Tall Ships Tail

by Al Mosher from Lunenburg, NS

It was the first summer of the new millennium. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, there was a gathering of tall ships. Dozens of them arrived from around the globe for “Tall Ships 2000”. It was all part of a spectacular race. The next port of call, after Halifax, was Amsterdam! Hundreds of thousands of people came to the city that summer to admire: the white sails, the forest of masts, the crews and the crowds. It was an awesome sight.

My wife, Michele and I had become familiar with one of those beautiful ships – a 57 metre barquentine.

Michele is a sailmaker. She had made a couple of large squaresails for the ship and had accepted an invitation for both of us to be part of the crew on the Boston to Halifax leg of the race. We had the time of our lives. After the ship docked in Halifax we drove to our home, near Lunenburg, and got on board our own “not so tall” ship and sailed back to the city. We picked up our daughter Amy so she could also get a waterfront view of all the excitement. At the time, we had no idea of just how exciting it was going to get.

Amy was between boyfriends then, and her part-time job was boring. Her life -- she wouldn’t mind me saying this -- was in a rut. As we sailed around the busy harbour she suddenly said wistfully “Dad there are times I wish I could just hop on board one of those ships and …SAIL AWAY!”

A long moment of silence followed – then a totally crazy thought entered my mind.

Michele and I knew the captain. We knew the ship was seaworthy and safe – and we knew that if we could put Amy on that ship, the trip to Amsterdam would be something she would remember for the rest of her life.

We figured there was no harm in asking, so we sailed over to the pier where it was docked and asked to speak to the captain. 
Frankly, we were NOT expecting a “yes”! But that’s what we got. Amy’s eyes widened and our hearts were pounding. What about her job? What about this? What about that? How would she get back to Canada? Amy said her employer would understand – heck, she would probably want to go too. We figured we could deal with the other things.

There was one other major obstacle: Amy would need a passport. She had never travelled outside the country and she didn’t have one. The Captain was adamant about this: “No passport. No Amsterdam.”

It was Saturday afternoon. The ships were scheduled to sail Monday morning. We knew it usually took weeks, if not months, to get a passport. 

For those who have not experienced it, let me tell you that being a crew member on a tall ship is special. The ship becomes your community. All members of the community play a part in making the whole thing work. It is magic, especially for a young person. Only a passport – or lack of one – stood in the way of getting our daughter on that ship. We decided to go for it.

We knew Amy would need a professional photograph for a passport, so we docked our boat and ran through throngs of spectators to a well-known photography shop in the city. It was close to closing time, but we got the photograph.

The next day, Sunday, a friend of ours who worked in the Lunenburg Post Office went into the office and got us an official application form. We filled it out, and the Mayor of Lunenburg, who knew Amy, kindly signed the document and wished us luck. That night, I barely slept at all as I rehearsed over and over what I was going to say to the people at the passport office.

Monday morning dawned sunny in Halifax with white billowing clouds, a blue sky and a light breeze. It was a perfect day for the huge Parade of Sail and the start of the race. CBC Television was live on the waterfront with anchor Peter Mansbridge broadcasting the sights and sounds across Canada. Halifax had rarely seen anything like it. The harbour was dotted with hundreds of boats, large and small. You couldn’t get near the waterfront with a car.

I was at the passport office before 8:00am with the application and every imaginable piece of identification, references, photographs and telephone numbers. Amy, with a hastily packed duffle bag, walked down to the waterfront with Michele, hoping for the best. I was the first person at the wicket. I solemnly told the lady who waited on me that I was going to make a very unusual request.  

I told her the whole story – about how I came to be there, before 8:00am, and about how our daughter, as I spoke, was waiting on the wharf with my wife, praying that her Dad could do the impossible – get a passport on the spot.

After I had finished, she looked straight at me without saying a word for at least 30 seconds. Then, she rolled her eyes as if to say, “so THIS is the kind of day I’m gonna have!” She took the documents and disappeared into a back office where a conference of some sort resulted. Fifteen precious minutes went by before she came back out. I held my breath.

I would give anything to know what was said in that back office, or who was called. All I know is, they agreed to do it. There was, however, a problem. I had forgotten one vital detail: the guarantor who signed the passport application also had to sign the back of the photograph. This could not be done electronically, by fax, or by any other method. Our friend, the mayor, was in Lunenburg, normally 90 minutes from downtown Halifax. It was after 9 o’clock.

With the photograph in hand, I jumped into my car and headed back to Lunenburg. After all these years I hope it’s safe to confess that I was there in one hour flat.

Our good friend the mayor was waiting on his doorstep to sign the photograph. I thanked him again, did a U turn – and headed back toward Halifax. I listened all the way in to CBC broadcasting live coverage of the tall ships. As I neared the city limits I heard that the ships were beginning to leave their berths to assemble for the beginning of the Parade of Sail.

Traffic was heavy. I parked my car at the first parking place I found and ran the rest of the way to the passport office -- to the same person I had talked to earlier. I got the passport and headed for the waterfront.

When I got there, the ship was gone…and so was Amy. Michele said they had to leave. They had allowed Amy on board, in the belief that I would get the passport out to her. 

The Parade of Sail required all the ships to circle around George’s Island so the media and spectators could get one last good look at them before they headed out to sea. We found a police security boat nearby that had docked for a few minutes. We tearfully asked if they would please take the passport out “to that big blue barquentine.” They said they would make sure it got to the ship.

Michele and I then walked to a lovely, if crowded, public viewing location not far from there. What a spectacular sight, as those ships – led by Bluenose II – slowly made their way out of the harbour.

We had shared our story with some people standing around us, and when Amy’s ship came by, Michele and I were joined by at least a dozen other people, complete strangers to us, and we all shouted: “AA-ME, AA-ME, AA-ME!”

And out there, somewhere on that blue ship, was the daughter I had missed my chance to say goodbye to. She had her passport. Her life was about to change course – for the better.