last ship launching for Gaston Bourgeois
The Port of Montreal’s fleet is bidding farewell to one of its most experienced mariners, Gaston Bourgeois. After 30 years of loyal service, he is bowing out. Yet his idea of moving on in retirement is cycling and travel! When you think about it, what else would a mariner want who has traveled practically all the seas of the world and is still footloose?
We met with him on April 29, on the docks of Section M of the Port of Montreal, as he, alongside his team, launched for the last time the Denis M, the small tug the port uses for dock maintenance.
When did you decide to become a mariner?
I joined the Port of Montreal in 1985, but I’ve been a sailor since I was 17. I come from the Magdalen Islands, so being a sailor is in my blood! I left for Vancouver when I was 17, thinking I’d work on the trains. But one day, in a bar, I overheard the first master of a Norwegian ship say that his crew was short two mariners. That’s how I left on my first journey overseas, and it was a long one: I was at sea for 11 months!
I worked on Norwegian ships for five years, and that’s where I learned the trade. I became a helmsman, a wheelman as they say, on merchant ships. Then I took courses at the Institut maritime du Québec to get my pilot’s license.
You have travelled a lot …
I’ve been to many of the world’s countries! I’ve done the far north and the Arctic, been through Europe, South American, Asia, Japan and also Australia … I have seen polar bears. Travelling down the Amazon aboard a ship loaded with mahogany, I came across forest people who still wear their bone ornaments through their nose. I liked everything, I enjoyed everything. I liked living with people. But if I start telling the whole story, we’ll end up writing a book! (laughter)
Isn’t it hard to never be at home?
I’m a wanderer. I’ve never taken life seriously and I live one day at a time. I do not regret choosing this profession. A mariner’s life is tough, for sure. But it’s less tough today, thanks to modern equipment. On the other hand, everything happens faster now, like unloading and loading a ship. We have practically no time to go ashore and visit.
Have you ever been seasick?
After you retire, you want to travel. Where will you go?
I dream of returning to Bora Bora in French Polynesia. I’ve already been there for work; I want to go back on vacation this time!
How to launch a tug
Every spring, we relaunch the Denis M, the small tug the Port of Montreal uses for dock maintenance: inspection, changing fenders, welding, dock bracing, etc. The tug spent the winter on the docks of Section M-6, along Pierre-Dupuy Street. This down time is used to get the Denis M back in top working order and all spruced up. Today, the 29th of April, the Denis M is set to start a new season of work.
To launch the Denis M
, we seek assistance from the Hercules
, a barge belonging to the St. Lawrence Seaway. It is equipped with a powerful lifting cable. The Denis M
is on the dock, on the extreme left in the photo.
Four black cables hooked to the crane, each with a 90,000-pound lifting capacity and a huge shackle at the end, are attached to the tug. They will be used to hoist it. The Denis M
weighs 46 tonnes, hardly a featherweight!
The Denis M is firmly secured to the Hercules. It takes three strong men to handle the cables and heavy shackles that can lift 45 pounds each.
Got it! The ship is properly attached. The Hercules will hoist it very gently to clear it from its cradle, namely the base it rests on. To avoid recoil, allision (collision between a moving vessel and a stationary object) or breakage, the mariners support the manoeuvers of the Hercules using large yellow cables.
There can be no lapse of attention during this delicate manoeuvre.
Before unhooking the tug from the Hercules, Gaston Bourgeois goes down to the hold to make sure the ship is totally watertight.
Everything’s fine! We’re good to go, and the job is done! For one last time, Gaston Bourgeois has launched the Port of Montreal’s tugboat. Michel Dufour, the captain of the fleet and supervisor of marine and fleet works, wants to make this a memorable moment.
Gaston Bourgeois greets his colleague Stéphane Gamelin, a fellow vessel operator.
Gaston poses one last time with his colleagues: in the centre, Alain Arsenault, a fellow Magdalen islander who works as chief petty officer aboard the Hercules of the St. Lawrence Seaway. On the docks, Magdalen islanders know each other and pal around. To the right, Pierre Vézina, mariner at the Port of Montreal, like Gaston. “I’m losing my friend,” said Pierre. “We’ve known each other for 40 years and we’ve been working together for 17. The Denis M should be renamed Gaston B!”
Farewell, Gaston ! We will miss you !