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The entry is no more than a mention in passing, two lines halfway down the page in a litany of disasters.

For the record, the entry reads:

19890411 (...) Two ships about 200 Km (125 Mi) apart sank shortly after issuing distress calls during a brutal storm, all 39 seamen aboard the ships were presumed dead - 23 dead for the Captain Torres - see disaster 19890499;

19890499 (...) Two ships about 200 Km (125 Mi) apart sank shortly after issuing distress calls during a brutal storm, all 39 seamen aboard the ships were presumed dead - 23 dead for the Captain Torres - see disaster 1989411;

Just the facts, all of them true. But the facts are only where the story truly begins. The sinking of the Catain Torres that evening in December, 1989, remained a solely local tragedy for only five or six months. Then, a man called Silver Donald Cameron happened to travel around Cape Breton Island. During a stop in one community there, he spoke to a local priest, and learned that several people from New Caledonia, home to most of the Captain Torres' crew, had come to town. They were planning a memorial service at the site of the wreck, in the Cabot Strait. He also heard the story of how, after the ship lost power, one ingenious radio operator managed, somehow, to connect to home, and how many of the crew members were able to make a last call to their families and loved ones. One version of the story says that all of the crewmen were able to make calls except the ship's captain himself.

Silver Donald, in true storyteller style, recounted the tale in his book Wind, Whales and Whiskey. That might have been legend enough, but the story is that he was then interviewed by Peter Gzowski on CBC Radio's Morningside, and a female listener heard the story there. She, in turn, retold the story to her brother, musician James Keelaghan, and James, who also found the story compelling, wrote a song, named after the ship - The Captain Torres. The song is remarkably simple, even bleak, with all the emotion borne by the lyrics intoned by the low, deep voice. The refrain of "la mer ne pardonne pas" -- literally, "the sea does not forgive" -- is echoed by voices that sound like the moan of wind over water. Keelaghan's beautiful lyrics are given below. They are a fitting memorial, and may well be the most enduring chapter in this sad and strangely bare little tale.

Captain Torres
by James Keelaghan

How small the Captain Torres
How high the sea
Gale ten and engines failing
No quarter, no lee.
They know when the wrong wave hits them,
Perdu, they're gone.
They've played their share of poker
They know odds are long.
La mer ne pardonne pas

Time yet for consolation;
Each makes one call.
Signals came ship to shore,
Words plucked from the squall.
His heart a deep, deep ocean,
His voice so small.
So faint through all the static,
Five words, that's all.
La mer ne pardonne pas

(Do I count myself lucky?
I was home, the phone was ringing.
What of others' wives who missed it,
Came home to red lights blinking?)

How strange this world of wonder
Ships sailing, planes flying,
Sound sent at speed of light --
Phone calls from young men dying.
These walls bought and paid for
By labours on board
Gone months to clothe and feed us,
Gone now, forever more.
La mer ne pardonne pas

________________________

Sources:

EM-DAT : the OFDA/CRED International Disasters Data Base
EM-DAT Emergency Disasters Data Base
http://www.cred.be/emdat/profiles/techno/rawdata/canada.txt

Silver Donald Cameron. Wind, Whales, and Whiskey.
Toronto, ON, Canada: Macmillan Canada, 1991.

Lyrics used with permission. I owe many thanks to Mr. Schuller, Mr. Keelaghan's manager -- and, of course, to Mr. Keelaghan himself. (01/06/2005)


CST Approved.