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The Leeway Striker

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This article first appeared on the Yarmouth Vanguard’s website Aug.28, 2018

One of the benefits of the Cape Cottage’s location is the vantage point it provides for vessels departing and arriving in Yarmouth Harbour. With its distinctive camouflage paint job and sleek profile, a  74-foot patrol boat generated lots of conversation when it arrived for fuel and to clear customs on Aug. 26.

The Leeway Striker cost close to $10 million to build. Captain Jamie Sangster, CEO of Leeway Marine in Halifax, wouldn’t disclose how much he paid for the vessel, one they worked nearly a year to acquire.“It’s an interesting boat,”he said.

“There was no expense spared in the development of this boat at all.

Leeway Marine operates in a number of different sectors, but mostly hydrographic survey. Sangster and his team aspire to enter into a few other sectors in the market with the new vessel – ocean technology-related and defence-related.

The mid-shore surveillance and patrol vessel was built by RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames for a military application in a military competition several years ago. The prototype vessel never went into use because competitors won the bid.

“It worked out well for us,” said Sangster. “We were the lucky Nova Scotians that were digging hard to find an appropriate, unique vessel and we’ve certainly found it in this one.”

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Crew: Mark Decker, Grant Heddon and captain Jamie Sangster.

The unique camouflage exterior is difficult to see, especially in colder ocean waters as it tends to blend in with the waves.

There are also very few 90-degree angles on the vessel so the radar cross-section is a lot smaller.

“For a defence application, having a small radar cross-section certainly makes you much more difficult to detect. So that’s a nice advantage for some of the clients we hope to attract,” said Sangster.

The interior features shock absorbing seats, small galley and six bunks.

Sangster says it took a little while to learn the technical components of the vessel during the trip as it didn’t come with a user manual.

“We’re new to the boat and there are so many things you have to learn. It’s all monitored remotely through the computers,” he said.

“It feels good to almost have it home. It’s been kind of a long journey since last June, when we started working on the process to get this vessel. The team left Tampa in mid-August and stopped in a few places on the way up to work out the kinks.”

The vessel docked at the COVE – the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship – in Halifax when it arrived. In Spring 2019, Leeway Marine signed a partnership with Newfoundland’s Kraken Sonar Systems. The Striker will be deployed as a mine hunting and hydrographic patrol vessel to survey areas in littoral and offshore waters.

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Control panel of Leeway Striker.

More on the Leeway Striker

Length: 74 feet with 6.5 feet beam

Speed: 58.5 knots

Range: 510 NM

Engines: Three x V12MAN diesels; 2 Kamewa 45 S3 w/1 x Kamewa 45 B3 Booster waterjet

Other features: removable shock-mitigating seating for crew and mission personnel, stern ramp to accommodate a five-metre interceptor or unmanned scout boat.

Lobster band blues

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This article was first published in the Tri-County Vanguard, Feb.26, 2018

Where do those rubber bands on shore come from?

YARMOUTH, N.S. – A walk along your nearest beach could very well be marred by the sight of thousands of multi-coloured lobster bands strewn along the high-water mark during the winter.

Where did they come from?

When lobsters are removed from traps, a rubber band must be placed on their snapping claws to prevent them from damaging each other during storage. The job is a tough assignment at the best of times. Combine a feisty lobster, cumbersome gloves and a swaying boat, and a pretty good percentage of those rubber bands end up on the deck. They’re small and a nuisance to pick up so they’re often just swept or hosed off the boat into the ocean. Other times, like an elastic, they snap off and fly into the water as fishermen are fastening them to a lobster’s claw.

The multitude that end up on shorelines isn’t pretty and some who have seen them ask a common question.

Why don’t lobster fishermen go back to the old-fashioned, environmentally friendly solution of using wooden pegs for the same purpose?

Over 80 million plugs were made and sold in 1978 to markets from New York to Newfoundland.

Vernon D’Eon, former owner of Vernon D’Eon Lobster Plugs Ltd., says there are several reasons why the switch was made.

The wooden lobster pegs were inserted under the lobster’s claw hinge joint to prevent claws from opening.

“It was a short-term fix but not a long-term one for holding lobsters,“ he said.

If the peg penetrated the tail section of the lobster and caused a hole, it could be subject to disease.

The blood disease could wipe out thousands and thousands of pounds of lobster in no time.

The lobsters were sometimes stored in tidal ponds, as these were the days before climate-controlled pounds and they’d cram together in corners, “like ants.”

