Retired and on the Move

My Photo
Location: BC, Canada

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Some of you have asked about our sailboat and since the next series of posts will be about coastal BC it is time to share a few pictures. Here she is with a hard dodger covering the companionway. She is still 65 feet (20 meters) because we had not yet added the 2 meter extension. More than one third of the mast is missing from this photo.

This aerial view was taken under a 3000 square foot spinnaker as we were about to round Cape Flattery into the open Pacific ocean and turn left for Hawaii. This was in June 1992 and the boat was still 65 feet long and did not yet have a hard dodger.

Below is a shot of her anchored in 2006 at Sydney Spit, Sydney Island, BC. She has been extended by a 5 foot (2 meter) scoop that carries our dinghy, and adds to speed under power and sail.

She is an Ultra Light Displacement Boat (ULDB) , just under 12 feet (3.5 meters) wide and has a depth of 9 feet (2.7 meters). The keel is fiberglass and is massively supported by transverse stringers in the hull. There is a 9,600 lb. (about 4363 kilo) lead bulb at the bottom of the keel, giving tremendous righting moment. She can heel to 130 degrees without capsizing and if she ever did capsize would right herself very quickly. She has enough foam flotation in various compartments to make her unsinkable in the event she is ever holed and flooded.

The rudder draws about 8 feet (2.4 meters), and is fiberglass with a massive rudder post with tremendous strengthening where it passes through the hull and deck.

Capable of speeds to 25 knots (50 km/hour) under spinnaker, I have averaged 17 knots (34 km/hour) over 3 hours when sailing her singlehanded with only white sails in 25 knots of wind on a beam reach.

With an 85 horsepower diesel engine she cruises under power at 9-10 knots . burning 3 gals. (12 litres) per hour, a very economical rate of consumption.

We have largely converted her inside to a cruising boat with sufficient storage and water for us to live aboard for extended periods. While not luxurious, she is commodious, fast and comfortable.

What does the name mean? Probably that Roger is cheap (or is frugal a more polite term?). When we imported the boat to Canada and registered her there was already a registered vessel named FASTRACK - in fact it was even a Vancouver sailboat. But Roger loved the graphics spelling out her name on the hull and didn't want to replace them. So the boat is built my MacGregor and an abbreviation of Marie-Claire is MC so why not call her MC FASTRACK. Some Scots might take issue with Mc versus Mac but then we can always fall back on the abbreviation of Marie-Claire. We bought the graphics for "MC" and stuck then on each side - and the name stuck. So that's what she's called.

Triangle Island - Part 2

14-29 June 2007

Please enjoy this post which takes you to a place that 99.999% of the world's population will never see.

We (Marie-Claire and Roger) were on our boat at the Royal Vancouver Outstation at Scott Point on Saltspring Island. A short ferry ride from Vesuvius to Crofton on Vancouver Island brought us to the island highway. Bypassing Nanaimo and with a brief lunch break in Campbell River we continued on up the Island Highway to Port Hardy. This is a seemingly endless drive (500 km. from Scott Point). But the scenery is dramatic like this shot of the famous Seymour Narrows. In the late 1700’s Captain George Vancouver called this “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world” – and this from someone who had rounded Cape Horn more than once. One of the major hazards was the twin peaked Ripple Rock which had sunk or damaged 119 ships and caused over a hundred deaths. You can see Ripple Rock being destroyed in April 1958 in the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion.

This is still a treacherous stretch of water and should normally be transited at slack water since the tidal streams can run at up to 15 knots (about 30 km/h) and with the tide running has many whirlpools, eddies and overfalls.

Port Hardy is the southern terminus of the BC Ferries route to Prince Rupert, a trip that Roger’s children enjoyed as young kids. Pamela’s boat Precious Metal is kept there at the marina and hotel owned by her boyfriend IV. IV’s Pub has excellent halibut burgers as well as a full and delicious menu.

The marina would be Roger’s base for a couple of days. Marie-Claire drove the 500 kms back to Saltspring Island to babysit our boat for 2 weeks.

