Deserter's Tide

Strange name for a Canadien, you say? Yes . . . but Tomlinson of Tadoussac was a most unusual man!

LEWIS EVANS March 15 1947

Deserter's Tide

Strange name for a Canadien, you say? Yes . . . but Tomlinson of Tadoussac was a most unusual man!

LEWIS EVANS March 15 1947

Deserter's Tide

LEWIS EVANS

The northeast extremity of Prince Shoal is marked by a light vessel moored on the alignment of the Saguenay River leading lights, 4.4 miles distant from the front light. 'The vessel is painted red with the letters Prince Shoal No. 7 in white on each side. The vessel has tax) masts and carries a red ball at the maintop masthead.St. Lawrence River Pilot, 1943 edition.

CAPTAIN ALFRED TOMLINSON leaned over the counter of the lightship and his gaze followed the path of the Saguenay River as it reached between purple capes toward the sunset. It was nearly the end of his last season as master of the vessel, for he was old. He would retire to his little house in Tadoussac—he could just make out t he lights of the village there, four and a half miles away at the mouth of the Saguenay, as they rivalled and gradually overcame the last of the daylight. He would be content there.

Well, except in the northeasters he would be

content. When the northeast winds drove fog and rain and heavy seas up the gulf he would be able to hear the minute-spaced moans of the Prince Shoal lightship’s foghorn, and often the deeper roar of some ocean freighter feeling her way between the St. Lawrence reefs toward the deep waters of the Saguenay, and he would not rest well in his little house ashore.

But in the long summer days old age would be pleasant. There would be gossip on the steps of the general store, and there would be the summer visitors, always curious and asking questions in schoolbook French. They were always so surprised at his English name, when he and his family were as French Canadian as any Savard or Lapointe in the village. Some of them had run into the French

Canadians with Scotch names around Murray Bay, McLarens and McLeods and Blackburns, and knew them for descendants of the soldiers disbanded by Murray and Nairn after the fall of Quebec, but he always tried to explain that his story went back a little farther still.

Slowly the lightship swung her stern away from the afterglow of the sunset and toward the darkness of the Gulf. A few pulp logs, tumbled from some schooner’s overloaded deck, drifted past. The ebb current was beginning.

“An hour and twenty-nine minutes after high water,” old Alfred thought automatically. He did not marvel at the clocklike accuracy of the tides any more than a landsman is surprised at the punctuality of the sun, but he did have a feeling that he would miss these familiar swings of position when he was sitting out his old age on his cottage veranda. Perhaps he would keep a tide table by him and figure out from time to time just how the lightship would be pointing. It was so easy now— you could learn all about the river from tide tables and pilot books. He’d never even heard of a pilot book when as a boy he’d learned his pilotage from his father—the Tomlinsons had been seamen for generations—but things were changing these days.

Strange name for a Canadien, you say? Yes . . . but Tomlinson of Tadoussac was a most unusual man!

Maybe he’d apply for a license next season, and run a salmon weir off the beach. If he felt he had the energy, he would. He’d always liked the idea of being a fisherman.

The navigable waters of the St. Lawrence between White Island and Points aux Orignaux are divided into two channels, known as North and South Channels. These are separated, abreast of Riviere du Loup and Cape Dogs, by a bank which runs for a distance of about 24 miles, in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction, from White Island Reef to Hare Island Bank. On this bank are White Island with Hare Island North Reef, Hare Island with the adjacent Brandypot Islands, and Hare Island Reef with the islets which surmount it.

THE night of June 22, 1759, was moonless and still. John Tomlinson, on anchor watch aboard the Goodwill transport, leaned over the bulwark near the bows and listened to the current plucking at the anchor chain. The ship had just swung around with the tide, and now her upflung bowsprit pointed like a challenging spear up the river toward Quebec, the French stronghold which was General Wolfe’s objective.

Quebec, however, was said to be yet over 40 leagues away, and all John Tomlinson could see ahead in the gathering dusk were the masts of the Richmond frigate stabbing the sky, and beyond her again the low humps of the strangely named Brandypot Islets. To his right and ahead the long low curve of Hare Island looked like a great whale basking on the surface of the waters.

