“There’s a spot down here for you,” a woman shouts to us as we pull the sailboat into the little marina at Ford Cove on Hornby Island. It’s been a long day. I’m still feeling shaken from hitting the reef, and since then we’ve faced a couple of hours of stormy seas, and a much bigger worry: we’re taking on water. And so I feel enormous relief as this woman leaps nimbly across a series of boats to take the bowline from me and help Dan raft up to another sailboat.
“The fookin’ reefs around here eat boats,” the woman laughs, pushing long, dark hair out of her face. “You’re not the first. But you don’t need to go to Comox. We can get you patched up right here.” Her husband, she explains, repairs boats, and though they’re taking the summer off, he has all the tools and equipment on board their boat to do fiberglass repairs. If we’re interested, she tells us, she can help get us tied up alongside the government wharf where there is a makeshift dry dock.
Dan inspects the boat and finds a crack in the hull, behind the engine. Water is gushing in. The boat definitely needs repairs. And the sooner the better.
He heads off to find Sarah, who is chasing her three year old son down the docks, and they head off to look at the dry dock. I see them, leaning over the wharf, conferring, Sarah’s little boy climbing the rails beside them. The sun has appeared from behind the clouds, just as it’s ready to set. We don’t have much light left.
Dan reappears and announces that we’re going to move the boat. Sarah helps us turn the boat around in what is a very tight space, and then shouts, “Give me a couple of minutes to round up some citizens. We’ll meet you over there.” And as we pull slowly alongside the wharf, five or six people run down the dock to meet us. “Throw me the bowline,” says one. “Take this rope and tie it off over there,” says another. “Watch out for those posts!” someone shouts. “Hold on! You’re nearly onto the hard.” And together, they pull the boat carefully forward and in, tying it snugly to the edge of the wharf. Once the boat is secure, a couple of men leap onto the railings and secure another line to the mast, which they tie to a huge rock on the other side of the wharf. By the time they’re finished, the boat is not going anywhere. “Drink some wine. Get some sleep,” Sarah yells cheerfully. “You’re safe now.” And off they all go, back to their boats.
We wake to find a little bit of water in the boat, but we know that in a few hours, the tide will be out far enough for Dan to inspect the damage, and for Sarah’s husband Aaron to come and do repairs. Throughout the morning, other boaters come by, every one of them sympathetic, and every one sharing his or her own misadventures. A number offer suggestions and advice, and one even arrives with a tube of boater’s cement. “This will patch up anything,” he assures us.
At one point, Sarah comes by to share her own stories of running aground. “There are two kind of sailors,” she tells us. “Those who run into things and those who lie.”
By early afternoon, the tide is out far enough for Dan and Aaron to inspect the damage, and decide on a course of action. After that, Aaron gets to work, spending three hours of a beautiful, sunny afternoon in a hot, cramped space behind the engine, breathing in toxic fumes from the fiberglass repairs.
All for a couple of people he’s never met before.
The work he does is meticulous, and he returns throughout the afternoon and early evening to check to make sure that everything is setting properly. Though we intend to pay him, it is clear that he has no such expectation, that he would do this for anyone who he encountered who was in trouble and needed help.
After waiting all morning for the tide to go out, we wait all evening for the tide to come back in again, to make sure, as Dan puts it, that we’re floating, not sinking. As the tide reaches the high mark, we can see that Aaron’s work is flawless.
Sarah gathers the citizens of Ford Cove once more, to help untie us.
As Dan steers our boat away from the wharf, I wave to everyone, feeling tears rising. “Goodbye,” I shout. “Thank you so much! You guys are amazing!”
But Sarah laughs, and leaning over the wharf, she yells, “We’d have to be real assholes not to help out!” Her salty humour breaks the spell, and I laugh and wave to these new friends.
It will be a long time before I forget the cheerful generosity of Sarah, Aaron, and the rest of the good citizens of Ford Cove. It’s not the adrenaline-pumping excitement of the accident, nor the stunning beauty of Hornby Island that will linger longest in my memory. The lasting impression of our experience last weekend will be of the kindness of strangers.
Where in your life have you experienced the kindness of strangers?