Getting their gear and themselves together after their unceremonious splashdown, the three Ski-Expo participants clambered ashore to be welcomed by the Marina Commodore, M. Lavigne, accompanied by Ed Scallen of Expo Public Relations. Also present at the dock-side reception was a public relations representative from the Canadian Armed Forces as well as numerous reporters from commercial media outlets; a surprising number of enthusiastic spectators were also on-deck for handshakes and words of congratulation. At conclusion of formalities, the long-distance skiers were instantly immersed in an unfamiliar-to-them question and answer session with radio and print media. Feeling more relief than celebration, and being still too close to the action for appropriate perspective, the Skidiots found themselves overwhelmed. Ironically, these press interviews inspired more fear in them than did any other experience of the previous week. “They were hell!” was the consensus. Ron attempted to set the record straight regarding his overstated illness while being honest about how it feels to be out all day in an open boat in the pouring rain; Pete tried to verbally rationalize why their trip had taken twice as long in summer weather as it would have taken in seasonal weather. Sharon’s less than tentative summation brought appropriate end to the media inquisition: “I thought these guys were a bit crazy when we started … now I think they’re insane.”
You had to be there, goes the old refrain. Yes, it seems a certain amount of “near-insanity” was necessary to complete this lengthy, trail-breaking endeavour within its limiting timeframe under less than ideal conditions. If the Skidiots had known what they would be up against, they may not have even tried. Ultimately, good luck and determination had survived an unknown and formidable force. However, even safe and sound on the Expo grounds, the skiers did not entirely escape water-based anxieties. After being introduced as guests of honour at the fair’s daily water-skiing exhibition, the three long-distance voyageurs found themselves in fear of being asked to participate in the show. Their collective sentiments were palpable if not verbal: “No way do we want to demonstrate our semi-slow-sinky thing alongside professionally composed, expertly performed, high-speed aerobatics.” Accompanied by audible sighs of relief, common sense prevailed among the hosts, and good fortune smiled once more upon the guests … they remained happily “off the hook.”
Good fortune also shone warmly on the Skidiot-guests when their pre-arranged Montreal accommodation fell through. Guess who was there to save their bacon? Again, it was none other than Captain Mario Lavoie. While tying up in the marina for a week of visiting with friends and family, the friendly yachtsman from Chicoutimi once again offered La Canadienne as accommodation for the crazy water skiers from the east coast. Blessings indeed! One minute the Skidiots were homeless, the next minute they had executive-class accommodations with all the amenities, including rotary-dial telephone and 13-channel television, while moored amidst the rich and famous … smack-dab in the centre of a world’s fair venue. Hallelujah! Again their plan had gone down the tube, and once again they came up smelling of roses. By this time, Sharon, Ron, and Pete recognized Captain Lavoie as being almost larger than life, the perfect icon for all the human warmth they had encountered on their upriver odyssey. In expressing their gratitude to Mario, they were thanking all the wonderful people who had assisted and encouraged their 1967 Centennial Project, a journey made pleasurable by many of them, a journey made possible by some of them.
Forty-five years later, heartfelt thanks go to Sharon and Ron for being such wonderful travelling companions and for researching their random access memories to help this story be told. Special thanks also to another wonderful travelling companion – Miss Beehaven. After having conveyed three “older children” safely to Montreal in trying circumstances, darling Miss B. underwent major surgery to repair fist-sized ruptures in her bottom-side skin. Yes, that foggy day in Malbaie had taken its toll; in fact, Ron’s repair bill of two thousand 1967 dollars about equalled her original purchase price. On the subject of finance, it is worth noting that total expenditures on food, lodging, and fuel for the entire Ski-Expo ’67 adventure would not buy one decent meal, one night’s reasonable lodging, or one pick-up truck’s tank of gasoline in 2012 dollars.
Also worthy of comparison are subsequent advances in communication and navigation aids. (No kidding, eh?) While a cellular telephone or a satellite telephone would have been extremely useful for routine messaging as well as for bottom-line safety issues, a Smartphone or a portable computer of any kind would have made it possible to research everything from food and fuel locations to updated weather information and accommodation options ... all while still on the move, as in still on the water. Also now available, good-old GPS (Global Positioning System) will pinpoint present position on a moving map display alongside all the relevant navigational references an operator could ever ask for: constant track and groundspeed readouts, constantly updated time and distance calculations for every trip segment, as well as on-request time and distance bearings to almost everywhere … even compass headings. How good is that? Of course, the distraction factor remains an unknown: we might have stumbled into more trouble by playing with these toys than we did by looking out the window and peering through the fog.
Foreseen as a simple multi-day water-skiing session following reasonably predictable shorelines, Ski-Expo ’67 demanded little in the way of navigational systems: in fair-weather, outdated charts and an inaccurate compass would be of minimal concern. However, the conditions actually encountered soon made the trip into a map and compass exercise, using marginal maps and a faulty compass … something that would warm the hearts of our primary flight instructors, in whose deference we can describe our mission as being conducted under mostly VFR with ample opportunities for nearly dead-reckoning.
Although our mission was successfully completed, the aviators’ favourite old adage about skill and science once again winning out over ignorance and superstition does not apply. If anything, our 1967 adventure was but a case of determination and perseverance being blessed by mercy and good fortune. In mythical terms, it could be regarded as an instance of Mother Nature and Father Time sharing a good chuckle while watching Naïveté, Ignorance, and Bliss struggling upstream against the current; for the characters involved, this attempt on water-skis was not the first or the last such instance of their swimming upstream against the flow. While awaiting offers for production of a motion picture in the genre of dramatic-comedy, The Skidiots survives as a cartoon-fable for our grandchildren.
© PERowlands 2012
August 15, 1967
As the old adage goes, life is what happens when you are planning something else. Clad in their homemade “Ski-Expo” team sweatshirts and chomping at the bit, the three intrepid would-be water-skiers were ready to launch from Summerside Yacht Club at 0800 hours.
Mother Nature had other ideas: a strong south-westerly wind of 25 knots gusting to 35 knots was stirring Northumberland Strait into a chocolate milkshake pounding against the island’s south shore with tightly spaced four-foot waves capped in vanilla foam. For the moment, skiing was out of the question; also out of the question was that evening’s planned overnight at Tracadie NB. Hoping for a significant decrease in wind speed, the official departure was rescheduled for early evening while the Ski-Expo Team acquired last-minute necessities along with a much-needed nap courtesy of a friend living nearby. (Thank you, Bill Fowler.) At 1700 hours, after a brief radio interview for Summerside’s CJRW 1240-on-your-dial, a pseudo-departure photo-op for local media personnel was soon followed by the real thing. With best wishes from Al Wolfenden and from several dozen of the island’s best, Miss Beehaven steamed out of port with Captain Ron at the helm and skier Pete on the boards while Miss Clark proudly held aloft an official Prince Edward Island flag.
