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PAUL SMITH: No GPS . No cellphone –  on Trinity Bay in the snow

Chasing seabirds in winter can be a dangerous pursuit.
Chasing seabirds in winter can be a dangerous pursuit. - Paul Smith

What a mess of soggy snow awaited me after swimming.
What a mess of soggy snow awaited me after swimming.

He could have just texted Sylvia, or maybe messaged her on Facebook.

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? If you are of my vintage, coming of age in the '70s you quite likely do.

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show released the song “Sylvia’s Mother” in 1972, on vinyl no doubt, through Evil Eye Music Inc.

That was a great song, and so bloody simple, no political statement, no religious overtones, no layered hidden meanings, just a guy trying to convince his girlfriend’s mother to call her to the phone. He was running out of change for the pay phone and getting quite desperate. Sylvia’s mother was having no part of it, because Sylvia's marryin’ a fella down Galveston way.

I was listening to that song today while swimming laps in Carbonear pool. I got to thinking, as there’s not much else to do while free styling in a snowstorm.

Yup, had to get my laps in before snowplowing time.

Anyway, a song like that makes you realize how much technology has changed. Nowadays there’s absolutely no way Sylvia’s mother could have stopped whoever from communicating with her, but poor old buddy in 1972 was losing the love of his life to some guy in Galveston, and that was it. Maybe in the end he caught a fast train or something, but the pay phone certainly wasn’t working for him. I shouted to my buddy in the next lane, “he should have FaceTimed her.” We had a good laugh at the end of the pool.

This rain coat got a dandy workout.
This rain coat got a dandy workout.

There were only three of us at the pool today. Snowstorm, remember?

The weather predicting technology has improved every bit as much as communications. Environment Canada nailed it today, snow starting at eight or nine, just after breakfast, heavy at times, with gusty winds from the east. The snow was predicted to transform over to rain at around two or three in the afternoon. I guess most swimmers stayed at home and watched the snow through glass. They likely observed the storm approach on doppler radar.

So did I, but hey, what’s the good of having a four-wheel drive truck if you can’t go swimming in a snowstorm.

I figured I’d better get my snow cleared up before too much rain soaked it all down. I got home from swimming just in time to squeeze in a bowl of hot turkey soup before plowing.

It was pouring rain now, but hey, that’s what Gore–Tex is for. I suppose I could have stayed home and plowed the snow before the changeover.

That’s what Goldie suggested. I know, that’s the sensible approach, but then I wouldn’t have gotten out four wheeling and what a wicked testing out that Patagonia hardshell got. It never leaked a smidgeon.

 I was out plowing for two hours in sideways rain. My driveway isn’t that big, or my quad that slow. I plow for two of my neighbours as well.

Today, I went out in a storm because I wanted to, weighing the risks, of course. I knew the snow was coming, but I had my cellphone to stay in touch with home, so Goldie wouldn’t worry too much.

It wasn’t always this way. Goldie often reminds me of the worry I’ve caused over the years, especially my poor mother who constantly worried about my crazy adventures. In the 70’s and 80’s there were no cellphones, no texting, no GPS, and bloody crappy weather forecasts.

My mother and Goldie had no idea where I was until I appeared out of the snow, fog, rain, or whatever.

The hunting day I remember most that might have benefited most from modern technology was an eider duck and turre hunting excursion on Trinity Bay in February of 1983. I think it was Perry Cooper, Graham Smith, and myself.

We left Port Rexton early in the morning, not a cloud in the sky, and a forecast for the same all day. What a day we were going to have, or so we thought. Well, it actually was fantastic until about noon. That’s when the snow started.

Simpler times.
Simpler times.

Back in those days I depended only on a magnetic compass and wristwatch for navigation.  You’d figure your speed and calculate distance traveled and direction with a watch and compass. I’d been keeping an eye on the compass and landmarks all morning, so I’d know how to return to port if visibility went down. That’s the way we did it back then. You had to be always aware and conscious of where you were. Nowadays you can just fire up the GPS and get a position. Anyway, at about noon, snow started to fall and I lost sight of land.

I suppose it’s only a flurry. The radio said it was going to be fine all day. There were plenty of birds around and we were killing a few. We foolishly decided to keep on hunting.

The snow did not stop, and actually got worse, thicker and fluffier. I could see maybe a tenth of a mile at best, and we were in the middle of Trinity Bay. If I had headed for home just as the snow started I could have steamed right into the harbour by compass and watch. Now I had lost track of our position. We had been chasing around birds for two hours. There wasn’t much daylight left and I needed to get the situation sorted out.

I had a map with me. And if I knew our position I could have steered a homeward course. The best plan I figured was to head northwest and get in the sight of land. Then we might figure out where we were on the coastline and the plot a course for home. In about an hour, quite a steam, we sighted land.

But with the low visibility we had no idea what we were looking at. It was all just rocks, cliffs and headlands. I didn’t know for sure if we were northeast or southwest of the Port Rexton and Trinity area.

Sometimes you have to play it safe. I was pretty confident on southwest, the further in the bay side of home, so I needed to head northeast, or out the bay, for our anchorage. But if I were wrong we’d be heading along a dangerous shoreline with no place to pull in for miles. Fuel was also a consideration. I opted to head in the bay and pull into the nearest port. Then we’d know where we were.

So off we went parallel to the north side of Trinity Bay. It wasn’t long before civilization appeared, houses, stages, lights and the like. We pulled into the government wharf and asked am elderly gentleman where we were. We really couldn’t tell in the snow. It was still bloody snowing so much, and they predicted clear blue skies all day. Good Lord.

“Trouty,” he says, with a bewildered look.

We were covered in snow and must have been quite a sight. We debated staying there, but headed out to sea again.

That Trinity Point Lighthouse played a lovely welcome home tune.
That Trinity Point Lighthouse played a lovely welcome home tune.

If only I had a cellphone to call Goldie and tell her we were fine. Time ticked by slowly as we motored along through the snow. Finally, the sound of the horn on Trinity Point played us a welcome melody. If I remember right we went into Trinity East and tied the boat up there for the night. There weren’t any pay phones even. We had to go to a house and use a phone to call Goldie. She picked us up.

I’m thinking again. You know what? With modern technology I wouldn’t have left the wharf that day, even with a GPS to guide us. But I’m not sorry for going. The forecast would have kept me on land. It really is a double-edged sword you know. Maybe Sylvia was better off catchin’ the nine o'clock train.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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