Port Hardy is a delightful town and a great base from which to explore the region by land and by sea. While it is ostensibly at the end of the Island Highway there is reasonable to excellent access to a number of small communities in the area, to Cape Scott Provincial Park , a rugged semi-wilderness park, to Winter Harbour. This is a great area to explore by car, truck or boat.

The principal challenge that Pamela and Roger would face in getting to and especially anchoring safely at Triangle Island was the wind. But Precious Metal is a well-found sailing vessel, exceptionally well maintained, with a highly competent captain. It is really a "little ship". For most of the 2 week period we would have winds from the southeast or southwest, typically over 25 knots. The night before the first day of the two week charter we motored about 20 nautical miles from Port Hardy to Bull Harbour, a safe anchorage in any winds. We moored to the first nations floats for a fee of $20 and that evening wandered over to Rumble Beach on the other side of the island – aptly named because of the noise of the rounded pebbles as they roll in the surf.

Bull Harbour is a good place to wait for the right wind and tide to cross Nahwitti Bar into Queen Charlotte Sound. The waters from Cape Scott to Triangle are relatively shallow so the swells from the open Pacific get compacted and heightened as they hit this shelving area. At Nahwitti Bar this is further complicated by even more shallow waters to the north of the bar and then rapidly deepening waters on the south of the bar. The narrowness of the passage causes a tidal stream and if the wind is against the flow of the tide Nahwitti Bar creates large standing and quite steep waves. So Bull Harbour is a good place to await the optimal time to cross.

The next morning we made an early departure. While the tide was slack we still ran into large enough swells and a, for us, rare wind from the northeast to give us an exciting ride over the bar and on towards Triangle. Anchoring about 4 hours later in South Bay, protected from the northerly wind, we discovered that there was something wrong with the newly installed motor on the windlass. It simply stopped as the anchor was being lowered. Releasing the clutch on the windlass we safely anchored – wondering how we were going to retrieve 180 feet (56 meters) of chain and a 60 lb. (30 kilos) anchor without a windlass.

Having made contact with Triangle Island by VHF radio on the way in, I (Roger) was dispatched in the dinghy to bring the BBC film crew on board. Later we might be able to post a picture of this. But for now imagine the story as it was later related to us. Rachel, a young technician in the SFU research group was wondering if there was a young Adonis who would be driving the dinghy. Instead here comes a 66 year old grey-haired guy in shorts, with spindly legs and reef walkers, who lands the dinghy at some seemingly solid kelp washed up on the beach. Off he jumps with a dramatic flourish - King Neptune returning from the sea - and sinks to his waist in clinging, cloying, dead, washed up, smelly kelp. Ta dah!!!!!

Gavin Thurston, cameraman (on the right), and Ed Charles, associate producer, come back with me for a drink and discussions with Captain Pamela about their filming plans. We know that the wind is going to change the next day to strong south easterlies which will make the anchorages untenable. Gavin and Ed decide that they will stay on the island. That’s pretty gutsy because they have been camped for two weeks on the only flat site, also sometimes used to land supply helicopters, a million years old guano dump. For the uninitiated, guano is bird droppings. For a while they wondered what was smelling in their tents. Ah the dedication of BBC filmmakers!! But staying will allow them to film what they can at the sites that are accessible to them. Hopefully they will get some decent weather and good light while we are gone. They have already walked, at a zero tide, as far around the island towards the major rookery in North Bay as they can. But the topography would not allow them access for filming. So if we get a good weather window the next time we come back, we’ll be able to dinghy them to the site.

I run them back ashore with some supplies, clean T-shirts and a delicious curry dinner, which they will share with the SFU research team.

That evening we get a call on the VHF from Dr. Mark Hipfner, the Scientific Director of the SFU research site, asking whether, since we will be returning to Port Hardy to find out why a brand new windlass motor has failed, we can take Kyle, an MSc student in biology who is in his second summer of puffin research. Kyle, originally from Ontario, has been out on Triangle for about 2 months and is going to meeting his parents for a wedding in the Kootenays. We readily accept knowing that Kyle will be another set of hands to pull up all that anchor chain in the morning.