The marking of the meat in the claw area also caused a dark grey mark on the meat.

Industry buyers asked fishermen to switch to rubber bands.

D’Eon does have good news about the lobster bands littering the shore.

“They rot,” he said.

“The bands that float are as pure as rubber as can be. Rubber doesn’t like air or light and they’ll just disappear over time.”

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Is it just local marine refuse we see?

A lobster band from Gaspésie, Que.,  found on False Harbour Beach, Cape Forchu, N.S.,  begs the question – how far away can lobster bands float from? It’s hard to tell.

Vernon D’Eon says a local lobster buyer may have brought in crates of lobsters from the Gaspésie area and the band could have floated off when the crate was open.

David Brickman, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, says it’s possible the band could have floated here from Gaspésie on the Nova Scotia current. The current runs parallel to the province’s coastline from Sydney, Cape Breton, past Yarmouth. It circles the Bay of Fundy and then becomes the Gulf of Maine coastal current flowing down to Cape Cod. Marine debris, particularly that which is drifting on surface currents, has a lot of variability in direction due to winds.

“The Nova Scotia current flows something like 10-20 centimetres per second.  That’s about 15 kilometres per day or 250-500 kilometres per month,” said Brickman.

Thankfully, False Harbour Beach and John’s Cove Beach have volunteers who do their best to remove any garbage they see. Beach cleanups around the world are an ongoing job however until all mankind realizes and respects the immense value of the biodiversity in our oceans.

 

Spring Storm

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Clumps of Snowdrops were the first flowers to be transplanted to the Cape Cottage property.  In this region of Nova Scotia these nodding white beauties signal the end of winter and often appear in late March.

Of course, snowfall at that time is still quite common and can smother the Snowdrops. But these bloomers are tough.

BBC Earth describes how their leaves have specially hardened tips to help them break through frozen soil. Their sap contains a form of antifreeze to prevent ice crystals forming. On very cold mornings, clumps will flop down as the water is ‘frozen’ inside the cells, but soon perk up again once temperatures rise and the sap can flow again.

The weather report for today called for 15-20 cm of snow. It’s discouraging for those who are impatient for Spring. Warmer weather is just around the corner though.

I know it because the Snowdrops told me so.

 

 

Meet the Litter Ladies of Cape Forchu

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Over the past year, Gert Sweeney, Molly Riddell and Jayne LeBlanc have collected 500 bags of garbage between the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and the Cape Forchu lighthouse.

This article was first published on May 22, 2018  on the Vanguard website

Drivers en route to one of the region’s most notable icons might notice something missing that’s on practically every other road in the tri-counties: garbage.

The absence of litter is due in great part to a small but mighty threesome – the Litter Ladies of Cape Forchu.

Over the past year, Gert Sweeney, Molly Riddell and Jayne LeBlanc have collected 500 bags of garbage between the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and the Cape Forchu lighthouse.

The women are not paid for the hundreds of hours they spend patrolling the shoreline and ditches for wash-ups and throwaways.

Sweeney says other family members also help them with the cleanups. She’s been collecting garbage here for 30 years.

She points to the bottom half of a sign on a post at Yarmouth Bar. The words “$250 fine” remain, but the “No Littering” part has been ripped off the top and tossed.

“Even though we’ve asked to have it replaced, it’s not the number-one priority,” she says.

She also draws attention to the Yarmouth Bar dumpsters opposite the wharves. Some of them are overflowing.

“Visitors look at the dumpster and say fishermen are dirty. Fishermen do cause some of the problems, but the majority of the problem here at the Bar is people who come from town bringing their garbage and dumping it. There’s abuse of the system,” she said.

LeBlanc says she feels blessed by the guys (fishermen) at the Yarmouth Bar.

“They’re amazing. They’ll see me walking with a garbage bag and ask if they can put a cup in it,” she says.

She’s noticed a change in attitude at the wharves over the past few years.

“Fishermen say they like coming to work now because it looks good and gives them a sense of pride. There was so much garbage. I know that overwhelming feeling… so if I felt that way, why wouldn’t they feel that way? They were raised to do what they were doing and no one ever showed them differently,” she says.

“I still hope to be doing this when I’m 80. I had a little old couple in their 80s, 90s, stop to talk to me. And they said thank you. The lady said, ‘You know, we used to come here when we were young, but then we stopped because it got dirty.’ Now we’re coming back,” LeBlanc says. “When you get things like that, it gives you a boost.”