Although the wind-speed had dropped considerably, Milkshake Strait was still in the blender. It wasn’t pretty, but it was skiable. One hour after departure, according to their well thought-out plan and with typical military precision, Ron closed Miss Beehaven’s throttle and Pete took a bath while Cape Egmont cycled in and out of view above the wave tops. As soon as Pete was safely aboard, Ron dutifully plunged into the churning morass and donned the skis. “Hit it!” he yelled. With a mighty surge, they were soon back “on the step” and again rockin’ and rollin’ toward New Brunswick’s eastern shore. As reported in the ship’s log …encountered heavy seas and the going was tough … the trip westward was gruelling to say the least.
However, once close-in to New Brunswick’s lee shore, they were able to maintain a speed of 20 knots while enjoying welcome relief from the high wind and heavy sea. While Sharon was taking her turn on the skis, the boys in the boat became aware of an unforeseen hazard – fishing buoys. Although both had considerable experience “pulling pots” off the island’s north shore, neither had foreseen these floating markers as potential navigational hazards. They certainly did now! Identifying fish nets and strings of lobster traps, these marker buoys seemed to be everywhere, and they were often difficult to see in choppy seas and fading light. (The Ski-Expo participants hereby apologize to the fisher-folk for loss of any and all floats, markers, and buoys that had been unavoidable at the last second.) At 2100, after Pete’s second stint on the skis, dusk forced a halt to the day’s progress abeam Richibucto Head where the re-assembled crew began motoring inland toward downtown Richibucto in search of a place to sleep. Easier said than done: with three pairs of eyes straining to identify numerous channel markers surrounded by myriad fishing floats in rapidly receding light, that very slow-speed five-mile journey seemed to take forever. However, good fortune supplied suitable dock-side accommodation and brought comfortable end to a challenging first day; with 60 nautical miles in the log, they had only 625 more to go.
Nomenclature: For readers who may be unfamiliar with the terms, nautical miles for distance measurement and knots for speed calculation are the aviators’ everyday tools – based on degrees of global latitude – which also directly apply to nautical/marine charts. Given the relatively slight differential (15%) and given the relatively small numbers involved, and given the observers’ relatively accurate (?) estimations thereof, it is accurate enough to freely interchange nautical with statute miles as well as knots with miles per hour within the context of this story. Although the 24-hour clock had been implanted at a very early age and continues to tick within these life-long aviators, there will be no conscious attempt herein at conversion to UTC or Zulu-time. Similarly, there is no intentional reference to the kilometre which was still awaiting invention in Canada. Meanwhile, excerpts from their collaborative ship’s log are presented in italics.
August 16, 1967
Departed Richibucto at 0730 despite winds of 20-30 knots and a small-craft warning … sea-state higher than desired …. Boat and skier were able to average 18 knots in slight swells and moderate chop while running between sandbars and dodging innumerable lobster traps. Otherwise, conditions close to shore were “within limits” and far better than what could be seen farther out. In fact, while cruising along the beautiful beaches of what would eventually become Kouchibouguac National Park, the sun came out and the sweatshirts came off … just before a very large whale, swimming in the same direction, surfaced abeam and very slightly seaward of Miss Beehaven. It was a huge beast, seemingly as long as the 100-foot tow-rope and it seemed to be observing the human activity with its large left eyeball. That encounter was one of those especially intimate moments with Mother Nature that leave humanoids temporarily speechless.
When the cetacean creature slipped softly beneath the surface a few minutes later, Miss Clark expressed concern that it might resurface directly ahead of the boat or, worse yet, between the boat and the skier. Valid though these concerns were, F/L Rowlands had his mind elsewhere, flashing back to family fishing trips in Muskoka and to memories of trolling for bass or pike. Now, here was F/L Uruski with beginnings of a new sun burn on his fair skin, flashing through the waves and looking pretty much like a Red Devil fishing lure … trolling for whales was not part of the plan. Of course, if their new whale of a friend had opted for any one of their worst-case scenarios, the humans would certainly have a Centennial Project to remember … if they lived to talk about it. Fortunately, after grabbing some fresh air and bidding the mission Good Luck, the whale remained out of contact. For these people, there will always be only one type of whale – BIG.
Peter crossed Miramichi Bay. No sweat! Fortunately for these northbound mariners, the islands (Fox and Portage) across the mouth of the bay were instrumental in breaking up the exposed fetch: although the westerly winds down the bay were beginning to peak, wave heights remained at a manageable 3-4 feet close in and downwind of the islands. Already well used, the innovative friction-based auto-coupling device between tow handle and waist belt now proved functional and beneficial in the most challenging conditions yet encountered. … Less than an hour for the 15-mile crossing from Escuminac to Neguac Beach … reached Tracadie by noon, refuelled boat and passengers.
Continued coast-crawl north ... stopped at tip of Shippagan Island [Île Miscou] to summon courage for crossing Chaleur. With no potential accommodations in sight and facing the undesirable option of an upwind struggle back to Tracadie, the southern coast of Gaspé Peninsula was looking pretty good … even though it was out of sight somewhere to the north. Major factors in consideration of their go-no-go decision were wind and wave directions. With both being out of the south-west, the skiers could anticipate slight tailwinds and a following sea, on their aft-port quarter-beam, while maintaining their desired track of almost True North. Also participating in their human deliberations was an aggressive herd of deer flies – about the size of moose flies – also hovering in shelter from the strong south-westerly breeze. Buzz, buzz, buzz … “Yikes … oww! Hit it!
At 1530 hours, Pete opened the throttle and Ron popped into ski-mode. As well as keeping one eye on the skier, Sharon was soon busy keeping the boat in order. Although the wind remained fairly steady at about 20 knots, the sea-state began to increase dramatically; although there was very little spray off the wave-tops, the troughs between swells became deeper and wider in very short order. Miss Beehaven handled the conditions very well; Pete maintained a fairly constant forward speed while maintaining a fairly consistent bow-angle off the rolling peaks which were soon surging to a height of six feet or more. The experience of seeing his tow-boat disappear at the end of his rope slicing through a wave gave Ron true appreciation of real-time sea conditions. When cresting each swell, he was looking down at his comrades who were beginning to climb another slippery slope before again dropping out of sight while he maintained firm hold on his end of the rope now slicing downward through another wall of water. And so it went. Turning the boat around and heading back was not an appealing option. Likewise unappealing was any thought of having to stop and retrieve a fatigued or fallen skier, for along with visibility concerns, any attempt to manoeuvre their small vessel broadside to the prevailing rollers would risk probable catastrophe. This adrenalin-charged state of “dynamic-stasis” progressed slowly forward at something less than 15 nautical miles per hour.