Early the next morning, with our dinghy already hoisted aboard with some minor engine problems, Mark, Kyle and Rachel come out in their dinghy. We load up Kyle’s gear, arrange to pick up new supplies for the research team. Helicopters coming to Triangle have to have a 10,000 foot (3,000 meters) ceiling so that they are high enough to glide to a safe landing site is their engines fail. Triangle is so far out that they need that much height to have a safe glide path. The weather doesn’t look promising for several days so that’s why we’re taking Kyle back and returning when possible with supplies. Everyone pitches in and hand over hand we haul in all that anchor chain. Many hands make “lighter” work and we are soon underway.

Kyle regales us with stories of research on the island. Turns out that his hometown is where Pamela had relatives – six degrees of separation works again.

Eventually Kyle with another 50 photos of birds wears down and crashes in the bunk below. Well the puffins are nocturnal and so much of his research has to be conducted at night, so he's entitled to sleep in daytime.

Back at Port Hardy we occupy ourselves with some minor sail repair, the outboard engine and the windlass. Eventually Pamela’s local experts discover that one of the brushes in the new windlass motor has been dislodged. It had been tested several times after installation and was working fine – so it will remain a puzzle how this could happen to a brand new, sealed motor that is designed for rough service and the physical shocks of living in the bow of a boat exposed to salt water.

But now the weather at Triangle has turned nasty with southeast winds consistently at 25-35 knots (50-70 Km/hour). So we won’t be able to anchor there. While waiting in Port Hardy, Pamela arranges a ride for me on a water taxi running up to a fishing lodge to deliver a new heating boiler. Bill, the operator loves his job and can’t get enough time bashing through waves.

He just loves that white water breaking over the boat.

Along for the trip is a fascinating guy who used to have a crew that, dressed in hockey helmets, a wetsuit, knee and elbow pads and hiking boots, picked horse neck barnacles from the exposed rocks and islets along the coast in this region. As he says, the barnacles thrived in big water, so the more exposed the rocks, the better.

One of my former navy buddies, recently deceased, and his wife used to be in that business, buying from “pickers” along the coast and exporting them principally to Spain and Portugal. So I’ve heard the stories before about pickers being washed off a rock and waiting for the right wave to wash them back on. I mention their names, and of course six degrees of separation is at work again. Stefan sold the bulk of his production to Ian and Nina Rudiak and had accompanied them on a trip to Spain and Portugal.

Back in Port Hardy, awaiting suitable weather for anchoring at Triangle, we are on hand for the arrival of the Van Isle 360 sailboat race around Vancouver Island. Pamela is the chairperson of the 2400 mile (4800 km.) 2008 Victoria to Maui race so this gives her a good opportunity to recruit boats for that race. For me it’s an opportunity to look for racers who might still be racing 12 years after I stopped.

HMCS Oriole, the Canadian Navy sail training vessel (110 foot ketch) that I sailed to Alaska way back in 1963, is there.

A few racers from my era are there. And six degrees of separation – so is a former colleague from Kwantlen University College my employer for 36 years. Bob Davis , one of the race organizers, is seen here talking with one of the First Nations elders from the co-hosting community of nearby Fort Rupert.

One of the "joys" of aging is the periodic flash that not all of your cronies are still around doing crazy things like racing sailboats. Or that it is indeed almost half a century since you sailed in Oriole.

A great evening with award presentations for that leg of the race and a barbecue – and then the weather shifts.

Our repairs completed, and the weather forecasts suggesting a possible window, Pamela decides to set out for Bull Harbour to be ready to again get over the Nahwitti Bar and on to Triangle Island.