From the Richmond the click-clock sound of caulking mallets, which had been going on since the vessel had come to anchor, now ceased with the descent of darkness. She had opened a seam above her waterline in the stormy weat her encountered in t he Gulf.

Astern, John knew, were the Vanguard and Centurion, men - of - war; and somewhere farther down the river t he flagship Sutherland with the General himself aboard her. The whole fleet, was waiting out the darkness at anchor, for the French pilots tricked aboard down the river were not to be trusted. Old Alfred Killick, master of the Goodwill transport, would not. let the pilot assigned to him have any say in handling the ship. He trusted no Frenchman, he claimed, and with a leadsman in the chains and himself on the foc’s’le, speaking trumpet in hand, he navigated the Goodwill into and out of the Shoal Island anchorages himself, judging the course by t he set of the currents and the color of the water.

A great navigator, old Killick, thought John, and a fine seaman. “If I must sail in this fleet, there’s no one I’d rather sail under —but I should never have sailed at all.”

He hunched his shoulders over the high bulwark. Three hours of his watch lay ahead of him, three hours for bitter thoughts of the happier past.

John Tomlinson had been a fisherman, owner of his own boat sailing out of Plymouth; and in a heavy storm last winter he had struck the sands and lost her. Another craft had picked him up and put him ashore and he had sought revenge on fortune in the gin shops. There he had been picked up by a press gang and had awakened in the foc’s’le of the Goodwill bound for Louisburg, which had been an English fortress for nearly a year now, thanks to this same General Wolte.

John was a seaman through and through, but he had been master of his own vessel, and now to be a mere unit in a watch galled him beyond bearing. He wanted his freedom, to

make his own living by his own skill.......by

fishing. At several places on the journey up the estuary he had been filled with longing, for afar off along the shore he had seen boats tending nets. Fishermen were fishermen, whether Frènch - or English—when they weren’t smugglers. John had been both in the English Channel, and he had met both. If these Frenchmen of the New World had anything in common with their brethren of Normandy and Brittany, John Tomlinson had no fears about getting along with them, and the idea of deserting this stinking, overcrowded transport had bedevilled his mind both day and night.

But Admiral Saunders was no fool; he had suffered from deserters before. The fleet made no anchorages close to the mainland, but sought shelter only in the lee of barren islands. “Four nights ago it was Bic Island,” recounted John miserably to himself; “then two days off Green Island because of wind and a strong ebb tide, and now these godforsaken reefs and rocks and clumps of trees.”

Only this afternoon, during the flood tide, six soldiers had leaped overboard from the Richmond and swum to the Brandypot Islet which was nearest Hare Island, thinking no doubt that it was joined to the larger island and that they could lose themselves in the bush there until the fleet had moved on. John and others aboard the Goodwill had learned from the poor frightened French pilot that the islands were joined only at low water; and sick at heart they had watched a boat pull away from the Richmond to the shore, and the Marines spread out across the islet like hunters beating for hares. The evening had been full of shouts and shots, and at last the boatload of Marines had rowed slowly back to the frigate—just the Marines.

Vessels shelter northeastward of the Brandypots. The holding ground is good ... In Brandypot Channel the ebb stream begins one hour after high

ivater . . . the rate of the tidal streams is from 2 to 3\ '¿ knots.

BITS of driftwood, floated off the islands and reefs by the high tide, swept past the bows of the Goodwill in the ebb stream. John Tomlinson watched them idly at first, and then with attent ion.

“That’s a powerful stream,” he thought. “Being t he ebb tide, it must run for six hours anyway. With a boat a man could be clear of t he whole fleet long before the stream turned ...”

He continued to watch the flotsam as it whirled past, imagining himself keeping pace with it along the length of the transport’s deck, and trying to figure its speed.

Suddenly there was a rasping, a bump, and a swirl of water below him. He peered down. Something had' fouled the cable and become wedged between it and t he bluff bows of the transport; and the current fought with this new obstruction, John was about to call his watchmates to help him clear it, when curiosity prompted him to have a closer look, alone. He threw a glance over his shoulder. The bulk of his watchmates were below the break of the foc’s’le, huddled together and talking. They could have heard nothing.