Gradually the outline of New Brunswick’s north-eastern corner faded from view behind them; ahead there remained nothing but more waves, all strikingly similar in size and structure. Although being beyond sight of land was nothing unusual for these maritime-patrol pilots, being there at this extremely low altitude certainly was an eye-opener. Further widening of the eyes soon came about with an identical thought occurring to both Ron and Pete regarding their vessel’s one and only navigation aid – their compass. “That’s right,” they each muttered internally, “we tested the new fuel system, but we never got around to re-swinging the compass.” Yes indeed, addition of the metal fuel tank in close proximity to the forward-mounted magnetic sensor would certainly have caused deviation in its accuracy. Yes, as a matter of fact, compass readings had already seemed a bit quirky. Alas, there was nothing they could do about the compass for the time being. While Ron extended his body atop each swell, hoping for a glimpse of terra firma, Pete began steering Miss Beehaven slightly more to port, as in more upwind, whenever the occasion permitted; missing their flight-planned port-of-call would be one thing … missing the Gaspé Peninsula altogether would be quite another.
At this novel juncture, Sharon coined a new term that would remain in effect for evermore. From that moment on, the expedition’s heretofore official name of Ski-Expo ‘67 was, more often than not, superseded by her new title – The Skidiots. Concurrently, while seeing another whale blowing-off steam nearby, she surmised that her previous day’s first turn on skis might indeed have be her last. Future circumstance would prove her assumption correct and her wisdom intact.
Land ho! Riding the waves ever northward, Miss Beehaven slowly but surely advanced toward a large government wharf emerging from a welcome coastline inhabited by buildings, roads, automobiles, and even people. As Miss B. arced toward calmer water, Ron timed release of the tow-rope in order to catch hold of the dock-end ladder … well, almost. Completed the 20-mile crossing to Grande-Rivière in 1½ hours … remarkable determination by the skier and excellent navigation by the crew.
With congenial assistance from locals on the dock, the skiers uploaded fuel and snacks before re-launching in hopes of rounding Gaspé before sunset. Although wind and sea-state decreased as they motored east, there loomed before them an unforeseen challenge of staggering proportion – Percé Rock. Although the risk was well beyond reason, skier Pete found himself with the perverse fantasy of Captain Ron steering them through the vaulted arch of this great national icon on the way to their country’s great international showcase. As luck would have it, temptations that might have been were immediately thwarted by a hundred-eyed monster swooping from the skies: a familiar old bird, Argus 20719, pounced in predictable manner for a series of low-altitude turns and photographic strafing runs, bringing pride of accomplishment to the water-skiers and providing people near “the rock” with a bit of an air show. The skiers would later learn that the aircraft was captained by their friend and mentor, Squadron Leader (S/L) Les Shumka, who had extended his crew-training exercise to look for an unidentified vessel reported to be trolling for whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Pounce!
As the old adage goes, pride goeth before a fall. Perhaps distracted by overhead excitement, the Skidiots relinquished all sense of accomplishment and almost cashed-in their chips while entering harbour to change skiers. A last-minute, as in last-second, change of direction by the tow-boat almost eliminated one dory, one ski-rope, one pair of skis, and one skier. Down but not out, the skier change was accomplished mid-harbour and Miss B. made a bee-line for Cap de Gaspé before her crewmembers were forced to meet with any local spectators.
Skiing around the cape was a delightful experience after Chaleur: light wind, soft-rolling four-foot swells in silver light. The Expo-goers called it a day at Rivière-au-Renard QC, having logged 150 nautical miles (173 sm) on their journey from Richibucto NB. That day’s extended effort had made up for their delayed departure from Summerside and had put them back on schedule for this second overnight. Diligent planning, however, had not anticipated the long trek from Renard’s wharf uphill to the nearest motel on the highway. Significant increase in the cost for fuel, food, and lodging also caught their attention. Their daily log entry reflected a rather philosophic approach … the worst is probably behind us and we should make Montreal on schedule if the muscles and the money hold out.
August 17, 1967
Dawn graced “Fox River” with calm seas and light winds. Harbour last seen astern at 0830 … made good time, averaging 22 knots … spotted several whales and schools of dolphins “flying” close formation, some within 50 feet of the skier. [Belugas?] [Porpoisii?]
It was fun while it lasted. After one quick skier-change at Cloridorme, the second change became a prolonged event at Rivière-la-Madelaine when downriver headwinds increased beyond 20 knots, making for unpleasant if not impossible ski conditions. As such, a unanimous decision to remain in port pending lighter winds allowed for rest as well as for necessary “minor” repairs to Miss Beehaven. The long-range bow tank which had ripped from its moorings during the previous day’s “jolly” across Chaleur was now repositioned to rest on the cockpit floor-deck just ahead of the seats … and just below the magnetic compass. Tres fatigue! After house-keeping chores, we explored the community (charming!) … entertained “les habitants” with our French dialect and Polish accent. Local fishermen again offer transportation and best wishes …
After foraging for food and napping on the riverbank, they agreed that the possibility of skiing an additional 20 miles in possibly lighter winds near dusk might jeopardize plans for an early-morning start, while also introducing the risk of running out of daylight far from civilized accommodation; camping gear was not included in their onboard accessories. That 40-mile day concluded with a morale-boosting telephone conversation with their pal Al back in Summerside … only 435 nautical miles remaining.
August 18, 1967
Arose with the sun at 0500 in high spirits for a full day of skiing. Surprised by a 15-knot land-breeze and a 3-foot chop … unable to maintain 20 knots. By then, another factor escaping their pre-mission planning had come to light – water temperature. From relatively balmy conditions in The Gulf and while skiing back toward previous experiences in southern Ontario, the possibility of decreasing water temperature had not crossed anyone’s mind … until about now. With any attempt to understand water-temperature trends slipping to the backs of their minds, woollen sweat socks over Vaseline-slathered feet became order-of-the-day in their cold-rubber ski bindings. With not-so-cold feet and aided by the friction-based auto-coupler, Ron established a new endurance record while skiing in marginal conditions: two (2) hours of continuous skiing saw him cover the 35-mile distance to Marsoui in time for breakfast and an upload of fuel for his trusty steed. Here, the long-range fuel tank underwent further modification inspired by disintegration of its flexible-rubber filler-hose. “Pas de sweat!” exclaimed Captain Uruski, “We’ll just refuel straight into the tank and plug ‘er up with an old sock.”
Resuming their westbound track with Pete on the boards, the Ski-Expo party was heartened by the sight of more whales while being simultaneously discouraged by a dramatic increase in wind speed as they made for Ste-Anne-des-Monts … plunging into 4-6-foot waves pushed by a 25-knot west wind … the propeller kept bouncing clear of the water … when the boat slowed down, Peter went down. After several of these shivering experiences while travelling only five miles in twenty minutes, Miss B. pulled a one-eighty toward the nearest port. When skiing downwind proved equally impossible, Pete and the skis were brought on board. When they tied up at the nearest dock, it was still morning … 1000 hours to be exact.