As we are sailing out to Triangle early the next day the wind continues to build from the southeast. When we raise Gavin and Ed on the VHF, we ask what South Bay looks like. They reply that it looks pretty good. But knowing their height above the water and the winds we are experiencing, we have our doubts. As we sail into the bay the wind has picked up to 25 knots and there are 5 foot swells rolling into the bay. It is pretty clear that the wind is going to build and along with that the swells. This will not be a safe anchorage tonight. It won’t even be safe to pick them up with all their gear. So we figuratively wave to them from the bay, turn around and head back to sea, initially toward a safe cove on the west side of Cape Scott. But the wind and growing swells are right on the nose and we are reduced to 4 knots of boat speed which means we won’t arrive before sometime after sunset. Pamela has scouted out potential anchorages as we came to Triangle and decides on Cox Island back towards Cape Scott. Once we get into the lee of the Cape Scott Islands, the swells drop a bit, we get a more comfortable ride and our speed increases to 7 knots. Before sunset we are anchored in a lovely cove in the lee of Cox Island and, while the wind whistles overhead most of the night, we are safe and secure.

The next morning the wind has dropped and we head back to Triangle, drop off the food supplies for the SFU research team, and pick up Gavin and Ed and all their gear. And I mean all. I had no idea how much gear they had. Some of it we’ll be sitting on for days. The weather looks good and Pamela makes the call to go around an anchor in North Bay – a good call because we are able to get them ashore filming that day.

If you left click on and expand this picture you will see that what looks like driftwood on the beach is actually over 1000 Steller sea lions.

This is the first time that Gavin and Ed have been able to get on this beach after 3 weeks on the island so it is a major event when I’m able to land them there with their cameras.

And this is what they have come to film.

Meanwhile Precious Metal sits quietly at anchor in this isolated spot. You would think there was never a breath of wind here.

The boat is frequently inspected, usually by the bulls. We have to be very careful to not disturb them. We here only to observe, not to be intrusive. The BBC nature film crews have a longstanding rule to NEVER intervene in any natural situation; even if they think that they can for example save a pup’s life they do not intervene.

They take incredible precautions to not frighten any sea lions off their sites. So every approach to a beach or rock is taken with the greatest of care.

A good afternoon of filming ends with another of Captain Pamela's outstanding meals; and with sunset we settle down for a good night's rest.

Resting with over 1000 sea lions calling 24/7 is maybe wishful thinking. If you’ve ever been in Vancouver, Montréal or Monte Carlo when the Grand Prix race cars are roaring around the course you will have a good idea of the noise of sea lions as it endlessly crescendos and dips, crescendos and dips, crescendos and ….. But what is puzzling is that we never hear any birds, even though there are millions nesting here. Ah, but did I mention that they are nocturnal? At 2:57 A.M. I awaken in the cockpit. The dull roar of the sea lions is still there. But now it is leavened by a much higher pitch – millions of birds returning from the ocean and their night of feeding, calling as they fly in, land and find their burrows to feed their nestlings.

The next day I land Gavin and Ed on some off-lying rocks so they can get panoramic shots of Triangle. This is a fun exercise, especially for them. While I have to watch the 5-8 foot (2-2.5 meter) surge and bring the dinghy in and hold it there with the engine, it is they who have to clamber ashore on miniscule platforms, pass their heavy gear up and when they’re done repeat it all in reverse order. But then they have been scrambling on Triangle’s rocks and cliffs for 3 weeks, stringing safety lines to a blind they have used for filming, and climbing out towards it during a major 60-70 knot (120-140 km/hour) storm that sent spray flying 50 feet (16 meters) in the air over their location and destroying their safety lines. So maybe this is small potatoes now.

Even though the dinghy motor has been checked out by a mechanic, the last time we were in Port Hardy, it is still acting up and can only be run at quite low revolutions without stalling. So we abort our plans to run about 2 miles out to a large rock that would give an excellent panoramic shot and decide instead to drop them near their blind. Enroute the outboard motor stops and we can’t get it restarted. We raise Pamela on the VHF and she will bring Precious Metal around to pick us up. We play with the motor a bit. Remembering that it has been smoking, we wonder whether some fuel dock has perhaps mixed outboard oil in the gas as though it were a 2 stroke engine, although it is a 4-stroke. Releasing the fuel line and holding it open with a marlin spike I discover that the fuel is quite discoloured – maybe dirty fuel has been our problem.

