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Lionheart - Halifax, Nova Scotia

Four of us (brother-in-law, his two sons aged twelve and fourteen and myself) set out for a day's fishing in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, around Lawlor and McNabs Islands. After about three hours of seeing no fish, I was talked into "Let's try the other side of McNabs Island", where the water is over 100 feet deep.

As we headed out (at about 14:30), about quarter of a mile off the shore of McNabs, I noticed a big ship headed out to sea about a mile away from us and having seen (and felt) the wake of these things afore (even though they are a mile or so off) I "changed my plans" and decided to turn and run for home and safer waters.

I don't think we'd gone 50 foot when... the wake of the ship reached us, not very high (say 2 feet) but very strong. Well, we were just on the partly reefed mainsail on a starboard tack when the wake came upon us, lifting Lionheart well up in the water. Just at that moment we caught a gust of wind, and that was enough to turn us turtle within two seconds!

John (the brother-in-law, who at this point I should mention, doesn't swim) was flung backwards over the rising port side, along with his youngest, Christopher, followed by Paul (up on the bow), whilst I had to leap up from my position on the starboard side and jump off a capsizing boat smack into the (almost subtropical) briny!

Just before we had turned back, there was a 40+ footer coming in behind us, so I think "well at least someone is around and close by", but when I looked up to see where he is, some 300-400 feet away, they (three or four on deck) sail right on! Never even saw us! What I thought were binoculars being raised were in fact bottles of beer: they were all looking at how close they were to the big ship so close to them by now.

This is the worst time to find out that your flares, air horn, and even your Boy Scout whistle are still in the cabin. (Modified since then: waterproof container tied to the engine mount, with flares and air horn inside.)

Time is now 14:40 and all of us are looking around for other boats. There is no way that we can right the begger with a sail up (or should that be "down"?)

Whilst John was concerned about the choppy waters and hypothermia, the water was 62 deg F, so I knew we would be good for a couple of hours at least, but John is one of those guys that feels cold in a hot tub.

My only concern was, we were in a decent spot for fishing - shark fishing! I should know as not more than a mile away and just four days earlier I had landed two blue sharks, both of them over 250lb.

Then... about a mile away, John sees a speedboat heading straight for us! Gor Blimey! Was I glad to see that sight. The time is now 15:10, and Paul Connors, a guy who lives only a mile away from me, arrives to save our bacon - bacon much chilled by that time, I can tell you!

We gets the boys into his boat, then John, then me time. It is now 15:15 (Boy - does it take forever to get folks out of the drink).

Shortly after, the Mil' Police on Harbor Patrol see the activity and arrive in a Zodiac. We put the boys on the Zodiac, and they take them to Shearwater Military Base for hot choc', etc.

We start to tow Lionheart - still upside down; here exit the drop keel - when along comes Tuna, a big yacht (over 60 foot) full of folks.

"Do you need any help?"

"Nah! We're okay now, thanks!"

"Do you want us to right the boat?"

"If you can," says I, thinking they will use a winch... when splash! in goes this young woman who tries to climb to the keel and to the "tip it over thing" that we have done so easily earlier!

After a few tries, she says "I need some help", and by this time I think that my brain was well the worse for being chilled, 'cause I jump back in. Boy, did I say it was cold?

Anyway, even though when I reached Lionheart I was shagged out (30 foot swim) we did get her to start a roll, very slowly at first, then, as the sail came out of the water... real quick! The mast did a 360 in no time, and on its way back down missed me by inches, and the sail near took me to Davy Jones with it. What a bleedin' day!

Time now 15:30. Both of us shagged out, so in jumps some other guy from Tuna, and between us we did do a controlled righting of Lionheart. We then bailed what we could and finished the tow into Shearwater Naval Base, arriving at 16:15.

Anyway, having (it would seem) a charmed life, I'm not dead yet (again), but we did lose some stuff. The keel popped out and sank in 100 foot of whatever it is passes through Shearwater (the locale of several unsavoury outfall pipes). Lost also were the hatch, VHF radio/telephone, compass, fishing gear, four pairs of shoes (we all kicked them off), toolkit, clothes, egg sandwiches, charts - but not our sense of humour.

It took two hours to pump old Lionheart out, with the help of many sturdy folks of Shearwater Marina, and I felt somewhat better learning that we were the seventh in ten days to capsize in the same general area.

All my shipmates are stout and true and want to go out again, but I have some reservation about it. Sailing seems to have lost some of its charm.

As a result of these events I have made several modifications to Lionheart.

de Bob, Cap'n of Lionheart (Hearts of oak are her men!)

This story originally appeared in Potter-yachters, April 1995

Bob Norburn


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