At the small community of La Martre, our largest reception so far: ten children, one fisherman, and one lighthouse keeper … gave us a tour along with wind forecasts and encouragement … also let us rest on the lighthouse floor during a thunderstorm. Enjoyed fine French-Canadian cuisine … spent several hours staring out to sea … only 30 miles today and tomorrow doesn’t look much better. Contrary to previous entry, the worst may yet be ahead of us …
Seeing a decrease in wave height along with decreasing wind speed, the Ski-Expo expedition sprang back into operation at 1900 that evening. Bidding fond farewell to “le proprieteur et sa femme de chez Charles,” les Anglais were determined to use any daylight available, striving toward a narrower channel upstream where conditions might be more favourable. That evening’s cruise in softening winds and gentle swells was welcome change from the previous 48 hours. Hampered only by decreasing visibility in moderate rain showers and by an unimaginable amount of driftwood, they skied the 15 miles to Ste-Anne-des-Monts in 50 minutes – just like the good old days – before impending darkness forced them to call it a 45-mile day. After securing Miss Beehaven at the large government wharf, they found comfortable digs in a charmingly small hotel “dans la ville” where they retired early with aching limbs. “With any luck,” they thought, “next day’s discouraging weather forecast might be wrong.”
August 19, 1967
August 19th was a black day in Ste-Anne-des-Monts. Not only was the weather forecast correct with its high winds and heavy rain, but the Skidiots’ day began with introduction to a local bonhomme who had come to the hotel seeking the owner of an unfamiliar boat, a small, maroon-coloured runabout sporting a black-coloured Mercury engine. “Oh-oh!” was the skiers’ correct reaction. Their new best friend had found Miss Beehaven with severed moorings, stranded on the rocks some distance downstream of the wharf. It was one of those especially intimate moments with Mother Nature that give humans glazed eyeballs and hollow feelings in the pits of their stomachs. They remembered leaving their boat almost resting on the harbour bottom with at least 20 feet of line attached to the towering dock. Could the tide have gone out even farther? Did the tide maybe come in before the storm peaked and the poor old girl was simply torn loose by ferocious winds? Was crew fatigue becoming a factor?
Happily for the Skidiots, Miss Beehaven’s injuries appeared to be minor: a small gash in the fibreglass above waterline near the stern and a portside bumper strip not quite torn asunder. The engine operated normally. They were lucky beyond belief. In moderating weather, they motored quietly upstream and ducked into a nearby tributary where Ron, courageous and courteous as always, volunteered a quick dip in very cold, clear water to inspect his vessel’s underside … it looked okay, he was happy to say. Thereupon, they quickly returned to the town harbour and picked up their ski-mission where it had ended the night before.
With improved respect for water temperature, the skier launched from the gunwale of a moored dory, leaving Ste-Anne-des-Monts behind; the “crack-of-noon-club” was on its way, hoping for better weather while maintaining a respectable 20 knots into medium-size waves. One skier-change enroute saw them into Matane for refuelling, after which one more change saw them into Trois Pistoles. With ski-speeds close to 25 knots in lighter winds and gentler swells, this last 80-mile segment was completed in 3½ hours, a welcome reminder of what was possible under “normal” conditions. Lower air temperature after last night’s cold front made jeans, sweatshirts, and windbreakers necessary for skiing … with Vaseline and socks, toes still suffering in cold water. Rowlands set new endurance record of 2:20, skiing 60 miles in chilly conditions.
Yes indeed, insensitivity can be an advantage when things get a bit chilly. Notwithstanding temperature influence, the original concept of regimented one-hour shifts on skis had already been long-erased from the flight plan menu; in fact, the very first skier-change in the middle of Northumberland Strait on departure day was probably the only one of its kind. Bay crossings and fuel stops had soon become governing factors, influenced by shoreline topography and landing-site availability. Whenever possible, as in almost always, scheduled arrivals and departures were planned around higher and drier locations, be they manmade structures like boats and docks or more natural features like shallow beaches and rock ledges. As already experienced however, there were always exceptions. … Reached Trois Pistoles at 1900 just before low tide … tides here in the “Sea of St. Lawrence” are more intense than expected. Recent experience motivated
us to query locals about the best place for mooring our boat … received a different opinion from each person asked … had difficulty with a travelling salesman who insisted Miss B. be taken farther inland, but we stuck to our plan.
At dinner, Ron came down with symptoms of “the flu” and retired early, covered in Vicks and Wintergreen … probably in danger of slipping out of bed. We are tired, but our goal is in sight (sort of). We did 125 miles today with a late start … 265 remaining. All we can do is press on and hope for better weather …
August 20, 1967
August 20th was a grey day for three dudes in “Three Pistols.” Having barely survived a restless night in “reasonable” accommodations directly above Saturday evening’s very loud and energetic live band playing to a packed house in a cheap motel, they had a long and difficult day ahead. Ron definitely had the flu, but he was eager to press on. …Unable to leave as planned at 0600 because of dense fog. By 0900, the fog lifted, but the tide had already gone out … Miss Beehaven was high and dry on a mud flat. By noon we had enough water, but the fog had returned with steady rain. Like true Skidiots, we set out anyway …
The crack-of-noon club headed back to sea with a revised route in mind. Recently acquired marine charts had confirmed their suspicions: although still rather wide, the big river’s southern side was strewn with islands and shoals in generally shallower water while the deeper shipping channel hugged close to the northern shore. Seeking better water and possible protection from the prevailing westerly winds, they aimed their sights (and compass) toward Cape Dogs near mouth of the Saguenay River coming in from the north. … A long crossing in poor visibility, about one mile in fog … weaving around hazard markers and shoals …
As the Skidiots soon learned, general-use maps and rudimentary (scale-deficient) nautical charts lack many details, thereby offering a false sense of security, especially in seldom travelled areas of complex river-morphology. Although all major navigation hazards are well marked with mainstream river traffic in mind, many of the minor ones fall through the cracks on navigation charts while lurking in the unmarked shadows, as in shallows, of their better-known brethren. As Sharon and Pete in Miss B. soon learned, maps are next to useless when pioneering a new route through unknown terrain under conditions of flat light, relatively smooth water, and very poor visibility. Slicing across the grain, as in across the river’s flow, they were penetrating a rock-infested maze where adult boats wouldn’t go; at 20 knots, those hazard markers would come and go pretty quickly in the fog. Suddenly, with a noticeable tug on the stern rope, there was Uruski skiing wide-right of the wake and frantically waving his right arm in the same direction. Without hesitation, Miss Beehaven executed a hard right turn, almost sinking the skier in lost momentum, before the formation regained composure on a track slightly right of its previous. Sure enough, Ron-on-skis had seen what his fog-bound colleagues had not – a rapid decrease in water depth because of an unmarked shoal or because of a side-lobe on the one they were trying to miss. Several additional less-exciting moments saw them safely onto the north-shore for a skier change. “Wow! That was close,” declared Captain Ron; “We almost lost a prop back there … what an ugly place to be putting on the spare.”
