“Good morning, this is Captain Dave Lemmons on board the tug vessel Itinerante. Calling to check into immigration and boarder control. Yes, that is correct. We arrived into Toronto Harbor this morning, from the Erie Canal.” I stood on the bridge, half asleep, overhearing the conversation and awaiting the next orders. The early morning chill over Lake Ontario was an extreme contrast to the heat we had left 3 weeks prior when we pushed off the dock, in Key West. It had been nearly a month of adventure, frustration, and camaraderie, and we had reached our final destination. The anchor was set, and each of us were already dreaming up our breakfast order and looking forward to a long walk around the city. If we had learned anything so far, we would have felt the foreshadowing of yet a few more difficulties ahead.
When we weren’t getting stranded on sand bars in the Florida Intercostal Waterways, we were off the coast bombarded with uncontrollable bouts of seasickness (well me, anyway). And then up the Erie Canal we were bouncing around in locks and barely scraping by underneath the low, relentless bridges. First too heavy, and then too buoyant, we couldn’t catch a break. But the whole way Captain Dave kept his cool. Combatting each roadblock with a calm confidence that only a man who had spent a good chunk of his life in the Caribbean (and thankfully, he had) can have.
“Hey guys, wind the anchor up. Immigration says we have to be docked to check in. I know a good, quiet spot we can tie up.” This 1960s Dutch tugboat wasn’t anything like the luxury private yacht I had been working on the year prior to this expedition. And I liked it that way. Except when it came to pulling the anchor up. One man had to stand over the edge, indicating the to the captain the angle of the anchor chain, while the other two took turns cranking the rusty, hefty line up. It was hard work, which was completely unwelcomed at 5:30am after an already long journey.
We got to the dock, secured the lines, killed the engines, and Dave made the call again. “What do you mean I am at the wrong location? You didn’t give me a specific docking location. City Harbor Docks? Okay, I understand.” Dave didn’t even have to tell us, we were already on our starting positions. Engines fired up and lines dropped, once again we inched closer to the Toronto skyline.
Dave found us a nice, open stretch of dock in a more residential section of the shoreline. Lines were secured, engines were killed; for the third time that morning. By now our stomachs were grumbling almost as loudly as Dave was while he held the ringing phone to his ear. “Yes, Hello, this is David Lemmons again, we are docked in the city… What do you mean we are not in the correct location? We are docked in the City of Toronto. Yes, right on the shoreline…if you have a specific check-in location for vessels can I please have an address?”
With no specific help from the boarder control office, Dave sent us back to our stations again. We were going to try a spot on the map that appeared to match the confusing and unclear instructions that were barked into the phone. The 4th time’s the charm, right?
Just as quickly as the engines were fired up and the lines were dropped, they were killed and secured again. Seemingly, only inches from where we had just been tied up. The tension in the bridge, as Dave made the call once more, teetered somewhere between frustration and laughter. A familiar and constant mood on the trip, though the scales always seemed to tip in the happy direction. “… Yes, we are at the Toronto Harbor City Docks. We arrived this morning with a crew of 4. We left Key West 3 weeks ago, traveling along intercostal waterways when possible, off shore in the Atlantic, and up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal, and eventually into and across Lake Ontario. Yes, there passport numbers are… Okay, thank you very much.”
We all anticipated that a trip to the immigration office was still standing between us and satisfying our stomachs, when Dave announced, “Welcome to Canada! We are all checked in!” Which seemed quite anticlimactic and ridiculous, given the hassle we had spent the entire morning enduring.
“So, breakfast time?!” Someone inquired, quite possibly all 3 of us in unison.
“Not quite. We can’t stay at these docks, we have to go back and anchor in our original location. Sorry guys, engines on, lines up! One last time!”
“Goddammit!” Which was definitely muttered in unanimous unison.
My good buddy and favorite captain, Dave and I on the bow of Intinerante in Toronto Harbor