My name is Andre McConnachie and I grew up in Muskoka East Parry Sound but I was born in Toronto and I live on Toronto Island now. I’m a chief officer, sometimes a relief captain, with McKeil. I’ve been working on and off for the last 6 to 10 years with McKeil. My most powerful memory of water, and there’s many of them, was when I was young and the lake that I grew up, my mother settled on, a little lake called Clear Lake, there’s several of them up in Ontario, but it’s a small lake in Muskoka East Parry Sound. It’s a sheltered little lake and all my favorite memories were of taking my St. Bernard in my canoe, and fishing and swimming, and parties later on in life, just everything there revolved around that lake.
My first memory of water, there are photographs of me down at my grandmother’s cottage down on Lake Ontario, right around Bowmanville. It was on a frozen pond but the lake was up in there and we lived there one of the first winters when I was pretty young. I think I was probably only about 3 years old. I remember Lake Ontario and the big water and how majestic it was. I’ve been drawn to it ever since. Water has been important to my life because most of my life has been spent somewhere on the water. I was intrigued by deserts, but that’s a similar kind of effect.
Now having sailed all the way up to the Arctic with McKeil, sailed down to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic, all the open water experiences as well as smaller bodies of water. It’s the fluidity, there’s a peace to the water but there’s also the power of nature – that’s how important it is. In terms of other stories, my mother was born on a small lake over in Europe in Switzerland. It’s a beautiful little lake. I was young, I was 4 or 5 years old when we went back to visit there. I was really impressed by it. I was actually on a hydrofoil there going across that lake.
So many years later I was actually captaining a hydrofoil that operated on Lake Ontario. The connections that happen between water and the vessels that I’ve been on, where I’ve gone, have tied my life together in a lot of ways. The story goes on from there because at age 40 my mother decided to confide in me who my natural father actually was. I had grown up believing this other man was my father. So she told me about my natural father and I saw him. As it turns out, our family on his side is from Scotland from a ship building area and I come from 5 generations of sailors. But I didn’t know that when I entered into this profession. Ironic I guess. My son has broken the mould, he loves the water but he doesn’t want to work on the water, but the lineage is commercial. I just recently actually reconnected with my half brother who did grow up with my father and he lives down in the Caribbean in Antigua right now. He grew up there, so he got to go to the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, on all these different vessels that my father operated. So it’s been really interesting to bring my son and connect them together and just to see the effect of water on our family. There was a lot of irony in the whole situation when my dad found out about my life.
My best friend is from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, and I’ve been there many times to visit him. Nova Scotians call somebody who’s not from there as wannabes but I never got pegged as that by his family because I fit in so well. One of the stories that Rick told me about was the maiden voyage of the HMS Rose out of Lunenberg on down to Boston Harbour. So went I met my father and we were talking over sailing stories. He explained how he was on the HMS Rose on her maiden voyage. So now knowing sailors and they are like fishermen, you have to get to the truth, so I got each of them to tell me details separately to make sure that they were actually telling the truth. As it turns out my father did sail on the HMS Rose. Rick is my best friend, so how strange is that.
My passion has always been tall ships and sailing. Tugboats was something I got in to because it interested me and it’s challenging. There’s more money in it than sailing ships, but not all the romance of sailing ships, that is really what the water is all about to me and vessels. Water is worth protecting because the lake I grew up was such an important part of my life and during the time that I grew up, acid rain became a very big issue. So my friend and I used to go around doing water sampling. There was concern about septic systems and all that as well. We were trying to locate people who were maybe not doing what they should do that way like washing machines dumping into the lake and so on. But the main effort was towards trying to get information about acid rain and how it was affecting our lake anyway.
During the process we started an acid rain forum, gathered people together in the surrounding area and started bringing forward more of the concern that that would have on water. Having moved on from there to larger bodies of water like Lake Ontario and watching things like zebra mussels and some of the other species that have invaded the Great Lakes, clear and freshwater lakes, I think the scientific information that we know about our effect on the water isn’t complete, We don’t understand how small decisions we make and control the quality of the water. We’re starting to. And it’s where we live, it’s just not about being able to water ski, swim, or sail I mean it’s what we drink.
Water is going to become a really big issue in the future. So I hope that at least for the future generations we can say they did what they could with what they had. There have been a lot of places, I certainly haven’t been around the world on the water but I’ve been to a lot of places on the water and not on the water. Wherever there is water, whether it’s up on mountain lake or up in the Arctic, anywhere that it is it is an integral part of us. We are 90% water ourselves. Most of my girlfriends have been water signs astrologically. My son is a Pisces you know. The connection with water is such an integral part. I grew up with Natives as well, so all four elements were essential. So I think our connection with water helps us to really respect the Earth and the environment.