Although the rain continued coming down and the visibility remained poor, all three Ski-Expo participants became impressed by what they could see of the “picturesque” north shore – smooth, granite cliffs rising steeply from swirling green waters and disappearing into fine white mist. Near the mouth of River Saguenay, they were also suddenly in touch with a major source of the cooler water. “We’re still a long way from Muskoka,” Pete astutely remarked. Continuing to navigate interesting currents and rip-tides while poking through patches of misty-foggy stuff, Miss B. took them safely to St-Siméon where they found shelter from the elements. By the time ski-conditions improved around 1900, they had called it a day; a gracious inn-keeper provided inexpensive (and reasonable) lodgings and offered them a clothes dryer for their sodden duds. Weak but still hanging-in, Ron was able to acquire better-scale river charts from skipper of the St-Siméon–Rivière-du-Loup ferry. Along with more than a few extras, they had managed to ski 40 miles closer to Montreal in miserable conditions after another late start. Having abandoned all hope of reaching Expo on schedule, originally planned for that very day, they could now only hope Ron’s health and Mother Nature’s cooperation would permit completion of the remaining 225 miles. … Tried without success to get an accurate weather forecast … it seems cold water and fog is pretty normal around here …oh well, we’re getting used to it. We’ll make Expo eventually … as long as we don’t take unnecessary chances in an effort to keep moving.
August 21, 1967
The day began slowly with a late breakfast surrounded by dense fog showing little sign of moving on. When moving their boat at 0900 because of an outgoing tide, the crew could barely see the wharf about 100 yards away. At about 1100 hours, visibility improved to almost 3 miles with a stirring of downriver wind. “Hit it!” called F/L Rowlands who then lurched from the dock ladder to slither effortlessly on the creamy bubbles and silky green water behind Miss Beehaven. So far so good: variable visibility while popping through light fog patches; sunlight shining on hill tops poking through denser foggy-stuff packed onshore. Oh-oh! Suddenly not so good: visibility poor and becoming poorer. Pete quickly finished his chocolate-coated energy bar, stuffed the wrapper into the front pocket of his anorak, did up the zipper, and as a precaution, placed both hands firmly on the wheel … er, tow-handle. By then, he could no longer see Miss B. 100 feet away at the other end of his rope. With no audible change to the boat’s power setting, he had little choice but to hang on to his end of his rope and follow the wake. “Golly, gee-whiz,” he muttered, “this is pretty thick stuff.” Without warning (as if it could be otherwise) and extremely close (as if it could be otherwise), the end of a sizable wharf flashed by on his right side, followed immediately by a moored sailboat flashing by on his left. “Hmm,” he muttered, “I wonder what’s next.” A sudden loss of forward speed was accompanied by the sounds of an agitated engine and a cavitating propeller going nowhere. He knew he was going down.
Prepared for the all-too-familiar-semi-slow-sink into very cold water up to his neck, Pete was pleasantly surprised to feel his skis strike river-bottom as the surface water passed his knees. There was little option but to shuffle hand over hand toward the other end of his rope. Poof! There were Ron and Sharon in bright sunlight aboard Miss Beehaven. Oh golly, look over there! Close by on their right, automobiles and people were readily seen moving along a riverside street lined with shops. Bienvenue a Malbaie! – Welcome to Badbay! It was one of those especially intimate moments with Mother Nature that cause human beings to laugh out loud at their collective folly.
Please refer to yesterday’s closing entry … we did it! We stuck our necks into a thick fog bank and ran aground in Malbaie Basin (appropriately named) at 1155 on August 21stjust before the wind came up and blew the fog away. We’re lucky not to be just another wreck on the river chart.
With no apparent damage to their boat or motor, the Skidiots quickly floated Miss Beehaven into deeper water and resumed skiing upstream before attracting any unnecessary attention from the townsfolk. Under a clear sky with light winds and unlimited visibility, they hustled into nearby Pointe-au-Pic for coffee and debriefing. None of them seemed any worse for the wear and tear of their recent experience; everyone wanted to get going while the going was good. When queried about the state of Miss Beehaven, Captain Uruski responded nonchalantly: “Pas de sweat! She’s double-hulled and she’s got at least one left … we’re a coupla days behind … we’ll keep an eye on her and deal with whatever happens if and when it happens. Let’s go!” Understandably perhaps, suffering flu symptoms and fatigue likely enhanced by his previous underwater inspection, Ron wasn’t eager to go below again … especially into even colder water. Of course, neither Sharon nor Pete were about to argue with their captain; besides, Miss B. seemed to be just fine. So, off they went again.
After almost an hour into stiffening wind and chop, they rounded Cap aux Oies (Goose Cape) and found themselves directly into a wind of more than 20 knots and into even larger waves. Persevering toward Île aux Coudres, they hoped to find the elements more relaxed in the narrowed channel between the island and the north shore. Instead, the deeper they got into the channel, the higher the waves became; although the wind remained relatively constant, they were soon surfing over steep rolling swells (okay, waves) that were 6-8 feet in height (Yes!). Ron pulled Miss B. into the dock on Île aux Coudres and Pete splashed down right behind. Enough was enough … at least for awhile.
They had not given up yet, however. (Surprised?) Hanging out on the dock waiting for the wind to drop, they were befriended by a knowledgeable yachtsman out of Chicoutimi who advised the naive newcomers that they were looking at the worst section of the entire St. Lawrence River. Oh, really? Why, yes: although it’s the deepwater shipping channel, the next 10 miles features a river current of 5-10 knots agitated by significant tidal effects. Severe rip-tides, eddy lines, and even whirlpools are common; ocean-going freighters are sometimes known to wait for a tide change before attempting to climb this steep and confined chute. “Golly, gee-whiz,” chorused the Skidiots, “this is getting more interesting all the time.”
“Action stations!” was called at 1700 hours. A big freighter was coming their way, chugging upstream through the channel of interest. Pete called “hit it” and Ron opened the throttle and Miss Beehaven took off after the freighter … but, Peter did not. He endured another short swim when his handle separated from the end of its frayed rope. “Pas de sweat, here comes another freighter … the tide must be coming in.” With a repaired tow-handle and a successful launch accompanied by cheering on-lookers, the maritime patrollers were back on task, closing-in on the intruder from directly astern – a proven Detroit River technique known as the Uruskiovitch – hoping to get close enough and slow enough to benefit from the smoother water in its wake while still going fast enough to keep the water-skier skiing. Captain Uruski expertly manoeuvred their craft close-in behind the behemoth, so close in fact that his tail-gunner, 100 feet back on water skis, had good looks at large brass propeller blades slicing through the heavy liquid; lifting his head a little, Pete could almost read the labels on beverage cans held by two grinning crewmembers leaning over their rear-deck guard rail. It must have been an entertaining sight: a boat and a skier trying to fly tight line-astern formation on their big ship while it rode an upriver tide into a 30-knot wind. Even in their large boat’s wake, the intruders were dancing, more correctly wrestling, with 6-foot rollers.
