Two days in September...
September 10, 2001 - Paul, Brian, Lee - Preparing to leave Tobermory Harbor
June snapped this photo on September 10th, 2001, just a few hours before her Uncle Lee, his friend, Paul, and her future husband sputtered out of Tobermory Harbor headed for Sarnia. We were trying to get out ahead of an oncoming storm and thought that, perhaps, we could manage Kincardine before things got bad. We never made it to Kincardine. Instead we struggled through the night in the worst storm any of us had ever been out in.
Sails down, engine laboring, the waves piled high ahead of us like rushing walls of water. I remember everything and then in a moment I remember nothing. Lee grabbed me and shook me back into a hazy memory. Blue lipped and completely soaked he feared I was approaching hypothermia and sent me below where Paul helped me strip and crammed me into several sleeping bags, and then jammed me warmly, securely, and oh-so sickly in the V berth. I only remember bracing my arms between bench and the ceiling to keep myself from slamming into a concussive tangle of cold, wet limbs and confusion. I could barely make out the shape of Lee squinting through the sideways rain out the cabin door. He was manning the rutter and bracing himself for every wave that washed over him, staring up intently at the masthead and keeping us right with the wind and water.
Somewhere in the night, between urgent bouts of seasickness and the dizzy fits of what Lee surely guessed correctly was setting in on his niece's cold and soaked boyfriend, I passed out. I was naked and desperate for something sturdy, unmoving, and still all those hours later, for warmth. When I woke, Lee was fighting sleep at the helm, Paul was fresh from his own sickness, and the sun was bright and shining. The water was flat, and the hum of our engine was the only sound. We were miles off course, blown that way by the storm and Lee's struggle to survive it. We limped into Harbor Beach in need of gas for the long trip home, and solid ground to take stock in our health and that of the boat. When we stepped from the boat to the comfort of the dock, we had barely tied off when the Harbormaster approached looking frazzled, near desperate in his urgency to reach us.
"We've just been attacked," he barked, "We're at war. They've just attacked New York City."
Who attacked New York City? War?
"They've bombed the World Trade Centers. We've been attacked," he urged again. "Get your fuel boys, and get out of here before they close off the marina and your stuck."
What? What's going on? Attacked? War?
"Get your fuel fellas and get back out there. Take down that Canadian flag too, until you're out of the harbor and out into the lake."
Lee paid him and endured more of the frantic exchange. We pushed off and chugged out into the quiet lake. It was shortly after 9am on September 11th.
During the storm our radio had died. We were still processing the news and still pulling ourselves together from the struggle of the previous twelve hours when the Bombers and Fighter Jets began passing overhead. War? What the hell is happening, we wondered. There was no communication to suss out the facts, no conversation between us weary, battered and confused friends, just silence and the sounds of what we imagined were the makings of war flying overhead. Where was this war? What had happened? What was waiting for us when we got back to port? It was longest day of my life. No one spoke. Everyone was alone with their thoughts and imagination, taking care of the little things that we needed to do to get home, while airplanes buzzed overhead. Lee cooked some food, we ate, we exchanged frighteningly inarticulate words that conveyed nothing of what we were feeling. We'd seen nothing yet of the devastation at Ground Zero. We knew nothing yet of planes hijacked by terrorists, or of the collapse of the towers. We were three men floating home with the notion of a world at war when we arrived. I wanted to talk to June, but couldn't. I was frightened to step from the boat onto land that previously had never known a foreign invader until what my imagination told me was now. I felt sick, and unsure if it was from the night before or the news still bouncing around our frazzled heads.
I've rarely prayed in my life. It's just not something that I ever found myself doing, but that afternoon I remember looking up into a near cloudless blue sky and that's exactly what I did.
It was September 11th, 2001, and I'll never forget those two days in September.