Pamela picks us up, and knowing that the weather is forecast to deteriorate to strong southeast winds again we head for Port Hardy. But all is not lost because within minutes we spot a couple of spouts separated by some distance. With me on the wheel, and Gavin, Ed and Pamela filming or shooting photos, a humpback entertains us for 30 minutes as it feeds around the boat. Once it comes within 20 feet of the boat dives and comes up 20 feet on the other side, giving rise to Pamela’s epic and original comment – HOLY S_IT -, to which Gavin dryly queries – “Is that a nautical term?” One shot of the humpback is on Gavin’s website. While there were two excellent fluke displays as the whale sounded no one was able to catch them on film.

Back in Port Hardy we had a couple of fun nights in I.V.’s Pub, borrowed another outboard motor and waited for the weather to change again. Then it was back to Bull Harbour again – although this was a first visit for Gavin and Ed. I think that Ed, especially, was really taken by the west coast and the trail to Rumble Beach.

The next two days we were able to anchor in North Bay at Triangle where Gavin and Ed got some excellent footage of a prolonged battle between 2 bulls, while Pamela got some great photos. The smell in the air is starting to change and the mating season is fast approaching as the females come into estrus.

The next day I drop Gavin and Ed in a cove where their blind is located. They hope to get some more footage in this excellent light and then retrieve their blind. The cove reeks, supposedly with the smell of the females, surely attractive to the bulls but not very appealing to humans.

Thinking that they will be ashore for a considerable time, I drift offshore a bit, and take a few photos of some bulls.

Their harems can be quite large depending on their ability to defend their territory and retain their females. Sometimes they can be found 40 or 50 feet above the water.

By now it was time for a little lunch and a siesta. The lunch was great but the siesta didn’t last long. Just as I was drifting off I hear Ed on the VHF – “Uh Roger, could you come in and pick us up?” They had climbed up to their old path to their blind, carrying all their equipment. The same bull who had been about 10 feet away from the path on other visits, was still there. But this time he didn’t give one roar, drop his head and doze again. This time his hormones must have been raging and he didn’t want to see anybody in his territory. “Run Ed”, said Gavin and they beat a discreet, if hasty, retreat.

And so ended our and their sojourn at Triangle. They had a lot of good footage, great memories of the friendliness, hospitality and congeniality of the bird researchers they had broken bread with for three weeks on the island, and a desire to see their families and loved ones again. I had great memories of sailing with Pamela again, her excellent meals, her seaworthy “little ship” and a couple of really congenial BBC guys with great stories. So even though “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft a-gley” (Robbie Burns), we had a great trip and “All’s Well, That Ends Well” (Shakespeare, circa 1623).

NOTE: If this has wet your appetite, don't hesitate to journey on up to Port Hardy. Use it as the base for your own personal exploration of this region even if you do it all by land. If you are more adventurous you can arrange some trips by water and while you quite rightly will not be allowed to land on any of nature reserve islands like Triangle, you can cruise near them and if the weather is right, anchor nearby.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Triangle Island - Part 1

An e-mail message, from a friend who had navigated with me (Roger) on the Victoria-Maui 2400 mile ocean race in 1992, asked whether I would like to help her on a 2 week charter to Triangle Island. Given the location and nature of the charter she felt that she needed one crew member. Pamela Bendall is one gutsy lady, always willing to accept and indeed looking for challenges. She had sailed from Victoria to the Hawaiian Islands, then on to the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia and islands in between, eventually ending up in Japan where she sold the boat. And this was with her then husband and two, then quite young sons (chronicled in her book Kids for Sail Victoria:Orca, 1990). She had also circumnavigated Vancouver Island in her current 46 foot steel sailboat Precious Metal and has been single-handedly running charters out of Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. Given her extensive experience, I was definitely intrigued when she said that she thought she needed some help on this particular charter. A Google search brought up this aerial view of part of the island. It looked really desolate.