“I treat every single day like Earth Day. And every time I pick up a bag, I say, ‘You’re not going in the ocean tonight.’ That’s what keeps me going.”

“We had found all kinds of meth pipes and drug paraphernalia. It was just a druggie hangout. They’d eat and leave the bags there. We cleaned it all out and Waste Check put a camera there. We haven’t had any garbage there in eight months,” says LeBlanc.

One of her pet peeves is what she refers to as the “glass grubbers.”

“They’ll rape the beach for what they want but they’ll pick up a piece of garbage and toss it aside instead of putting it in a bag.”

She believes the answer to littering may be leading by example and adds that it helps that she’s stubborn.

In one area where littering was particularly bad – the Tom & Jerry cul-de-sac – a camera was mounted.

“We had found all kinds of meth pipes and drug paraphernalia. It was just a druggie hangout. They’d eat and leave the bags there. We cleaned it all out and Waste Check put a camera there. We haven’t had any garbage there in eight months,” says LeBlanc.

One of her pet peeves is what she refers to as the “glass grubbers.”

“They’ll rape the beach for what they want but they’ll pick up a piece of garbage and toss it aside instead of putting it in a bag.”

She believes the answer to littering may be leading by example and adds that it helps that she’s stubborn.

“I still hope to be doing this when I’m 80. I had a little old couple in their 80s, 90s, stop to talk to me. And they said thank you. The lady said, ‘You know, we used to come here when we were young, but then we stopped because it got dirty.’ Now we’re coming back,” LeBlanc says. “When you get things like that, it gives you a boost.”

“I treat every single day like Earth Day. And every time I pick up a bag, I say, ‘You’re not going in the ocean tonight.’ That’s what keeps me going.”

CCGS Alfred Needler

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A beautiful warm spring-like day after a night of thunderstorms meant a trip to the Cape was called for. The waves were churning and there was a surfer bobbing like a seal out past the breaks when I arrived.

When I went up to the cottage all of the snow was gone from the south deck. The bench in the sun-baked area beckoned invitingly. Looking out at the lighthouse I could see the superstructure of a large vessel moving past Cat Rock.

I heard the deep thrumming of its engines and watched the bow rising and falling in slow motion. The vessel had a distinctive vertical white band beneath the wheelhouse and predominant  superstructure in the bow (black) and stern (yellow.)

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I decided to check it out on the Marine Traffic website when I got home. It was an easy find: the Canadian Coast Guard research ship Alfred Needler, heading toward Shelburne.

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DFO Photo

Although typically tasked to conduct surveys that involve bottom trawling for multiple species and environment data collection, in July 2016, Alfred Needler discovered the wreck of a ship while trawling the waters off Nova Scotia. Several large wooden fragments of a vessel, believed to date back to the 19th century, were pulled from the ocean floor.

Tales from the sea and sky

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Originally published in March 2013 in The Vanguard

He hasn’t strayed far from his childhood home. John Cunningham can see the Cape Forchu lighthouse where he worked as assistant lightkeeper for seven years and the coves where he pulled lobsters for thirty cents a pound.

Born at the Yarmouth Hospital on Oct. 10, 1919, Cunningham can tell you a thing or two about his life, well-seasoned with saltwater.

His father Herbert operated a streetcar in Yarmouth before moving to the lighthouse with his wife Grace Elizabeth Ayres and (eventually six) children to become its keeper.

Cunningham was only three or four-years-old at the time.

He trekked a mile-and-a-half with his brothers and sisters to a one-room schoolhouse at the Yarmouth Bar causeway, where grades primary to 10 were taught.

“One thing I do remember about that time,” he said.

“There weren’t any kids smoking cigarettes.”

Some winters there were “terrible” snowstorms and the children had to detour around snow banks by walking the beach.

A road overseer would call up brigades of young married men and pay them $1/hour to shovel the road so the few cars on the peninsula could make it out.

Cunningham recalls a memorable spring day when he was around 12. The children went outdoors after breakfast and found several exotic-looking birds at the base of the lighthouse.

“The old Yarmouth Light was very powerful. If you were close to where the flash went out, it would almost blind you,” he said.

The birds were returning from the south, alighting all around the cape and Overton.

The youngsters circled the tower and found 105 dead birds, their necks broken from colliding with the glass.

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“They were some of the most beautiful birds you could ever see,” said Cunningham.

When he was 14, he watched the tugboat, Tussle, towing a scow past the lighthouse. As the tug rounded Spruce Point, the stern of the scow began to sink.

