Bernard The German, chapter 10 (part one): The paradise

The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound

Previous chapter [“The storm,” January 26]: Despite being diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, Bernard Krieger was determined to leave Powell River to live out his dream of sailing around the world. When his 44’ sailboat Rainbow’s Shadow broke down in Honduras, fate intervened when the motor was fixed by Darragh McCarthy, a young Irish skipper-for-hire, who became Bernard the German’s guardian angel of sorts. Together, the two of them had many high seas sailing adventures between Bernard’s cancer treatments back in Canada. Then, in the spring of 2010, the German and the Irishman got swept up into a massive storm in the South Pacific.

When winds hit 100 knots or more in the South Seas, it’s considered to be a severe tropical cyclone. If you’re on land, it’s vital to get inland and seek solid shelter. If you’re out on the ocean hundreds of kilometres from anywhere, you are at the mercy of the raging, bucking, rolling, crashing sea. Both Bernard the German and Darragh the Irishman lay silently in their births, wondering which wave smashing onto the deck of Rainbow’s Shadow would be their last.

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Bernard was so big that his body wouldn’t actually fit into his birth. With his feet hanging out, as the boat pitched to and fro like a cork in a bathtub, Bernard the German hung on and thought of his family thousands of miles away: his many brothers and sisters, his daughters, his wife, and his grandchildren. He missed them all dearly, never more so than at that moment, but he also realized that if he were to die, he’d prefer it be from the grip of Mother Nature. He slipped into a dream state as the winds screamed above. Bernard the German closed his eyes, certain that he would never open them again.

Until he did, when Darragh the Irishman shook him lightly.

“Storm’s over, mate,” the Irishman said softly.

Together, the two of them gingerly opened the hatch and climbed out onto the deck. Squinting in the morning sun on the open South Pacific Ocean, both were in shock that they were still alive. They didn’t know it at that moment but they had survived Cyclone Tomas, a Category 4 Severe Tropical Storm that slammed Fiji and caused millions of dollars of damage. The storm made news around the world. Darragh the Irishman credits the German U-boat-like, overbuilt construction of Rainbow’s Shadow for saving their lives. But Rainbow’s Shadow had taken a beating and incurred thousands of dollars of damage, including their sails.

“We had taken down the sails and lashed them around the boom, but the wind was so strong that it started getting in between them,” recalled McCarthy. “While we were down below, the wind pulled the sails out a little bit, then a little bit more, and then suddenly the sails got loose and the wind tore them up. Doesn’t take much in winds that strong.”

But the mast was still standing, and the rudder still attached. And upon inspection, they realized that they even had one sail left: the spinnaker.

Bernard and Darragh had originally been headed for the island kingdom of Tonga, but Cyclone Tomas had blown them over 800 kilometres off course, which meant they were closer to Fiji. They raised the spinnaker and set a course. When they finally arrived a few days later, it was then they realized that the engine was saturated with salt water.

“When we got to Fiji, we had to be dragged into port by a fishing boat,” remembered McCarthy. “I think we arrived late on a Friday. Customs and immigration won’t clear you in on the weekend, so we had to sit on the boat and wait until Monday morning.”

They were so close to land, yet so far.

“The captain who dragged us in was kind enough to go to the shop and bring us back two crates of Fiji Bitter, 12 bottles each, a litre each bottle,” recalled McCarthy, fondly. “Bernard and me drank ’em like they was water. I probably smoked 40 cigarettes. That’s how we celebrated being alive.”

Bernard the German had no idea that Cyclone Tomas had not only spared him his life, but had steered him to an island paradise that would change his life in ways the big German could have never predicted.

In the fall of 2010, on a trip back home to Vancouver and Powell River to see his doctors, Bernard Krieger was miraculously declared cancer-free. Bernard felt like he had a new lease on life: he had beaten cancer, Hepatitis C, and Cyclone Tomas in a matter of years.

And just like he had done in Desolation Sound, in Fiji, Bernard the German found a new community of friendly Fijians and ex-pat sailors from around the world. Bernard even joined the outrigger canoe club, and suddenly, his team started winning, which may remind you of the similar impact he had on his St. Joseph Saints soccer club back in Chapter 4. Bernard was still an athlete, even in his 60s. Unfortunately, Bernard’s marriage back in Powell River ended because his ex-wife did not share in his global sailing wanderlust.

But Cyclone Tomas had significantly soured Bernard’s taste for open-ocean sailing on Rainbow’s Shadow. Bernard was frustrated at how much the sailboat was costing him – and it was often Darragh the Irishman who delivered the news of what needed replacing.

Darragh McCarthy had a saying: “Sailing is like standing under a cold shower ripping up one-hundred-dollar bills.”

Bernard was settling down in Fiji. Darragh the Irishman was still a skipper for hire with a thirst for oceanic adventure. Soon Darragh shoved off to continue sailing the world. He and Bernard would never speak again.

But Bernard didn’t mind losing his Irish lucky charm, because the big friendly German had met a Fijian woman named Millie that he had become completely smitten with. They began a relationship and, much to the shock of Bernard’s family back home in Canada, Bernard got married for the third time, just shy of his 65thbirthday, on the beach in Fiji.

Bernard and Millie bought their own piece of land with a beautiful ocean view in a small Fijian town called Savusavu, famous for its tidal hot springs. There they would build their dream home.

Then it was Bernard the German’s turn to be shocked when Millie announced she was pregnant. Bernard had been told by his doctors that his cancer treatments had made him sterile. Apparently not, because Lorenzo Waqatabu Krieger was born in November of 2014. Suddenly, at age 65, Bernard the German was healthy, and had a new Fijian wife, a new baby, and a new house to build.

That was until one final, tragic, and confusing moment that sent Bernard the German crashing down one last time. That’s next time, in the final instalment of Bernard the German.

Grant Lawrence is an award-winning author and a CBC personality who considers Powell River and Desolation Sound his second home. “Bernard The German” originally aired in 2018 as a weekly radio serial on North by Northwest, CBC Radio One in BC. Anyone with stories or photos they would like to share of Bernard "The German" Krieger, can send an email to grantlawrence12@gmail.com.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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