Google also found this excerpt from a Victoria newspaper.

Sandra McCulloch, Times Colonist
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

They built a lighthouse at Triangle Island, 45 kilometres off northern Vancouver Island, in 1910 but soon realized it was practically useless.

Ferocious, unrelenting winds blew away a lightkeeper's dog and made the spot torturous for human habitation. The light, 210 metres above sea level, was out of sight for many mariners, especially in bad weather.

The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1918 and dismantled in 1920.

………."It was always shrouded in fog, in low cloud -- nobody could see the light. And they always used to have hurricane winds.”

This was beginning to sound more and more like a place to avoid, not somewhere to take a charter. So why would anyone want to go to such a desolate place?

It turns out that Triangle is also the site of a multi-year study by Simon Fraser University – as the SFU site says:

“Situated near the northern limits of the California Current oceanographic zone, and within the territorial boundaries of the Kwakiutl District Council, the Anne Vallée Ecological Reserve at Triangle Island supports the largest and most diverse seabird colony in British Columbia.

Triangle is the outermost of the Scott Islands Group, lying some 45 km off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island, and 10 km west of its nearest neighbour, Sartine Island. This island complex consists of a roughly triangular-shaped main island, plus a smaller island (Puffin Rock) joined to it only at low tide; there are also several small, associated offshore rocks. Triangle is part of the Scott Islands Provincial Park, and has been designated an Important Bird Area. In addition, it lies within the Scott Islands Marine Wildlife Area, designated under the Canada Wildlife Act primarily to protect critical habitat for the millions of seabirds that depend on these waters throughout the year.”

It was pretty clear that while it might be rolly and uncomfortable we should be able to anchor in South Bay with winds up to 25-30 knots from the North, Northwest and Northeast. But at this time of year we could expect winds from the South ,Southeast and Southwest at 25-30 knots. In those winds South Bay would be totally exposed and a very dangerous, probably untenable anchorage. If we had to anchor in the bay on the opposite side of the island (directly North of the cabin - let's call it North Bay) the winds would have to be very light and not over 15 knots.

As the Important Bird Area web site says:

“The Scott Islands are the most important breeding colonies for seabirds throughout British Columbia, supporting over two million breeding birds. The Scott Islands region is recognized as an Important Bird Area of global significance, a status afforded by the Canadian Nature Federation and Bird Studies Canada, the Canadian co-partners of BirdLife International. The diversity of marine wildlife in the Scott Islands region includes:

  • Twelve different bird species that occur on these islands in nationally significant numbers
  • 55% of the world’s population of Cassin’s auklets
  • 7% of the world’s population of rhinoceros auklets
  • 2% of the world’s population of tufted puffin (at right)
  • Several breeding pairs of peregrine falcons, a Species of Special Concern
  • One of the world’s largest and most productive Stellar sea lion rookeries, a species designated of Special Concern by COSEWIC in Nov. 2003

The marine waters surrounding the Scott Islands provide essential foraging habitat for a variety of seabirds, some of which travel the oceans more than 100 kilometers from the islands to forage for the needed crustaceans and fish to feed themselves and their chicks.” (For more information on the seabird refuge aspects of Triangle go to: )

Now that all sounded very interesting, even intriguing. But if there is such a strong likelihood of hurricane force winds, and a certain guarantee of gale and storm force winds, why would anyone want to go an a charter to an island that the public cannot even land on and where anchoring would be a challenge at best and likely untenable most of the time? Leave it to British Broadcasting (BBC) to find a reason. They are in the process of filming for a new series Earth’s Great Events, ( ) and the sea life biodiversity of the area dependent on a chain linked to plankton made Triangle of major interest to them as “one of the world’s largest and most productive Stellar sea lion rookeries”. These are fascinating mammals and you can see some video clips of them at You can also check out ; click on “Video Galleries”. For 5 informative video clips on stellars and research at the Vancouver Aquarium go to .

Of course once the BBC series is finished you will be able to see them in the birthing, battling and mating sequences that occur each year at Triangle Island.

