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From: Capt. R. Metz, Retired
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
Time: 09:21:16 PM
Christmas Aboard a Steamboat
We were all set for Christmas and we were going to have family and friends over to open gifts and to sit down to a great Christmas dinner. Everything was arranged for the celebration. We had the tree up and all the decorations were in place. The phone rang; it was the P&H office. A cheerful voice greeted me with "Merry Christmas" but then came the message. The office hated to ask but they wanted to know if I would come back to work to take the Mapleglen from Owen Sound, to load storage grain at Thunder Bay, Ontario, and back to Owen Sound for lay up. Her regular captain had to go to the hospital for surgery. This would be her last trip of the year. My hope for a wonderful holiday was trashed, but I said I would. I explained to my wife that I might make it back home for Christmas, thinking in my head how long it would take to fly to Toronto then take a cab to Owen Sound, make the trip, and get home before Christmas. I knew it would be close. My wife understood when I said that twenty-four men were counting on me to make the seasonís last trip for the Mapleglen so they could enjoy the holiday with their families. Even though the office had made plane reservations and a car was standing by at Toronto it was not to be. The trip to Toronto went as expected but because of the weather, the plane was put into a holding pattern waiting for the weather to clear enough to make the landing. After the weather cleared enough for the plane to land, I rushed to the waiting car. The driver of the car became lost in the snowstorm and we were 12 hours on the road trying to get to Owen Sound. I knew it was going to be very tight to make it back home for Christmas.
I went aboard the Mapleglen and the chief had the engine warmed up, ready to go. We let go our lines and out of the harbor we went at full speed ahead. We talked to the Oakglen, she was unloading and getting ready for her last trip of the season, but the skipper said they would not make it home in time for Christmas. I told him if everything went well we could still make it. We made the trip to the Soo in record time, as there was no ice in the rivers. I finally went to bed after we were clear of the river. I had gone many hours without any sleep and the bed felt welcome. Halfway across Superior the winds started to kick up from the NE and we were rolling quite a bit when the third mate came in to my bedroom to wake me up saying he thought we should change course so we world have a better ride. I bounced out of my bed thinking how could I have slept during this roll. When I got to the stairway to the pilothouse, I ordered the wheel hard to port which the wheelmen gladly obeyed. The Mapleglen road better with the wind on her stern. I set our course to the southwest end of Isle Royale instead for Passage Island, which would add four hours to our trip. I still had hope that we could make it in time for Christmas. We finally loaded our storage grain and headed back for Owen Sound but Lake Superior was in one of her angry moods and she whipped up a storm from the east. I decided to anchor next to Pie Island to wait out the storm. My hopes for getting home were just about gone. We stayed at anchor for a day when the wind started blowing from the west; I thought a few more hours of a westerly wind might knock down the big seas. The cook asked me if we would make it and I said no. He set off to prepare our Christmas dinner on the way to Owen Sound. I waited until I thought the sea had died down some and we started to get underway. We came around Rock of Ages Light and we met a giant of a sea. The spray was going over the top of the wheelhouse every time the bow would smash into a wave. We could not ride like this so I decided to turn about to seek the safety of Pie Island again. I slowed the ship down looking for the right moment to make my turn.
You usually have a heavy sea running then a somewhat small sea, I waited for the smaller sea and when I saw it I ordered the wheel hard to port and rang up full ahead; she game around good. We anchored back at Pie Island and we had our Christmas dinner looking at the lights twinkling from Thunder Bay while we thought about all the families that were sitting down to dinner this night. The galley staff really served a great dinner with roast duck, ham, prime rib with potatoes, sweet potatoes, dressing, yams, and all the trimmings plus pumpkin pie and all sorts of candy and cookies. We usually do not serve liquor aboard but I gave permission for the cook to have a can of beer or a glass of wine for each crewmember. The crew was as happy as they could be together but saddened because they were not home with their families on this day. That is the price one has to pay to live the life of a sailor. As I was eating my dinner, I thought back to 1980 when we spent Christmas aboard the H.C. Heimbecker, stuck in the ice off Midland, Ontario. I thought of my family and friends back in Florida on this night, knowing what I was missing. I had paid the price. The sea and wind finally calmed down and we started across the lake for Copper Harbor. About halfway across we met the Oakglen, she had anchored at Bete Grise during the storm. We passed two miles apart but we did not see each other because of the Arctic Sea Smoke that had formed on the lake. I called the Oakglen to wish them a Merry Christmas and the only answer I got back was "Ya Cap". They had paid the price too.
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