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Barking dog' navigation aids pilot

Jan 1, 2003

As we all know, a good navigator should never fail to take advantage of any cue that aids him in piloting his vessel through hazardous coastal waters, particularly when the weather is thick. Nova Scotian Jock Fleming was one who readily subscribed to this theory.

One morning in 1864, as the American Civil War was beginning to wind down, the citizens of Halifax awoke to the news that a Confederate sea-raider, the C.S.S. Tallahassee, John T. Wood commanding, had entered port for repairs. Although Halifax was officially a neutral port, Royal Navy personnel there made little effort to hide their sympathy for the Confederacy by assisting Wood. Many Halifax families, with sons and brothers fighting in Maine and Massachusetts regiments, were outraged. But Wood entertained his hosts in Southern style, bestowing bourbon and cigars while showing off his extensive collection of chronometers taken from U.S. ships attacked all along the eastern seaboard.

When repairs were completed, Jock Fleming, a local fisherman and sailor of exceptional navigational skill, was hired by Wood to pilot the rebel cruiser through the dangerous "eastern passage" of Halifax Harbor at night, in order to avoid three U.S. cruisers patrolling the roadstead off Chebucto Head, that intended to blow Tallahasseeout of the water at the three-mile bell.

Fleming, pacing the Tallahassee's bridge, ordered absolute silence so that he could hear the pounding of the surf on the rocky beaches along both sides of the route, giving rapid course changes to the terrified helmsman, as the twin-screwed cruiser dodged rocks in the inky blackness. Finally, Fleming heard what he had been waiting for: his neighbor's "yapping spaniel" on shore, signaling the last dangerous pile of rocks. With the dog in earshot, he ordered a final course change to head the darkened vessel out to sea. Tallahassee and Wood escaped certain destruction thanks to a bit of "barking-dog" navigation.


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