In a flash he was over the cathead climbing down among the complicated stays that secured the bowsprit to the stem of the ship. Hanging a few feet above the swirling water he could make out the object more clearly. It was a rough raft of planks that the Richmond’s men had floated alongside to stand on while they caulked that seam. They had left it moored alongside, and it had come adrift.

John lowered himself till he was hanging by his hands from a stay, and his feet reached the raft. He kicked gently and the corner wedged against the ship’s stem came free. He dropped onto the raft and fended it off from the bows with his hands. The high sheer of the Goodwill transport slid past him, and then he was alone in the darkness.

To John’s relief the raft’s course paralleled the reef, edging in toward it and giving the rest of the fleet a wide berth. He had no desire to be a target for musketry. Soon those ships too were lost in the darkness.

It was an uncanny feeling, for once the anchored vessels were out of sight he did not seem to he moving — the raft and the water in which it floated were as one, and there was no way of telling how fast they were moving over the bottom. “At least,”

thought John Tomlinson wryly, “I am master of my own vessel once more.”

He fell to examining his craft, more by touch than by vision. It appeared to be made of three great pine planks stoutly lashed together, designed to support two men provided their weight was evenly distributed along its length. John’s groping hands searched along its edges and found what he had hoped for, the trailing length of rope that had been used to moor the raft to the Richmond’s side. He hauled it in and coiled it on the raft. It was, perhaps, 20 feet in length.

John settled down to consider his position. He was adrift in the middle of a great tidal estuary 20 miles wide, and he had no means of controlling his craft. . He did not Continued on page 28

Continued on page 28

Deserter's Tide

Continued from page 21

regret his impulse to desert. He felt he had nothing to lose. With his fishing boat destroyed he had no stake in England, and as for Quebec—well, rumor had it that the French fortress was impregnable, and that the expedition in general and James Wolfe in particular were mad. John Tomlinson wanted no part in the fire ships and shot and shell that would no doubt greet the fleet as it laid siege to the capital of New France.

No, he was glad he had left the Goodwill, but he wished that he had had the same chance when the fleet was nearer one shore or the other. Well, it was his job to navigate his vessel, and he must put his mind to it. What would old Alf Killick have done? The set of the currents and the color of the water . . . The water around him was black I and mysterious, now silent and smooth, now breaking into ripples and swirls that he knew must be crosscurrents; but in the darkness he could tell no more. He could do nothing till dawn but swing his arms and rub his hands I and legs to ward off the chill of thi ; northern night.

The first grey light filtering into the sky over the Gulf found the raft revolving aimlessly in confused and choppy waters. Malevolent little waves broke along its sides and kept John wet and chilled to the bone. As the light : increased he stood up and tried to mark

’ his position and progress.

The raft had drifted downriver a mile or so beyond the end of the long spine of reefs of which Hare Island and the Brandy pots formed the highest points. The ships were still plainly visible; and even as he watched sails began to drop from the yards, and he could imagine the clacking of capstans and tire tramp of feet on the deck as the fleet weighed in haste to make use of the favorable northeast wind and ; tide. Downriver, one lone spit of yellow sand appeared to be the only land between him and the Gulf—Red Islet, he had heard Killick call it as they had sailed past.

The flood stream, on coming with strength from the South Channel, flows westward through the whole breadth of I the passage between White Island Reef ! and Red Islet. At its strength it pre¡ dominates and crowds the flood in the i North Channel over against Lark Reef.

THE northeasterly breeze increased in strength, but the low sun offset its chill, and John Tomlinson’s clothing began to dry. He thought of Killick conning the Goodwill from the foc’s’le, and he studied the surrounding waters with attention. Those about the raft, off the tail of the reefs, were greenish, suggesting shallow water, and confused with current swirls. Between the raft and Red Islet, however, the waters were blue with ripples in the sunlight. There, thought John, the water must be moving against or across the wind. He stripped off his clothing and slid over the side. Kicking his feet strongly he propelled the raft before him. After two intervals when he had to climb back on the planks for rest and warmth he was in the rippled blue water. He climbed aboard and as he dressed himself he took careful bearings on several points on the distant shores. Then he crouched on the wet boards, trying to keep dry and trying not to think about the hunger that was becoming more and more demanding.

