(Autobiographical — “Crossing the Bay of Fundy” won first Honorable Mention in the 2010 Oklahoma City Writers, Inc., Nostalgic Prose Contest — some creative non-fiction applied)
April 1967, the spring before my family — Dorothy, my wife, and our five children, Suzie, Reggie, Nicole, Andy, and Paula — and I were to move to the United States that summer, in Bar Harbor, Maine, we boarded the Bluenose Ferry.
Leaving dock to cross the Bay of Fundy to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the shore soon became a silhouette in the fog, and then, no evidence of land, just the ship and the sea.
“You won’t see land again,” I said to the children, “for five or six hours.”
A white, thick mist covered us. The swells grew larger and larger as the ship humped the waves like a twig in a pond.
“Are we in for a bit of rough sea?” I said to Dorothy, and told the children to hold on to the rail. “We don’t want anyone overboard. I don’t know how the kids are going to take this,” I added. “They’ve never been on the ocean.”
“Let’s go in the lobby,” Dorothy said. “It’s wet and cold here on deck.”
One hand on the handrail, we headed inside and found space on a seat where we sat together. Passengers occupied most of the other benches.
The ship rocked about 10 to 15 degrees from side to side.
“We’re in for rough sailing,” I whispered to Dorothy.
The children sat between us. I knew Dorothy was thinking the same thoughts I was. The kids’ faces were getting droopy. The ship’s motion had subdued them.
The first to complain was Nicole. “Mom, I don’t feel good in the stomach. I think I’m going to vomit.” She held her hand over her mouth and leaned forward. I grabbed her hand. “Come with me!” In the toilet, Nicole leaned her head over the bowl, her body jerked, while holding her tummy.
“Try to relax,” I said, not knowing how to comfort her.
“I want to lie down.”
We wobbled out of the bathroom. The ship rocked so much that it was hard to maintain legs.
“Hold on tight,” I said. Nicole clutching my arm, I used the rail-bar and the back of the benches to guide us to our seat. We made it without falling.
The kids were pale and spread out. Paula lay across Dorothy’s lap. Suzie and Reggie leaned on each other. Andy, mouth gapped and pastel face, had his head hung over the back of the bench.
“Dorothy, how do you feel?”
“So far … so good. Don’t know how long I can last.”
A pompously dressed woman who sat on the bench facing me had her head on her husband’s shoulder. Then she let out a grunt and vomited on the man’s chest and lap. Being queasy, he did not get out of the way, just stayed there, arms dangling, zombie face, gapped mouth, wheezing. A couple with a girl of about three and a boy, maybe five, sat next to the vomit-splattered man. The parents leaned forward hacking and holding their stomachs. The boy and girl were on the floor, motionless and as white as snow. Most of the other passengers moaned and groaned and many had already spilled their guts.
To my right, on the edge of the bench, an old man held a cane between his legs, hands on the handle. The rocking ship did not affect him. I knew he was an “Old Salt,” a seaman. His weather-beaten face had lines, cracks like old leather. He probably had salt water for blood, I thought. His narrow eyes peered at me and he said, “It’s going to get rougher. I feel it in my bones.”
I had known of these old fishermen. I grew up with them. They know seafaring — they’ve experienced the sea’s power and mercilessness.
I looked at Dorothy and said, “Did you hear what that old fisherman beside me said?”
“Yes.” She lowered her voice. “I’m afraid.”
The ship’s nurse tried to attend to passengers, especially the elderly ones, but could not. The rocking ship threw her around, against the benches, and several times, she fell down on her butt.
I looked forward and the waves hit the windows of the lobby. The ocean swells submerged the bow, swallowing it. I estimated the lobby stood about thirty feet above the vessel’s waterline.
“Try to comfort the children,” I whispered and thought what if one of the eighteen-wheelers in the hull became loose, and puncture the side of the ship? Yes, there were lifeboats, but could they hold everyone and withstand the fury of the sea? I would have to put Dorothy and the children in a lifeboat first.
A loud thud interrupted my morbid thoughts. The vessel’s twisting and screeching sound reverberated through the lobby’s walls and frame as a massive wave hit broadside. I thought the ship would break apart.
Nicole couldn’t settle down. She said she was going to throw-up again and go in her pants.
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
“I’ll go with her,” I said.
We steadied ourselves on the benches and the wall-rail and made it to the bathroom before she let go of anything.
Inside the toilet, the stench made my wooziness worse.
“Nicole, sit here on the toilet, I’m going to be sick too. I’ll be in the next stall.”
I hacked almost to the point of turning my stomach inside out. After ten minutes or so, the sick feeling subsided and I went to see how Nicole was doing. Another huge wave threw me about as it hit the side of the ship.
“Nicole, hold on to the toilet!”
She did not answer. I stared at her ghostly face.
I wondered when it was going to happen.
We made it back to the lobby. The ship jerked from side to side so much that I’d resigned to the fact that the ship wouldn’t withstand the storm’s onslaught.
Dorothy looked at me. I read her mind that said, “I know you’re frightened and concerned, as I am.”
We gripped the bench, leaned on each other, spent and exhausted — we had accepted our fate, the children oblivious to the predicament.
After a couple of hours of anguish and wondering when the breaking blow would strike, the storm began to subside. The swells became long and low rolling. The rain tapered to drizzle and a heavy fog remained. I heard sighs of relief. Passengers’ talk rumbled in the lobby. Someone said, “Thank God!”
Gradually the sea smoothed, became soothing, almost hypnotic, and the slow rolling motion cradled the Bluenose Ferry. The children perked up and were themselves again.
“They can be as frolicking as they please, I don’t give a damn — it tells me that they are alive and well.”
I looked at Old Salt who still sat in the same position as earlier. The storm had not disturbed him. He looked at me and said, “I guess it wasn’t time.”
Mystified, I turned around.
“Let’s go at the window, look at the sea, maybe we can see the shore,” I said.
Then, on the horizon, a jagged outline emerged.
“Look! There’s Nova Scotia.”
Bill Boudreau is a French-Acadian, who grew up in Wedgeport village on the Nova Scotia’s southwest coast. Bill self-published seven books — Olsegon, Disharmony in Paradise, Moments in Time, Redemption Island, Beyond Acadia, Wedgeport, and Hopping the Caribbean Islands. All books are available on Amazon. Articles published: “First Confession” in Seasoned Reader, “Interlude” in The LLI Review, and “Character” online at This I Believe, and“Reflection: Long-Time U.S. Resident Remembers his Canadian Roots” online at Aging Horizons Bulletin.
He lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.