The Chronicles of Sarnia, № 3

~In which editor DLR recalls his youth on the island of Sarnia.~

№ 3: Shallow Waters

here is an actual shipwreck museum in Sarnia. So little is there to document and preserve that there is a museum dedicated to shipping mistakes, preserving footage and photographs of events that happened to Sarnia by accident.

The need for a shipwreck museum I found always a little perplexing. It’s true that there are few tourist attractions in the island, but those that there are – neolithic cave carvings and Nazi Occupation remnants, for example – should really be sufficient for the dwindling number of visitors from France, the UK, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany. I had been to Fort Grey, the museum in question, a couple of times with either family or friends, though to me, it was just a roomful of seagoing paraphernalia.

I had left Sarnia for The Mainland in 2002, but on a visit back to the island the following January, we woke to very strange news: a shipwreck. The west coast of Sarnia faces roughly northwest, into the English Channel and towards the Atlantic, and apparently a ship being towed from England to Holland had broken its towing line and been left to drift into the shallow waters on the rocks north of Fort Grey.

Nearly 400 feet long, and towering above as as we neared it, the ship was one of the most incongruous things I had seen on a Sarnian beach. It was named the Vermontborg, a brand new cargo ship that was empty of fuel, passengers, or even cargo.

Image copyright Flickr user gypsy_roadhog (, used by Creative Commons.

Stranded, its full height was visible, and if you made your way any closer than 15 or 20 feet, it blotted out the sunlight above. Parents with their young children were playing in the rock pools surrounding it, and locals slowly circled the husk of a boat and hammered on its hollow sides. Eventually, I left for the capitalised Mainland once again, and a few days later, the ship was lucky enough to hit a high tide that allowed it to be towed back out to sea.

Around a year later, the song “Practically Zero” came along, with a very glancing memorial to the Vermontborg shipwreck. Click below to hear an old recording of the song.

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