Bernard the German chapter nine: The storm

The tragic tale of the giant of Desolation Sound

Previous chapter [‘The sailboat,” January 18]: Bernard Krieger chased his dream to sail around the world when he sold his Desolation Sound cabin for a 44-foot sailboat called Rainbow’s Shadow. His first forays into the Caribbean Sea were fraught with problems, until he finally left the boat tied up at a marina in the Guatemalan jungle, leaving his nephew to watch over it. The boat sitting was supposed to last a few weeks, but stretched to six months.

Bernard the German finally returned to relieve his boat-sitting nephew, who was very relieved to be leaving the jungle for Canada. Bernard blamed his delay on the lingering effects of his aggressive Hepatitis C treatments and other mysterious ailments, as well as closing the sale on his Desolation Sound cabin and securing a new home in the Wildwood neighbourhood of Powell River. But he was back and strong and determined to set sail for the Panama Canal and the wild blue yonder.

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Bernard the German didn’t get far. The motor in Rainbow’s Shadow broke down at a marina in sweaty Honduras, but Bernard was lucky enough to come across a fellow on the dock who would soon become Bernard the German’s constant companion and lucky charm of sorts.

That man was Darragh McCarthy, a young, lean, dreadlocked and tattooed Irish sailor from Glandore, on the south shore of Ireland. He was a crewmember and skipper for hire, a modern day vagabond who hopped from boat to boat to boat throughout the oceans of the world.

Darragh fixed the motor, which left Bernard impressed enough to offer him the position of skipper on Rainbow’s Shadow for the long haul. Bernard the German didn’t have many options; he knew he couldn’t handle the open oceans alone.

The young and wiry Irishman was game, and together they set sail for the Panama Canal. They were forced to wait for three weeks for a slot to open up, and for $1,400 they were granted passage through the locks of the canal, which took two days.

Bernard was taken aback by the canal’s massive feat of human engineering. Crossing the Panama Canal in his own boat, registered proudly to Powell River, was a bucket list moment for the ages.

And suddenly there they were on the open Pacific Ocean with the world waiting. Bernard’s first destination was the South Pacific, but like Bernard’s previous crew members, Darragh noticed that the big German was ailing: fevers, chills, and this time, three large lumps in Bernard’s neck.

Bernard was deteriorating at such a rate that they were forced once again to alter course, this time to the mangrove-forested shores of Ecuador in South America. Bernard convinced Darragh to watch over the boat while he returned home to Canada to find out what was wrong. And just like his nephew Dave in the jungles of Guatemala, Darragh wouldn’t see Bernard the German again for months.

That’s because Bernard the German received another terrible diagnosis: cancer.

The aggressive treatments Bernard Krieger chose to rid his body of Hepatitis C came with some major risks, one of them being lymphoma cancer in a certain percentage of patients. He had fallen into that percentage.

But in Bernard’s mind, there was no turning back on his dream now. He faced the cancer head on, like a bull in a ring, and began treatment as soon as he could. When his first series was over, and at the protest of his family members, Bernard boarded a plane to South America to rejoin Darragh the Irishman onboard Rainbow’s Shadow.

Darragh barely recognized Bernard; he had lost a lot of weight, and the intense chemotherapy had robbed Bernard not only of the hair on his head but also of his signature big, black intimidating scrub-brush moustache, the facial security blanket that had been on his upper lip since the late 1960s.

Darragh thought no one in their right mind should attempt what Bernard the German wanted to do in his medical state: a month-long crossing to the South Pacific Islands.

“I thought he was nuts to take on major ocean crossings the way he did, so soon after his chemotherapy,” recalled McCarthy. “I told him that he might die on the open ocean crossing from Ecuador to the Marquesas, but he told me that he’d die if he didn’t do it, that it was the sitting around at home in Canada that was going to kill him.”

And so the pair set sail for their most ambitious crossing yet: the Marquesas Islands, nearly 5,000 kilometres away in the South Pacific, an epic crossing of 24 days, humpback whales and dolphins being their only other companions in the big blue.

Bernard was exhausted and on his back for most of the journey, but he loved simply watching the days and weeks sail by. And after being enshrouded by the towering mountains of Desolation Sound for so many years, he marvelled at the endless horizon by day and the limitless stars by night.

When Rainbow’s Shadow successfully made it to the Marquesas, Bernard returned home for more cancer treatments, then back for more boat adventures, and that would be the unlikely sailing duo’s routine for the next couple of years.

In March of 2010, Bernard the German’s health was much better. He and Darragh found themselves at the incredibly remote Minerva Reefs, a pleasant little atoll; twin lagoons shaped by the upper rim of an ancient volcano sticking out of the water just enough to form two low-lying, circle-shaped island paradises, a mere 1,500 kilometres away from New Zealand.

As they sat aboard Rainbow’s Shadow, a wind picked up and continued to gain velocity throughout the day. Darragh’s guidebook warned that if the winds hit 30 knots, boats should get out of the reef for safety reasons, or risk getting beached, or worse.

When the winds hit 28 knots, or 50 kilometres an hour, they got out. But the winds kept climbing: 35 knots, 65, 85, all the way past 100 knots, which are winds of over 180 kilometres an hour, a full-blown tropical cyclone.

Neither of them had ever seen a sea like that. The waves were 40 and 50 feet tall, foaming grey walls of water, the size of a five-story building crashing down upon them again and again. Attempting to sail was useless. Going out on deck was suicide. The radio was static. They couldn’t do anything, so they battened down the hatches.

After a full 24 hours, the storm was worse. At 48 hours it still hadn’t let up. They stopped drinking water, they stopped eating food, they stopped talking to each other. They lay in their berths and they waited to die.

Find out what happened next chapter 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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