When he judged half an hour had elapsed he again stood up and checked his bearings. The raft, he found, was now travelling westward, toward the

mountainous left bank of the river which looked much less friendly than the lower levels of the right side. At any rate, he was moving shoreward, and he called down a blessing on old Killick.

The northeast breeze was stiffening as the sun rose higher, and soon waves kept the planks continually awash. John gave up the struggle to keep dry, and later, when the raft was swept well into the north channel and he sighted a branch drifting on a parallel course some 30 yards away, he did not bother to remove his soaking shirt and breeches when he lowered himself into the water. He struck out for the branch, found it, and started back, pushing it before him. F or a desperate moment of panic he thought he had lost his raft, but the waves breaking over it betrayed its position, and he regained it.

The branch was s sorry substitute for a paddle, but John snapped off its smaller twigs and fell to work trying to help the raft along in its chosen direction. His exertion kept him warm, but after two hours’ steady paddling he was exhausted, and the mounting waves forced him to crouch and hold on with his hands if he was not to be washed away.

A new sound gradually intruded upon his attention, he swayed to his feet and made out a low ridge of sand and boulders on which the waves were smashing. The raft was drifting toward this reef, but too slowly for his liking. Solid ground, even a reef, would be a welcome rest from the bucking raft. John plunged into the water and started kicking his raft in toward shore. At last it grounded in the surf and he staggered onto the sands, clutching the end of his length of rope. When he had rested he hauled the heavy planks beyond the breakers, collapsed on the sun-warmed stone, and slept.

Lark Reef, a large extent of drying ground, is composed of sand and boulders . . . Along the eastern edge of the reef are stony ridges which are the last to cover on the rising tide.

SPRAY dashing over his face woke John Tomlinson from his brief sleep. He struggled to his feet and his first glance was for his raft. One end floated, lifting to the waves, but the other was still grounded on the reef. .He took stock of his position. The ridge on which he stood had dwindled to a width of a few yards and a length of some 30 paces. Confused seas all round showed where other ridges had covered and were being pounded by the waves. The northeaster had settled down to blow, and grey scud blotted out the sun.

Sea birds wheeled and shrieked, and a flock of plovers, forced by the tide from lower banks, swooped to land on the extremity of the spit. John stooped for a stone. A shrewd throw into the midst of the flock left one bird flapping in a circle, a wing trailing, as the rest soared off with startled whistling. John pounced on the creature, dashed its life out and tore at its flesh.

By the time he had got all the sustenance he could from the bird the waves were washing over his ridge, and he prepared to take once more to his raft. He poled out of the breakers with his branch, and finding the waves far greater than those earlier in the morning, he lashed himself to his planks with his length of rope.

The ebb from the Saguenay River sets strongly over Lark Reef, and on meeting the ebb stream from the St. Lawrence sets up very heavy tide rips.

For several hours the raft drifted aimlessly, incessantly buffeted by the

short steep waves of shallow waters. Sometimes John, sounding with his branch, touched bottom, and prayed for the tide to fall and uncover enough land to give him shelter from the seas. In his heart he knew, however, that there was no prolonged safety on the reef—it would cover again at the next high tide, and that would be at night. The idea of repeating his present situation in the darkness appalled him.

Finally a groping of the pole on the bottom showed him that he was moving rapidly—caught in a strong tidal stream. Soon his branch lost all contact with the bottom, and he knew he was being carried into deeper waters.

For the first time real fear crowded into his mind. If the ebb carried him into mid-river he was lost. He knew that he could not survive the exposure of another night on the raft in such a wicked sea.

Desperately he scrambled to his feet, swaying, falling, striving to keep his balance for a few seconds.

On the North Shore a great canyon in the hills had opened to view—the gorge of some important tributary river, he realized. To its right he could just make out some dwellings circling a bay. If only he could get to the mainland somewhere near them!

Again he gave his attention to the waters surrounding him. To his left they seemed smoother, and he realized with a surge of hope that there must be an eddy there caused by the reefs, its waters calmer because they were moving with the wind, not against it.

