Photo : Julien Roumagnac (

I was watching a terrible Quebecois movie last year with my wife (its awfulness doesn’t stop it from being the highest grossing Canadian film of all time) -- Bon Cop Bad Cop. The premise was clever -- a cop from Toronto and another from Montreal are obliged to work together -- so it wasn't so hard to watch, but there was a big surprise for me at the end. The climax takes place at the Montreal port on board an old crumbling boat where the bad guy’s hiding out.

These scenes are poorly edited and fail to give the watcher any sense of place. But I suddenly recognized the setting. ‘Hey!’ I proclaimed, incredulous. ‘That’s my boat!’

I meant the Nindawayma.

It was the Nindawayma. Which is not, technically, my boat.

Photo : Julien Roumagnac (

At the end of the play version of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, Neil Coghill stowed away on a barge that was heading down the St Lawrence River to a port in St. Pierre & Miquelon.

By the time I came to write the novel, I realized I was dealing with a more international setting and my characters were going to have to head further afield.

I realized, in other words, that I was going to need a bigger boat.

I took a trip to Montreal and walked down to the waterfront. There was a spectacular old paint-peeling boat in the old port there.

In this image the boat appears to be in the same location but it’s pointing in the opposite direction from how I (and Neil and Romy) found it. I wrote down the faded names on its side, assuming I would not find anything but intending to conduct some research all the same.

Much to my surprise, there was a lot of information about this particular boat on the internet.

At the time, it was for sale by its owners, so there was even a website, up no longer, that included detailed specs and photos of the interior decks. These proved to be very helpful, though there was certainly not the wealth of information and imagery that there is now.

(This site was up at the time, but there certainly was not a Wikipedia entry. Nor were there Flickr collections.The most spectacular photos up now are all by Julien Roumagnac, who has kindly allowed me to illustrate this entry with a few of them. In his photos, the Nindawayma has been moved from where I found it to a more picturesque location closer to downtown.

(And there's another beauty at the bottom of this post, by Julien's brother, Marc.)

Oh, and I've just found a couple of questions I wrote to some boatnerders, the first of which was answered by a feller named Kent Malo, who discussed stowaways on barges with me and advised me to change my plot (which was the other impetus for me to head down to the Old Port, where I found the Nindawayma.) George Wharton gave me some answers on the second question, I think.

Information that I accumulated in all these places was the following, composed in the (later edited) narrative voice of Jennifer and Danielle:

When the Nindawayma was born, in 1976, she was one of three sister ships all named for Spanish Mountains: Monte Contes, Monte Corona and Monte Castilla.

The Corona was named for a Volcano that has not erupted in three thousand years. We don’t know where the Monte Contes is, but the word means ‘You count’ in Spanish, so you can figure it out. And the Castillo – closest to our hearts – was named for a mountain with beautiful caves containing painted art from ten thousand years before the Gilgamesh Epic was written.

They were all sold and renamed a number of times – the ships we mean, not the mountains – with the Corona finally running aground under the name Isla de Tagomago, at home in her birth-country in 1999, after which she had to be destroyed. The Contes was ignobly laid up in 2001, under the name Ciudad de Ceuta.

As for the Castillo, her story went like this: she stayed in Spain for only two years, where she was sometimes called the Monte Cruceta, but don’t expect us to figure that out. In 1978 she was renamed Manx Viking and worked for the Isle of Man. On her stacks she sported a triskelion for a logo – one of those triads of running feet meant to represent the sun moving across the sky, like this:

Only somewhat less denuded. Nine years later she was sold again to a Norwegian Company and renamed Skudenes. Some say she wasn’t renamed Manx Viking until just before she made the trip to Norway, but we just can’t keep up with the complexity of that sort of information. Then she got sold to a Canadian Company that called her ‘Ontario #1’ just until they’d gotten her over the Atlantic, at which point somebody sponsored a contest to name her properly, possibly for the first time. Nindawayma sprang from that, and the triskelion on her stacks was painted over with a logo of three N’s.

The Nindawayma served as a car ferry between Tobermory and Manitoulin Island for three years, assisting a bigger ferry called the Chi-Cheemaun, until they retired her and let her sit in the Own Sound harbour for almost a decade. Then she got towed up to Les Mechins, Quebec. Then she got towed back down to Montreal, where she’s been sitting ever since, at least until the night she was boarded by Romy and Neil.

Photo : Marc Roumagnac (

The reason why we actually know all this is because there are a lot of people who pay attention to the fate of ships. They make it their hobby, or perhaps even their duty, to spend their days writing logs and shipping journals and posting photographs and asking after the whereabouts of the ships that might have carried them once across Georgian Bay or into a port at Barcelona or the Isle of Man. They track their progress and mourn their passing. They lie snug in their beds at night and think about the hull that once protected them from the deep. We’ve even found a testimonial by a Nindawayma-fan in Montreal who bewailed the state of her paint-job but affirmed that she was still “a part of the family.” Thousands of ships are adrift across the Internet due to the intercession of such people. The Nindawayma is one of them. So is the Manx Viking, which turns out to be the same ship. So is the Monte Cruceta and the Monte Castillo and the Monte Corona and the Monte Contes. That’s how we know. We’re amazed, really, at how much we know. Far more than Neil and Romy knew, that’s for sure. Though we’ve never even stepped aboard.

Since I wrote those words, the Nindawayma seems to have been taken over by the government and used as a setting for a couple of movies -- Bon Cop Bad Cop and something called Saved by the Belles -- and has been moved to a dry dock scrap yard, presumably nearing the end of its existence.

Seems to me, I didn't entirely make up my alternate history though. There had been a plan at one time to turn it into a cable ship, but that didn't happen in the end.

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