A Hawsepipe Point Of View

The official purpose of a hawsepipe is to guide a ship's anchor cable smoothly to and from the sea. Unofficially, it provides a handy passage for rats, pirates, and returning drunken sailors to make their way aboard, unobserved. The first two species are usually bright enough to stick their heads up first for a cautious reconnoitre of the forecastle, to ensure they aren't nailed by the belaying pin of a passing Bosun's Mate.

Looking back through the hawsepipe I realise that I had joined the navy at a cusp. The world aboard Ontario would have been recognisable to Horatio Hornblower: slinging hammocks to sleep in; finding dead rats floating in the grog barrels; being invited to breakfast in the Captain's After Cabin, with crested silver and linen. My last ship, the experimental hydrofoil Bras D'Or -- whose computer system I helped to program, but whose decks I never trod -- could not get by on seamanship, no matter how skilled. Hornblower would have been out of his element. And so was I.

While the Royal Canadian Navy continued to go about its assigned Cold War role of hunting Soviet submarines through the vastness of the deep... in the political quagmire of Ottawa, the struggle to formulate a Canadian Identity took a bizarre turn. Its name was Unification: its goal, to meld Land, Sea, and Air Forces into one -- and into one uniform. Navy Blue turned latrine brown. With the same casual disregard for nautical tradition the government of the day ordered the hauling down of the White Ensign, a flag that had gone into naval battles, and won them, in all of Canada's wars.

I behaved absurdly: writing letters to a Prime Minister (Pearson), advising him that a junior lieutenant would quit unless he changed his Government's policy. When he didn't blink, I went off to build houses. The Free World survived.

The navy I joined vanished, but these hawsepipe glimpses of The Ships are my virtual salute to their crews and quarterdecks and Badges.

P.S. Subject again to this reminder: because searching distant memory is like steaming through a fogbank -- where things suddenly loom out of the mist -- to find HMCS Sioux, you will have to join her, as I did, by way of Crusader.

*Creative Endeavours Only