To make a long story short, Pamela had this charter, it would take place in the last 2 weeks of June, we would anchor there whenever we could for as long as was safe, we would resupply the BBC crew of two who would have already camped on the island adjacent to the researcher's cabin for the first 2 weeks of June and we would place them by dinghy on various outlying rocks and on the beach at North Bay where the bulk of the Stellar sea lion rookery is located.

We'll see in part 2 how "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men [and sailors] gang aft a-gley." (Robbie Burns' famous poem "To A Mouse")

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


18 June 1815

Waterloo. The name rings in the annals of history. Given the dramatic geopolitical impact of the French defeat, Napoléon’s definitive exile, and his death some 6 years later, it is fair to say that the destiny of Europe hung in the balance as the forces massed near Waterloo. On the morning of 18 June, 1815 the outcome was uncertain; today we know the outcome that had a major impact on the 19th century. “Napoléon met his Waterloo” has been transfigured many times since then by substituting someone else’s name in the place of Napoléon. At least 125 towns or cities located on all the continents of the world are named Waterloo. Why should this small 19th century town some 15 kms from Brussels gain such fame?

The answers lie in the geopolitics of the period. The Emperor Napoléon had made much of Europe part of the French Empire. But the bigger they are, the harder and farther they can fall.

Napoléon abdicated in April 1814, following from his 1813 retreat from Russia, and under immense pressure from the major and minor powers of Europe. Within a year of his abdication, he left his exile on the Island of Elba to attempt to again gain control of Europe. Raising an army he eventually marched his some 72,000 troops, artillery and cavalry to a point about 6 km. south of Waterloo and set up his last headquarters on 17 June 1815 at the Ferme du Caillou.

Dating from 1757 it belonged to a 78 year old farmer, Henry Boucquéau. The troops occupied the barn and farmyard while the farm house was emptied to make way for Napoléon’s campaign furniture. He arrived at 20:00 hours, ate dinner and then rested. During the night he continued to rest and dictated the order of battle and several letters. At 0900 the next morning he breakfasted with his general staff, had the maps spread out in this room, and gave his final marching orders.

Meanwhile in Waterloo, at a coach-inn dating from the 18th opposing Napoléon, set up his headquarters on 17 June.

The preceding evening Wellington, to allay the fears of the populace, had attended a ball in

Brussels even though he knew that Napoléon had been sighted crossing what is today the French frontier.

Across the Brussels Road from the inn was the

Chapelle Royale, constructed in the form of a round domed building and blessed in 1690 in the presence of

the Governor-General, the Marquis de Castanaga (the area then being part of the Spanish Empire).

Between 1824 and 1899 the edifice was expanded by the addition of the large church behind the round chapel, forming

the structure that Marie-Claire would attend as a teenager. It is not known whether Wellington or officers of his staff visited the Roman Catholic church. But today there are a number of British memorials in it associated with the Battle of Waterloo.

At 11:30 on 18 June, 1815 with some 190,000 men from 7 nations massed in the area the battle
began when Napoléon sent his brother, Prince Jérôme Bonaparte to lead what was intended as a
diversionary attack on the Château d’Hougoumont, on the British right. Feeling that he could capture the château, Jérôme maintained an unremitting attack for 8 hours, resulting in the deaths of 6,000 men – Scots and Coldstream Guards, Nassauers and Hanoverians on the allied side and French on the other. This “diversionary” attack, while it occupied a significant number of the allies, also occupied a more significant proportion of the Napoléon’ smaller army. Some
estimates suggest that Napoléon was able to field about 72,000 men while the allies fielded up to 121,000 (68,000 English, Dutch and Belgians under Wellington’s direct command and 53,000 Prussians, Austrians and Hanoveriens under the direct command of Feldmarschall Blücher.

At this time Blücher and the bulk of his men were some distance away and would not join the battle until about 17:30 or 18:00. Given this
balance of forces on the field in the morning,
Jérôme Bonaparte’s persistence in maintaining a “diversionary” attack for 8 hours is questionable
and may well have contributed in large measure to the eventual French defeat.