Too slow! Realizing their futility, Ron broke formation and increased speed to keep his tail-gunner afloat. It was less than a pretty sight: outside the big ship’s wake, the intellectually challenged fair-goers were immediately into 8-foot waves – yes, eight feet from trough to crest – rounder and softer maybe, but 30 per cent higher than those experienced in Baie de Chaleurs; similarly now, the tow-boat and skier were disappearing from each other’s view at opposite ends of a long rope piercing through rolling walls of green water. That didn’t last long. … Realized the nearest port was our best hope, but the river wouldn’t wait … bounced Miss B. clear of the water … hung on in desperation while Rowlands went for another swim.
Then the real fun began. Trying to re-unite boat and skier in heavy seas and high winds is no easy task. Keeping the other half in sight is a problem for both sides of the equation; with addition of rip-tides and eddies, it becomes a complex exercise in combining erratic variables. Hampered by skis with minds of their own, the swimmer is vulnerable to injury by the boat which is being forced into vulnerable manoeuvres under threatening circumstances; while attempting to remain close to the swimmer, boat and crew are in constant danger of being capsized. Should that happen, all three of these people would be in dire straits. The 15-minute “rescue” process that seemed to take an hour was one of those especially intimate moments with Mother Nature that allow humans to examine the fine line between fear and panic. At this particular juncture, these three humans were wrestling with a strong eddy line as well as with the wind and waves. They were fortunate to get all their pieces back together.
By the time Pete and the skis re-united onboard with Ron and Sharon, Miss Beehaven had drifted a considerable distance to the northwest into Baie-St-Paul. Given their continuing vulnerability and their desperate need to get ashore, they set out toward the town-site at head of the bay. Not today, said the big river. As benign as it might look on a simple map, this broad, shallow bay is not to be taken lightly. In this instance, the blinding glare of a late-day sun made it extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to properly identify markers for a very sinuous channel, especially while pitching and rolling near the edge of their craft’s safety envelope. Furthermore, that afternoon’s wind, waves, and currents were strong enough to prevent them from tracking the channel when they did find it. Ultimately, our heroes had too much light to see where they were going even if they knew where they were going. On the back side of a big wave, Ron deftly kicked Miss B. around and pointed her back towards Île-aux-Coudres where their recent “fun” had begun.
In much better light, they pitched and rolled their way slowly “home” while counting their blessings. Sure, they had pushed the envelope again; but hey, no-one said it would be easy. They had got themselves in and out of a tight spot; it could have been worse. If nothing else, this experience in Baie-St-Paul brought home a sense of good fortune for not having been forced to attempt a similar exercise in the middle of Chaleur. With tails not quite between their legs, they finished another day on the water in humble gratitude. At the dock on Île-aux-Coudres, they were welcomed back by a growing number of fans and cheerleaders who, in boisterous good humour, helped moor Miss Beehaven and unload her contents. Among them was the affable yachtsman from Chicoutimi who recommended (and probably arranged) accommodation and transport to an island inn, four miles distant.
August 22, 1967
Arrived in darkness and departed in darkness … not quite sure where we were, but we were sure warm and dry ... superb hospitality courtesy of “Le Capitaine” who roused us at 0400. Aah! Fresh coffee with toasted homemade bread and butter never smelled so good! Fatigue and flu symptoms still with us, but want an early start after only 35 milesyesterday … our kind host got us to the dock by 0500 … Our “lucky streak” was still with us! The wind came up with the sun … headwinds of 15-20 knots against another inbound tide. (Nobody told us there would be tides like this!) Choppy waves (4-6 feet) forced us into Petite Rivière [P-R-St-Francois] in a rain shower … less than 10 miles.
Another great day at the office! By 0630 they were already soaking wet and once again wandering aimlessly around a strange new place. After long-awaited soup and coffee at 0830, they returned to their water-ski mission having noticed (or imagined) a drop in wind speed. Persevering for more than an hour in moderate chop, they covered the 20 miles to Île d’Orleans where they hoped to find some wind protection in its narrow northern channel. Wrong again! A blast of air funnelling down the narrows ruffled the river into unskiable conditions and forced the hardy fair-goers into Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré for lunch. Then, for blessed reasons unknown, the wind speed dropped dramatically with their consumption of food, and they soon returned to the task at hand. As well as enjoying the feel of noticeably warmer water, they took advantage of the first normal ski-conditions in many days: light wind and low, smooth swells saw them doing a more normal 25 knots across the water (the 5-knot river current reduced their groundspeed to 20 knots). One hour of such skiing saw them safely into Québec City Yacht Club.
That was a pretty picture: skiing alongside Canada’s only aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure, anchored in the harbour with The Citadel dominating the viewscape behind. At this scenic juncture, F/L Rowlands ended his relationship with a new-to-him, well-used second-hand 35mm camera … along with a complete roll of film documenting their entire expedition thus far. A lack of familiarity by the user had combined with product idiosyncrasy during a hurried and highly pressurized re-wind procedure. Ugh!
Made a quick pit-stop and a telephone call to the Expo Marina … hit the boards hard, trying for distance … thunderstorms and rough water for 1½ hours … still a long way to go. Weather improved for smooth sailing and easy navigation in the shipping channel … speeds above 25 knots. Ron got us into Trois Rivières with a new trip-record of 2:40 on the skis.
Obviously, Ron had finally left his nagging flu symptoms somewhere downriver. Looking upriver into fading evening light, the ever-enthusiastic (if not foolhardy) adventurers decided to keep pushing toward Montreal. Not tonight, said the big river. Rougher than expected water and rapidly encroaching darkness forced abandonment of their attempt to cross Lac St-Pierre toward Sorel. Soon after entering the lake, they headed for the nearest port, Rivière Nicolet, on the south shore. Finding no available accommodation in that fair town, the Skidiots had little choice but to turn on their night-lights and head back downriver to Trois Rivières.
Lo and behold! There to great them was none other than the friendly yachtsman from Chicoutimi who had also tied up for the night at the marina. Monsieur Mario Lavoie was a true friend indeed. While convening for food and fuel in the marina restaurant, M. Lavoie warmed the skiers’ hearts by offering them use of his boat as overnight accommodation while he visited friends and colleagues in the nearby community. Blessings indeed! Captain Lavoie’s yacht, appropriately named La Canadienne, was a familiar-looking Atlantic-coast lobster-boat hull remodelled for comfort and refitted with all the tools of the trade. With a spacious cabin and one of the most seaworthy hull designs known to man, Captain Lavoie had a fine vessel, one often in the service of Hydro Québec. Merci, Mario. Bonne nuit!
