Lionheart - Halifax, Nova Scotia

by Bob Norburn

Reprinted from the Potter Yachter, April 1995 and updated September 2017

Four of us, my brother-in-law, his sons Christopher age 12, Paul age 14, and myself set out for a day's fishing in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, around Lawlor and McNabs Islands. After about three hours of not even seeing a ripple let alone a nibble, I was talked into, "Let's try the other side of McNabs Island (where the water is over 100 ft. deep).

As we headed out (at about 14.30), about 1/4 mile off the shore of McNabs, I noticed a BIG container ship heading out to sea. Having seen (and felt) the wake of these things afore I changed my tack, deciding to turn towards calmer waters.

We hadnít gone far when the wake of the ship reached us, not very high (say 2 ft) or so. We were on the partly reefed mainsail, the wake arrived lifting Lionheart up in the water. Just at that moment we caught a gust of wind, that was enough to turn us turtle within a couple of seconds!

John (who at this point I should mention, can't swim) was flung backwards over the rising port side, along with Christopher, followed by Paul (up on the bow), whilst I had to leap from my position on the starboard side and jump off a capsizing boat into the (non subtropical) briny! Iím strict about life vests, no one ever gets on any boat Iíve had without putting their life vest on first, so John and the rest of us were in good shape on that score.

Just before we had turned back, there was a 40+ footer coming up behind us, so I think "well at least someone is around and close by," but when I looked up to see where he was, some 300-400 ft away, they (3 or 4 on deck) sail right by, they never looked our way! What I thought were binoculars being raised were in fact bottles of beer, they were all looking at the big ship so close to them by now.

This is the worst time to find out that your flares, air horn, and even your Boy Scout whistle are still in the cabin. (Mod since then: waterproof container tied to the outboard motor mount, with flares and air horn inside). Thereís a down side to life vests, if you needed to swim under to rescue ďmen or materialsĒ it canít be done wearing one, taking a life vest off puts your life at risk, so it can be a difficult call.

Time is now 14.40, and all of us are looking around for other boats. There is no way that we can right Lionheart with a sail up. (or should that be "down") ?

John was concerned about the choppy waters and hypothermia, but the water was around 62f so I knew we would be good for a couple of hours at least, but John is one of those guys that feels cold in the hot tub.

My only concern was, we were in a decent spot for fishing, shark fishing! I should know as not more than a mile away and just 4 days earlier I had landed two blue sharks, both of them over 250 lb.

THEN...about a mile away, John spots a speedboat heading straight for us, was I glad to see that sight. The time is now 1510, when Paul Connors, a guy who by chance lives only a mile away from me, arrives to save our bacon, bacon much chilled by that time !

We get the boys into his boat, then John, then itís my turn. It is now 15.15. (Boy, does it take forever to get folks out of the drink.)

Shortly after, the Military Police on Harbor Patrol see the activity and arrive in a Zodiac. We put the boys on the Zodiac, and they take them to Shearwater Military Base for hot choc', etc.

We start to tow Lionheart- still upside down, here exit the drop keel - when along comes Tuna, a training yacht (over 60 ft) full of young folks.

"Do you need any help?

"Nah! We're okay now, thanks!"

"Do you want us to right the boat?"

"If you can," says I, thinking they will use a winch...when SPLASH! in goes this young woman, who tries the "tip it back over thing" but boats only tip over easily in the wrong direction. :-(

After a few tries, she says, "I need some help," by this time I think that my brain was well the worse for being chilled, 'cause I jump back in. (Boy, did it feel cold!)

Anyway, when I reached Lionheart I was shagged out (30 ft swim) but we did get Lionheart starting to roll, very slowly at first, then, as the sail came out of the water...real quick! The mast did a 360 in no time, on its way back it missed me by inches, the sail and rigging near took me down to visit Davy Jones.

Time now 15.30, both of us shagged out, so in jumps a guy from Tuna, between us we did do a controlled righting of Lionheart. We then bailed what we could and finished the tow into Shearwater Naval Base, arriving at around 16.15.

Having (it would seem) a charmed life, I'm not dead yet (again), after all I had survived this...

We did lose some stuff though, the drop keel had popped out, sinking into 100 ft of whatever it is that passes through Shearwater (the locale of unsavoury outfall pipes).

Also lost also were the hatch, VHF radio/telephone, compass, fishing great, four pairs of shoes (we all kicked them off), tool kit, clothes, chocolate milk, egg sandwiches, charts, but not our sense of humour.

It took around 2 hours to hand pump Lionheart out, with the help of folks at Shearwater Marina. I felt somewhat better learning that we were the 7th in 10 days to capsize in the same general area, itís gusty at the best of times between the islands.

My shipmates were shaken but not stirred, eager to go out again, ďHearts of Oak are Lionhearts menĒ ;-)

As a result of these events I have made several mods to Lionheart, the first things to go were the foam cushions, they weigh a Ton when soaked in water. I replaced the foam with closed cell foam. Closed cell isnít as soft or comfortable, but it doesnít absorb water so it adds a significant amount of floatation to a boat, add to that in an emergency closed cell cushions can be used as rafts/lifesavers in a ďman in the waterĒ situation.

Update: The above was over 20 years ago now, sailing in much cooler waters these days on the Irish Sea off the coast of NW England & Scotland, not many sharks seen round here, but no shortage of lobsters ;-)

Canada Bob.