The scowman kept walking towards the bow of the scow but when it began to go under as well, he was pulled down by the suction.

“The last I saw of him was his arms waving around in the air,” said Cunningham.

Another tragedy, the worst shipwreck in the vicinity, happened on Dec. 2, 1930. The freighter Linton went down with eight crewmembers on a stormy night.

A local resident found the body of one seaman on the shore while walking his dog. A few days later a man’s heart was found in False Harbour. Two weeks after, the lower part of a man’s body was discovered on the other side of the causeway.

Cunningham didn’t graduate Grade 10. He says it was one of the first mistakes he made in his life. Halfway through Grade 9 he was snagged by the sea. Jobs were scarce and times were tough. Young men his age, all they could think about was getting into a fishing boat, he says.

He started out in a row dory with another young man, working 30 traps. It took them all day to row around the harbour.

At 19, he became assistant lightkeeper to his father. The job required constant monitoring of the kerosene light in the tower. Large weights suspended from a winch slowly descended over two-and-a-half hours to rotate the lens.

“Coming on dark we’d have to go up six flights of stairs and 72 steps to light the light,” he said. He worked the 1-7 a.m. shift.

“If you fell asleep and those weights landed on the floor the light would stop turning,” he said.

When he turned 20 he joined the air force. He married during the war, served five years in the marine division and then worked five more years for his father as assistant lightkeeper.

He resumed lobster fishing with a new boat, called the Herbert L. after his father. He obtained his second mate certification at a Halifax navigation school and signed on with the Bluenose ferry as a deckhand.

In 1958 he began working aboard the PEI ferry, working summers and returning home to fish.

Eventually he began shipping lobster overseas. In 1982 he founded John’s Cove Fisheries, buying ground fish, herring and roe, and adding wharfage over the years. He and his sons operated the business until 1996.

In addition to sea tales, Cunningham shared stories about the First and Second World Wars.

He and his brother discovered the end of an underground submarine warning cable that was connected to bells in a room attached to the fog alarm building. The cable ran across the harbour entrance and was devised to sound an alarm should a submarine enter.

U-boats were a big concern in the Bay of Fundy during both wars. Cunningham was aboard an American patrol torpedo boat when it responded to a call from the lightboat Lurcher to assist a large French freighter several miles off Yarmouth.

A submarine had surfaced and shot down the freighter’s wireless with machine guns so it couldn’t message for help. It then shot a hole as big as a baseball, just above the waterline, into the engine room, where it exploded.

“When that shell exploded it tore one seaman’s stomach out. They lowered his body down over the side of the ship to us,” said Cunningham.

Planes from the Yarmouth airport were sent daily to patrol the Digby ferry crossing.

Cunningham remembers seeing a plane crash while taking off. It was loaded with torpedos and wing-mounted machine guns.

“One of her wings was hanging out over the pavement. When she crashed those torpedos exploded. There was a plume of smoke about as big round as my arm and that went about 200-feet straight up in the air,” he said.

The driver of the fire truck was killed when he responded to the crash and the machine guns discharged from the heat.

Cunningham knows what he wants to happen when he passes. He’s had six Little River Duck Dogs in his past, the last being Oliver.

“When I die I’m going to have his ashes put into the coffin with me and we’ll be buried together,” he said.

He reflects on his draw to the sea and the fishing life.

“There’s a lot of money made in fishing. Fish is very popular on the table today. It always has been and always will be,” he said.

He expressed concern about the sustainability of the lobster fishing industry however.

In his day, fishermen went out 10-12 miles and would seldom catch lobsters over six or seven pounds.

“Now they have those great big $300,000-$400,000 boats. They’re off 30 and 40 miles, catching lobsters 18-20 pounds. That’s a lot of the breeding stock.”

He’d like to see 10 miles taken away from the inshore and offshore fishers to establish a 20-mile conservation area.

Living by the sea is a never-ending source of change and happenings. Boats come and go, there’s the savage beauty of storms, clam-digging excursions, picnics on the beach and fishing for flounder with the kids.

“What’s any more popular?” he asks.

Blue-eyed beauty

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Imagine my delight to see several colonies of a favourite wildflower from my childhood growing on the land we’d just purchased in Cape Forchu.
It makes sense that they’d be growing in this area as they belong to the Iris family and there are lots of those on this land.

These pretty little bloomers grow in clumps and can be dug up and divided in early spring. Check out the back patio behind the cottage as some will be transplanted there in Spring 2019!