August 23, 1967
Yesterday’s 115 miles gives us a total of 610 ... only 75 more to go …Hit the water at dawn, wondering what new surprises the river had in store …
Not surprisingly, their now infamous “light morning wind” again failed to materialize, and the shallow waters of small Lac St-Pierre proved much more of a challenge than expected, requiring one and a half hours of rough skiing to reach Sorel at its top end. After consuming a large breakfast, it was time to get ship-shape before entering Montreal for a reception at the Expo Marina. With this public event in mind, Ron and Pete each took a risk(?) of getting haircuts from an unknown barber in order to look somewhat like officers and gentlemen; Sharon meantime found new sweatshirts for each of them – anything to appear neat and well groomed, if not well rested. Miss Beehaven had her turn at being cleaned up and straightened around after enduring eight days of rough going that had included some “tough-sledding.” Proud of her accomplishments, she wanted to be recognized as the fleet-footed beauty that had got them there. That’s the last Miss B. ever saw of her troublesome long-range fuel tank: it had served its purpose and it was time to say good-bye … as in good riddance!
Without so much as a glance at their compass reading, the Ski-Expo contingent departed Sorel at 1200 hours and sauntered upriver for one more skier-change prior to arrival. Some distance short of destination, an RCMP patrol boat came out to meet them while enforcing the law of the land … er, water. For reasons unknown, local officials were concerned the Skidiots might transcend federal regulations by having two people skiing in formation instead of having two people in the boat; notwithstanding safety implications anywhere, this configuration could also generate considerable embarrassment to officialdom within the Expo Marina and beyond. Perhaps contributing to this misunderstanding was the news-media’s attempts to report on expedition progress via relayed telephone calls with Al Wolfenden back in PEI. By this time, media drama had identified Ron’s health issue as the primary cause of their delayed arrival and “pretty Miss Sharon Clark” had become “captain of the boat.” This was not quite correct: though Miss Clark was certainly attractive and then some, Ron was at all times the respected and undisputed Captain of his boat, although the others got to steer her on occasion. More importantly, Ron’s flu-bug, although harsh and persistent, had not delayed their progress more than an hour at most. Although Pete had volunteered for a slight majority of ski-runs over several days, iron-man Uruski, when not skiing, was always driving Miss Beehaven … usually after pushing his colleagues toward another timely launch into inhospitable conditions.
Now enjoying unusually flat water under a rare bright sky, Miss Beehaven entered the Expo ’67 World’s Fair Marina at precisely 1400 hours on August 23, 1967 with Ron at the helm of his boat, with Sharon holding aloft the flag of Prince Edward Island, and with skier Pete at the back-end of the rope. As well as the police escort, their entrance was accompanied by a three-gun salute (near as they can remember). Respecting the marina’s posted speed and wake restrictions, the joyful expedition refrained from staging an arrival air show or even doing a high-speed fly-past. Moreover, facing a confined entry slip leading to the reception party at the head of a horseshoe-shaped dock arrangement lacking in available space anywhere, the skier would be unable to “step ashore” in the preferred manner. Ron had no choice but to steer toward the reception and to dutifully retard his throttle, whereupon Pete had no option but to perform his now-familiar semi-slow-sinky thing in accustomed manner. They had made it!
415 Squadron Association
The Skidiots of Expo ’67
Our story begins in old farm house overlooking Darnley Basin on the north shore of Prince Edward Island. Here, at the eastern end of a long and exposed laneway, the Gerald Lockhart family’s ancestral homestead became vacant when they relocated to a newer home at the head of their lane on Malpeque Road proper. Meanwhile, non-married personnel at nearby RCAF Station Summerside were finally being allowed to seek “off-base” accommodation if they so desired. Among the first wave of such-minded escapees, three young aviators pursued their newly found freedom to the far end of Lockhart’s lane, agreeing to rent the 19th-century vintage farm house for the grand sum of $40 per month, utilities not included. Honouring lifestyles imagined or otherwise, 25-year-old Wilf Bradbury, 26-year-old Ron Uruski, and 23-year-old Pete Rowlands christened their new country residence Beehaven.
Recently returned from a tour of duty in Lahore, Pakistan where he had been flying the venerable-already DHC3 Otter for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, Flying Officer (F/O) Wilf Bradbury was now shuttling people and freight around eastern Canada in C45 Expeditors for Station Flight while awaiting assignment to an operational maritime patrol squadron. (Station Flight was a two-plane utility-unit unofficially known by the acronym AWATS, Al Wolfenden’s Air Taxi Service, in honour of its affable officer-in-charge.) While remaining AWATS volunteers, Ron Uruski and Pete Rowlands had meanwhile received ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) training on the P2V7 Neptune and subsequent conversion to the CP107 Argus aircraft before being assigned to 415 (MP) Squadron at Summerside. After eighteen months of experience flying long-range, long-duration patrol missions over the North Atlantic Ocean with 16-man crews, both Uruski and Rowlands had recently been upgraded to Captain Status and concurrently promoted to their career-best rank of Flight Lieutenant (F/L).
Suddenly it was the summer of 1967. Having ploughed through another typically deep winter and slipped through another infamous spring of deep-red mud, the three boys of Beehaven were delighted to see their long and exposed laneway enter the dry season. From the other side of their country home, it was but a short stroll down to tidewater in Darnley Basin where moored was a beautiful, dark-maroon, deep-V, double-hulled “Arkansas Traveler” runabout with a black-shiny 95-horsepower Merc’ strapped to its back. The boat’s owner, Captain Ron Uruski, had most appropriately christened his new friend Miss Beehaven. She was a fleet-footed beauty! Not surprisingly, she came with strings attached … more correctly, tow-ropes for water-skiers who were soon skittering down the basin and around Cabot Park into Malpeque Bay and beyond; there certainly seemed no better way of getting to Cavendish Beach. Long-range tendencies notwithstanding, short bursts of attempted suicide on the glassy waters between bridge pylons and among lily pads in the upper Darnley became their major diversion from the responsibilities of national defence against Russian submarines.
During the customary de-briefing and rehydrating session following one such high-energy experience, conversation drifted to Canada’s 100th Birthday Party and to the desirability of coming up with a Centennial Project to help celebrate same. Somehow, the subject of water-skiing entered the dialogue, soon followed by a novel suggestion to circumnavigate Prince Edward Island on skis. “Well hell, if we’re gonna do that, why don’t we ski all the way to Montreal for the World’s Fair?” asked Ron. Silence was the immediate response. However, given the question came from the senior captain, the de facto leader of their pack and the owner of “their” boat, others present managed to clear their throats and mumble vaguely supportive comments through weak smiles ... then, more silence. The smiles soon broadened into grins, and within minutes, there were numbers on the table: 3X3X20 into 900 = 5: i.e., three skiers doing three hours each equals nine hours per day which at a conservative twenty miles per hour equals one hundred and eighty miles per day which divided into an estimated nine hundred miles equals five days. “It’s doable!” echoed the consensus, “Let’s sleep on it.”
