Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Vans, Boats & the U.S. Mail

Conference and boat season get underway at the same time. Not that we plan it that way. It has something to do with the Spring Equinox and Easter, even though it was snowing earlier this morning here in S.E. Michigan.

I go on the road in just over a week for a series of conferences at which Nineveh's Crossing will be exhibiting, and, at a few, I will be speaking. The 15-year old van we had was destined not to make it out of the state again, and Nineveh's Crossing was planning on hauling inventory and exhibit stuff to NC, MN, WI, MD, and points in between. So, on our way back from Florida last month (see an earlier post on this blog), circumstances conspired (Providentially) to commit to the purchase of a new van we had been thinking about for some months. We wanted to attend the conferences without an attending wrecker towing us in. So, here are pictures of the new van ready to go.

I am also posting this for our daughter, April, who lives in Iowa with husband Bob and son Noah. About 18-months ago I had asked April (our family muse and poet) for a name for a distribution company that would hawk Catholic media with a touch of entertainment. I had told her that I wanted the name (and products) to be accessible by non-Christians and non-Catholics. (Another company named after St. Joseph the world does not need.) She thought for no more than 5 seconds and said "Nineveh's Crossing!" So, April, here's what the van looks like. Your mother had said: "If you're going to buy a cargo van, at least put Nineveh's Crossing's name on the side." I always listen to the women in my life. (Oh, stop rolling your eyes. I do listen…sometimes.)

For decades I have wanted to sail to the South Pacific island where an ancestor had sailed as a missionary, was martyred and eaten. When my mother died 10 years ago, she left me enough money to buy the boat, although she did not do this consciously. (I waited until he was well on her way to heaven before I told her what the money she left was for.) John Williams (1796-1839) was the first Christian missionary to the South Pacific. There he started churches, and began inter-island trade in sailing ships he designed and built locally. Sent by the London Missionary Society he had many fruitful years before he was martyred (at eaten) at Dillon's Bay on the island of Erromango, which was part of New Hebrides and today is known as Vaunatu. There are chapels throughout the South Pacific in honor of his work, often with his wife by his side, and where he got to know author Robert Lewis Stephenson. After his death children in Britian raised money to build ships that would bring more missionaries and trade to the South Pacific. Seven ships were commissioned in the H.M.S., from soon after his death until the 1960s. The drawing to the left was the H.M.S. John Williams I.

We looked for eight years for a ship mom's money could afford, and that could ultimately take us to Erromango. When we found the Islander-Freeport 41 in San Diego, we named it "Family Ties", we trucked it to the Great Lakes and Detroit, and then spent the next 6 years fixing it up. Yesterday we commissioned her for her second year of sailing after a lot of hard work. (See picture at the right.) You can see pictures of last year's cruise with the grandkids in the Canadian North Channel at the links on Pam's Home Page.

I mention this here, because as I was waiting for the yard to put Family Ties into the water, we parked the Nineveh's Crossing van next to the J.W. Westcott II as she warmed up her engine for the 112th season of delivering mail to freighters that pass through the Detroit River. The Westcott home dock is several miles down river in the morning shadow of the Ambassador Bridge that links the U.S. to Canada. But for over 100-years the Westcott boats have wintered at the Gregory Boat Basin, Family Ties' home port. (The Basin's buildings in this picture was the WWI factory for the U.S Navy's feet of wooden subchasers.) You can see the NC Van next to the Westcott in these pictures. As I got out of our van, Westcott Captain Sam Buchanan asked me what Nineveh's Crossing was. I told him that I was a filmmaker and that a few years back I had discovered Catholicism and was so surprised by what I found that I decided to produce and sell documentary projects about it. He smiled and said his own family was Christian and then took me to the back of the freshly painted Westcott and showed me the "Jesus" fish plaque they had proudly fixed to the stern of the famous mail boat. (See the yellow circle in the picture. Sam is on the right, and his mate, Toby, is on the left.)

And famous it is. The J.W. Westcott II is the only boat with it's own Zip code, 48222. During the boating season, 24 hours a day, 7-days a week, the Westcott and its back-up boat, the Joseph J. Hogan, come along side the huge freighters underway, and pass everything from mail, to freight, to pizza to the working mariners. A great site with pictures of the Westcott operation and more of its history can be found at:

Well, it will be some years before we're ready to take Family Ties to the South Pacific and make our way to Erromango -- but maybe I could get Sam to give me a lift in the J.W. Westcott II, and climb the ladder to an blue water freighter on its way there. (And it didn't get past me that the first two initials of the Westcott are J.W.!)

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