He grabbed up his branch and paddled furiously. Slowly the unwiéldly raft approached the line of foam that marked the edge of the eddy. Then his branch snapped. John lunged for the lower and longer piece, but the tide swept it out of reach. The raft revolved, half in one current, half in the other; then the powerful ebb stream took hold and swept it seaward.

John crouched in the welter of waters, sick at heart. Waves seemed to rush at him from all directions, and all his strength was concentrated on staying aboard the raft.

A great roaring came into his head and he thought his sanity was leaving him, but looking up he saw he was being swept toward a wall of whiteness, where waves boiled up and broke in confusion, and the next moment the raft was in the tide rip.

. John remembered theGoodwill sailing through one off Green Island, and how

the whole ship had shuddered as it hit the battlefield of currents. He prayed that the lashings of the planks would hold. He fought for breath. The raft bucked like a horse, and tipping sharply, rolled him off. Clutching the rope, the end of which was made fast about his waist, he hauled' himself back. A whirlpool caught the raft, which whirled round its outer circumference for a moment and then slid in toward the vortex, gyrating madly. One end of the raft was sucked down, the other canted into the air for a second, and John again struggled to keep his head above the surface. The whirlpool faded, overcome by stronger current forces, and John hauled himself in on the rope once more, to find himself attached to but one of the three planks. The lashings had parted, and the other two had whirled away in the current.

He got his arms over the plank and hung on. He doubted if he could have hauled himself onto the raft even if it had remained intact.

Water temperatures in the Si. Lawrence . . . Freezing temperatures were found at six fathoms, in midsummer, between Prince Shoal and Red Islet, where the cold waters are brought to the surface by the shoaling of the channel.

Gradually the buffeting of the seas diminished, they became more regular, and the roaring of the tide rip receded.

Suddenly it came into his mind that the water was less cold, that he felt it less. He reached a hand down and pinched a thigh. He felt nothing. He was getting numb. It would creep upward, he knew, until it reached his shoulders and arms, till he no longer could hang on.

A little block of wood bobbed in the waves before him—and another, and another. Little blocks of wood, all in a neat line. Tie them together and make a raft. There’s a length of rope with them already—all very convenient. Mustn’t let the plank foul them, though—fishermen never foul nets. Nets take a lot of repairing.

John Tomlinson came back to consciousness with a sense of familiarity, for every labored breath he drew was redolent of fish. He struggled to sit up, and slithered back among shining cod. A bearded man, steering with a great oar as the boat drove before the northeaster, smiled briefly at him and went on steering.

“Would you have something to eat aboard?” croaked John in the coastal French he knew. The bearded man motioned to a basket under a thwart. Between munches of an enormous crust, John explained his position. The helmsman smiled.

“The more of you to desert, the better for New France,” he said. “We welcome emigres.”

Tadoussac village is situated on a semicircular terrace of sand and clay at the head of the bay, which is backed, by high rugged hills of granite. The village, contains three churches, one of which is the oldest in Canada, having been erected in 1747.

OLD Alfred Tomlinson, captain, retired, set the tiny ship model on the shelf in the Chapel of Saint Anne and stepped back to regard his handiwork. It was complete in all detail, down to the neat white lettering “Prince Shoal No. 7” on the red topsides, and up to the red ball at the maintop masthead.

The model was a thank offering for a long life preserved from the dangers of the river. Old Alfred’s glance shifted along the shelf to a ship model placed in the chapel in 1763. It was a heavy

three-masted square-rigger, bluff in the bows, and her bowsprit raking upward at a sharp angle. On its stand was carved, “Goodwill—A. Killick, Master.” “Wonder why he wanted to remember the name of the captain of the ship he deserted from?” mused old Alfred. “And I wonder what the initial ‘A’ stood for?”

He knelt a moment and thanked Saint Anne for all the John Tomlinsons and Alfred Tomlinsons that had been mariners on the St. Lawrence out of Tadoussac for nearly two centuries. Then he left the chapel and trudged with his old man’s slow gait down toward the beach to inspect his salmon net. *