Winds and Waves of War Arrive on GSI
The USS Francisco has been sitting in the harbor, proud and resolute, for several days. Having hauled the office of the Canadian Ministry of Outport Management, Lower Maritimes, physically into the ocean — with the Deputy Minister of the Canadian Ministry of Outport Management, Lower Maritimes, in it at the time, Captain Bergman and his crew undoubtedly felt that they had delivered the last word on the subject of Canadian aggression on Grand Seal Island. GSI was now safe for democracy — American-style, with two parties instead of eight and with secretaries instead of those mincing ministers — and the Francisco stuck around to show the flag and gloat.
It’s a good thing they did. Otherwise, the Canadians would have lacked a target for their warships.
Early this morning, I was doing due reportorial diligence on the GSI docks — attempting to interview Mike from the marine-supply shop up the road, who was delivering some hardware to a boat and who is never very talkative in the first place — when into the harbor steamed three large, bright-red destroyers bearing fierce maple leaves on their bows. The Canadian ships dropped anchor directly behind the Francisco, blocking the exit to the open sea.
As near as I could tell through my binoculars, the Canadian ships were the Pierre, the Scarbrough, and the Allison. On board each bright-red ship, Canadian sailors scurried about tidying the decks and hoisting strings of Canadian signal flags up the superstructure.
Captain Bergman was, I assume, alerted to the arrival of The Enemy immediately. Just a few minutes after the Canadian anchors splashed into the sea, American sailors on the Francisco were hoisting the colors and organizing the munitions as well.
The four ships — three bright red, one flat grey — bobbed next to each other silently for the next two hours. Then, in an obviously prearranged move negotiated over the radio waves, Captain Bergman maneuvered his boyish frame into a launch and motored to a spot halfway between the two fleets. A moment later, an enormous man waddled into a Canadian launch and did the same.
Both men were alone. The Canadian wore enough medals and epaulets to signify that he was the captain of the red fleet. He was nearly spherical in shape, with a thick neck, a short red beard, and silver hair. His arms and legs were disproportionately small next to his body, and he moved with some difficulty in the wobbly launch. I’m guessing that he had long ago been removed from whatever the Canadians consider the front lines and relegated to a quiet patrol of the Lower Maritimes. He was built like a tick.
The captains lashed their launches together in neutral waters between the three-ship Canadian fleet and the one-ship American fleet. I watched through my binoculars as Captain Bergman and the Canadian captain stood in their launches and shook hands.
As the captains chatted, I took a moment to admire the ways that nations have developed to keep hostilities from becoming deadly. Rather than resort to warfare, these two military leaders — one twelve years old, one three hundred pounds — were meeting in private to discuss the situation calmly and rationally. The likely outcome was clear. Both men, satisfied with their tough but frank conversation, would return to their respective ships and contact their superiors. The situation would be explained, “stand down” orders would be issued, and the fate of GSI would return to diplomatic hands. Both sides would be confident that their resolve had been tested and proven firm, so neither side would lose face.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. The problem began off the west coast of Scotland, where some overzealous codfish decided to jump into the air in pursuit of a fly. The resultant splash sent ripples in all directions, and the ones heading west found themselves propelled by some kind of counter-wind that was stimulated by a low-pressure system over Greenland. One ripple, boosted by the breeze, built gradually into a wave that steadily gained strength as it rumbled across the North Atlantic.
I’m speculating about that part, but the rest happened right in front of me. As Bergman and the Canadian captain were standing in their launches and trying to figure out how to avoid bloodshed, the cod-wave arrived in Grand Seal Island harbor. It wasted little time cutting through the remaining distance and bumping into the bobbing launches.
Bergman didn’t notice the wave, his bandy little legs still fresh from his recent successful performance on his junior-high-school’s track team. But the Canadian captain, whose center of gravity was suspect to begin with, was knocked off balance by the wave. In an effort to regain an upright stance, he lunged at Captain Bergman and grabbed him by the epaulets.
Bergman was knocked backward into his boat, and the Canadian collapsed over the lashed-together gunwales. But then Bergman, probably believing that the assault was deliberate, leapt to his feet and grabbed the heaving Canadian by the collar. The Canadian scrambled to his feet as well — rather nimbly for a guy who has the physique of a dwarf planet — and tightened his grip on Bergman’s uniform in turn.
Each man, now locked in one another’s grasp, began pushing and shaking the other, apparently in an attempt to prove superiority without actually letting go of the only thing keeping him upright. No actual punches were thrown, but both men became noticeably red-faced as they struggled to knock each other down.
By this time, of course, the crews on all the ships had rushed to their decks and were cheering on their respective contestants. Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, the Francisco cheering section held its own and even overpowered its rivals from time to time with organized routines. The “BERG-man, BERG-man” chant wore a bit thin after a while, but the human pyramid and the blanket-toss added some exciting elements.
Meanwhile, on the launches, the Captains Courageous grappled with each other like wrestlers afraid to commit to a move. The launches teetered and rocked beneath their feet, and eventually the inevitable happened. Both men, still locked together in some kind of Naval death grip, toppled over their gunnels and into the sea.
The inadvertent baptism temporarily cooled their desire for battle. Each captain climbed, dripping and cursing, into his own launch, flailed at the knots that bound the boats together, and returned to his ship, obviously unwilling to re-engage the enemy in soggy underwear. The warriors were ushered on board their ships and escorted below for some hot broth and the polishing of their war stories.
That seemed to be the end of it, but I underestimated the fury of an adolescent captain who gets dunked in front of his men. Toward evening, just as the sun was dipping below the western horizon, the Francisco fired a cannon shot across the bow of the Canadian flagship.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — NavyBrat414: Now that’s what I’m talking about! Go Navy! Kick some Canadian bacon!
Comment — FreedomFirst: Don’t mess with the US! I’d aim the next shot at the officers’ head.
Comment — WomynFire982: typical. two boys get together to talk things out, and the next thing you know they’re wrestling and aiming guns at each other. why can’t they just drop their pants, break out some rulers, and settle things peacefully?
Comment — PeaceNick: Whats the POINT of cannon shot??? Y not just meet again & talk some more???
Comment — MapleLeaf249: Our Canadian warships can kick your pathetic Navy to bits. And we don’t need three ships to do it. The other two are there to clean up the Francisco’s debris.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.