That night’s overwhelming lack of sleep made the decision obviously simple. “That’s it, we’re going!” With a plan of taking turns behind their boat, the three Beehaven Boys would water-ski the entire distance from Summerside PEI to Montreal QC sometime that summer. With flight planning now completed, the pilots immediately began preparations for their mission: the first order of business was arrangement for coinciding days-off and/or vacation-time to open a common window of opportunity; the last two weeks of August soon appeared as the most promising period. In the meantime, when squadron duties allowed, it was all practice, practice, practice. Having a now-defined goal in sight (well, at least conceptualized), the Beehaven trio brought renewed enthusiasm and purpose to their increasingly regular training rituals.
Almost immediately, the proverbial excrement contacted the whirling propeller. Wilf’s number had finally come up and he was now assigned to a slot on the very next course at Summerside’s #2 (M) OTU ((Maritime) Operational Training Unit) which was starting within a few weeks. Any scheduled vacation-time or days-off would be superseded by several months of concentrated training in the classroom and in the air, learning crew procedures and ASW tactics on the P2V7 Neptune, followed by conversion to the Argus and assignment to 415 Squadron. It would be interesting most of the time and exciting some of the time; but, it wouldn’t be the same as water-skiing to Montreal. Wilf had no choice: “Sorry guys, I got my orders. I hope you find somebody else and I hope you have a good trip.”
Rubba-dub-dub, in a matter of minutes the three musketeers had become two men in a tub. So much for planning! What now? It didn’t take Ron and Pete long to run out of options among their colleagues: anyone water-ski-capable and remotely interested had already committed their last weeks of summer to squadron duties or to centennial celebrations elsewhere. What now? “How about Sharon?” asked Ron, “She’s a pretty good skier and she doesn’t go back to school until September?” True enough, 20-year-old Miss Sharon Clark of nearby Kensington had been party to a reasonable number of Miss Beehaven ski sessions and had performed quite well. In fact it could be said that, despite being age and gender challenged, she was almost one of the boys. Nearing completion of a summer-school session at the University of New Brunswick subsequent to her year of teaching at a Charlottetown high school, Sharon would have a few weeks off before returning to full-time university.
Nevertheless, it was still far from a done deal. Sharon might think twice about rocketing upriver into the sunset in a small boat operated by two airplane drivers “from away” ... especially just before beginning her final year toward a degree in physical education. With their mission on the line, the two boys of Beehaven were on pins and needles awaiting Miss Clark’s next weekend home from UNB. Happily for the boys, Sharon happily accepted her invitation to join the Montreal-bound expedition. Yahoo! “Ski-Expo ‘67” was a go.
Also happily signing on was F/L Al Wolfenden, of AWATS fame, who volunteered in the role of Public Information Officer. As well as keeping local media updated with mission progress, Al would remain available by telephone as the safety-net coordinator in the event of unforeseen circumstances, highly unlikely as they might be. For Ron and Pete, it was encouraging to have support from their former boss and respected mentor. By this time, mission planners had more accurately measured the intended route by combining local marine-chart information with Quebec road maps, arriving at a figure of 685 nautical miles (790 statute miles) from Summerside to Montreal. With a proven speed of 20-25 knots (about 25 mph), the entire distance would require approximately 35 hours on the skis. Ron and Pete provided Al with location names for their most-probable overnight stops based on projected distances travelled each day. In the meantime, unbeknownst to all expedition participants, many local farmers and fishers had already begun wagering heavily against successful completion of their “carefully” planned centennial project, now scheduled to begin on August 15, 1967.
In keeping with their desire for practice and the need to know their limitations, assuming such things existed, Sharon and the two boys embarked on a one-day high-speed water-ski venture that took them eastbound from Beehaven along the island’s north shore, around its broad eastern end and then along the south shore to Summerside. This shakedown cruise of almost 200 miles proved very useful in identifying logistical loop-holes in their operational plan while convincing them that one-hour stints on skis were well within the realm of reasonable possibility.
A key component for enabling longer stints on water-skis proved to be an idea forwarded by one of Sharon’s summer-school professors: tied to the tow handle, a short piece of rope was looped through the skier’s waist-belt flotation device and looped back over itself on the tow handle; rope-over-rope friction kept everything in place while minimum tension was being maintained on its loose end. Nothing to it! Having one hand on the handle and one hand on the rope was a simple and secure method; using one hand only on the loose rope-end was also possible, allowing for rest of alternating arms. If the skier were to fall asleep in boredom, the auto-coupler would let go automatically and the entire system would be reset to square-one with a splash of cold water. To accommodate easy operation of this “friction-based auto-coupler,” the single-bar handle became the tow-rope of choice, replacing the split-handled one preferred for slalom-ski events. Their 100-foot tow-rope was seen to position the skier at a favourable point in the boat’s wake. That’s the good news. One item requiring further attention was the fuel system: changing from one portable fuel tank supply to another while in ski-mode could prove extremely inconvenient for the person holding the short end of the rope. Another item of concern was the skis themselves: even at moderate speeds, they seemed weak and overly flexible in choppy open-water environments. Otherwise, things were looking pretty good.
After weeks of enjoying air shows and formation flying in celebration of Canada’s Centennial, Ron and Pete began August by taking off in opposite directions: while Pete and Crew 3 embarked on a multi-day patrol with stops in the Azores (Lajes) and England (St. Mawgan), Ron and Crew 5 were given the “jammy” task of appearing at the Annual Abbotsford Air Show in British Columbia. While there, when not showing off his aircraft, Ron remained busy with preparations for the impending water-ski mission. Having taken (smuggled?) his small motor-bike onboard the spacious Argus, he rode it into nearby Vancouver where he located and purchased a pair of heavy-duty water skis that accompanied him and his bike back to Summerside. Seeing him transport the skis from Vancouver to Abbotsford on his motorized two-wheeler must have been a sight to behold.
Once back home, Ron attended to the fuel-supply issue with an abandoned automobile fuel tank recovered from the local landfill site and strapped to the floor beneath Miss Beehaven’s forward deck. A flexible hose then connected the tank to a hard-point refuelling hatch fastened into the upper deck. Down below, a supply line connected the new tank to the main fuel supply with a simple T-valve. After barely enough time for a test flight of the “new” fuel tank and new skis, their departure date was upon them. “Pas de sweat!” exclaimed Ron, “We’re good to go!”