the Second Officer were sure she couldn’t right herself. It seemed like hours while we stood there and watched the gauges, and I can’t tell you just how relieved we all were, when she finally stood back up.

Amid all of that, Richard and I nurtured a relationship that started the day we met. We discovered we had a great many interests in common and shared the same outlook on life, the universe and everything. (If you’ve ever read Douglas Adams, you’ll understand that last sentence.)

We spent 18 months on that ship, and at the end of it, we got married, in April of 1979.

We’ve been together ever since! Not bad for a relationship that survived the  stormiest of weather, eh?

Sorry, couldn’t help myself…..

Talk to you soon!

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2 Responses to “The past is a mirror to tomorrow!”

  1. Michelle Savarie December 9, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    What a great story! Alexis you should write a book!

  2. Ramona Bourne January 20, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    what a lovely story. I agree with Michelle, you really should write a book. No wonder you are both so adventuresome. Look at the start you had. Very inspiring and i hope you keep living your best life 🙂

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