At 13:30 the main French attack was launched
with an 80 gun bombardment and a powerful
infantry push on Wellington’s left. After the barrage a French infantry corp of 18,000 took Papelotte on their right but failed to take the farm of La Haie Sainte on their left.

Control of La Haie Sainte farm would be an important factor throughout the battle.

In the centre the shattered remains of an allied brigade, having been fully exposed to the cannon barrage, were quickly overrun. Struggling over the crest of a small slope, the French were met by the withering fire of two British brigades.

Sensing the confusion of the French, Sir Thomas Picton led the two brigades in a bayonet charge against the densely packed French column. The supporting French cavalry being occupied elsewhere, and supported by a brilliantly timed British cavalry attack, Picton was able to drive the French infantry from the field leaving 3,000 prisoners and over 3,000 dead or wounded behind them.

At 16:00, following a cannonade on the right of the British centre, the French Maréchel Ney unleashed part of his cavalry on the British.

As the mauled British infantry regrouped, the French batteries opened fire again. But Wellington had withdrawn his men below the crest of the hill so little damage was done by the French artillery. Once the French artillery stopped, the allied infantry scrambled into squares, a strong defensive tactic against the expected cavalry attack. Wave upon wave of French cavalry under Milhaud swept down on the squares, slowly reducing them. Between cavalry charges the French artillery continued their havoc. Finally with the French cavalry disorganized after being repeatedly repulsed, the British launched another brilliantly timed cavalry counterattack.

At 17:00 Napoléon learns that far to the east, the Prussians were advancing. Knowing that time was running out, Napoléon throws his remaining cavalry into the fray. The allied squares again withstood the incredible force of alternate French artillery barrages and Kellerman’s cavalry charges. Lord Uxbridge, though outnumbered, leads his cavalry once more against the French counterparts.

While it was eventually the French who retired, the cost to the British had been dramatic, and Wellington’s heavy cavalry was effectively finished. Although the allied infantry squares had held, in the centre of their position there were few living men remaining.

The farm of La Haie Sainte all day long had been a thorn in the side of Napoléon. Located on the right flank of the French behind the farm walls, Major Baring’s 1,000 men of the King’s German Legion had harassed French movements with their cross-fire. At 18:00 Napoléon ordered a major effort to take the farm. At last surrounded by the strengthened French legions, and out of ammunition, the British were forced to fight their way out. Only 42 men remained to accompany Baring. A British counterattack failed to retake the farm.

To the east Duruette retook Papelotte farm. But even further east the Prussians were making headway against the French (Lobau’s corp).

At 19:30 with Blücher’s Prussians closing from the east and threatening his right wing, Napoléon plays his last card, but unfortunately for him it is not a trump card. He commits his elite Imperial Guard. If he could break through to Waterloo, the road to Brussels would be open and he would win Europe. If he failed, his Empire was lost.

After a terrific French bombardment the Imperial Guard attacked the decimated allied squares. The first columns broke through the allies only to be repulsed by a brilliant Belgian counterattack under General Chasse. The second two columns met Maitland’s foot guards and were halted in savage fighting. As the French pushed forward reinforcements, destiny hung in the balance. Sir John Colborne, risking all in one move, took his 52nd Light Infantry out of the line and took the remaining French column in the flank. As the Imperial Guard reeled, Wellington swept his whole line forward. Napoléon had met his Waterloo. And the rest, as they say is history.

While Napoléon would escape the immediate pursuit by Blücher and the Prussians, he would eventually surrender, and be exiled to the inaccessible island of Sainte-Hélène, where he would die 6 years later.

Today the site of the battle is still in large part farmland, with the exception of the "British Lion" atop the dominant man-made hill. The lion, in all its majesty, faces toward Paris; a reminder of the French defeat. One hundred years later the alignment of forces would be somewhat different as Europe plunged into waht would be known as World War I.

NOTE: We have borrowed heavily from the resources of the various museums in and around Waterloo to compile this.