MONTREAL, Que. - We're steaming west into the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. We passed Anticosti Island hours ago in a night black as a pot of cold tar. To starboard this morning is Matane and the f...
GETTING AROUND: Third officer Yannick Belley enjoys trucking when he's not piloting an Oceanex freighter.
MONTREAL, Que. –We’re steaming west into the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. We passed Anticosti Island hours ago in a night black as a pot of cold tar. To starboard this morning is Matane and the freighter ship TE HO. It is heading east and north to pick up a load of iron ore in Sept-Isles. It crosses the wake of the Camille- Marcoux, ferrying passengers from Matane to Baie-Comeau/ Godbout.
Third officer Yannick Belley moves from radio to radar to navigation chart, then ahead to peer out the bridge windows, constantly vigilant: on his watches he is responsible for the Cabot, a 185- metre long container/ro-ro ship that grosses out at 14,597 tonnes.
Belley, who is a very youthful-looking 30, has been sailing full-time with St. John’s-based Oceanex, the company that has owned the Cabot since 1999. In addition to his navigation duties, he is in charge of security and security equipment survival suits and the lifeboats.
He doesn’t say that the sea is in his blood…but his dead grandpa was a chief mechanic, two uncles are St. Lawrence Seaway pilots, a cousin is a pilot between Trois- Riviere and Montreal, another uncle is a second officer on the Oceanex Avalon, the captain of the Avalon is a Belley…so it probably is.
Yannick works 28 days on the Cabot, and 28 days off. On some of those days he pinch-hits for other drivers at Transport YN Gonthier in St-Romuald, near Levis; it does general transport from Ontario to the Maritimes and from the US midwest to the east coast.
“I got my truck driver’s licence for my pleasure. Becoming a truck driver was a childhood dream,” Belley says.
So last year, over the course of about five months, Belley spent about $4,000 studying and training -from one to three weeks per shore leave -at the Ecole Nationale de Camionnage et Equipment Lourd in Vanier, near Quebec City.
He got his licence in August 2008.
He started with Location Pro-Jean which, he explains, is a placement agency.
He worked mostly around Quebec City driving day cab tractor- trailers for different companies.
“Pro-Jean has a call list and I was on the bottom of the list,” Belley recalls.
His association with YN Gonthier began, as many romances should, with a sexy truck: “I saw one of their trucks near us. It was beautiful. I did a week training with them, then I began working for them this May.”
At first he did day trips around Quebec City.
“I transported general cargo; for example, a lot of paper paste for Cascades between their paper mills, such as in Breakeyville, Montreal, and Chicoutimi.”
Belley drives Kenworth and International tractors but he finds the Kenworth, like the 2006 13- speed ride, more eye-catching.
“I like the front of the Kenworth better. It is more impressive.”
When his boss asked him if he would like to do longer trips, Belley thought that was just great. His first long-haul trip was to Saint John in September with a 53-foot trailer of general cargo. Then he delivered a load of Captain Morgan rum bottled southwest of Montreal to Halifax, piloting a Kenworth.
Then came some less-than-load deliveries of driveway salt to retail stores around the province, an overnight stay in Ottawa and then the drive back to St-Romuald to pick up a load bound for Chicoutimi, then onward to St- Ludger-de-Milot…
Belley received his third officer rating in 2005, and his goal is to become a first officer by 2011. That said, he does not exclude the possibility of a more involved future in trucking, like becoming an owner/operator, then adding more trucks.
“I would like to own my own transport company,” Belley muses.
In the near-term though, it’s more seamanship training.
In November he took at three-week navigation course at the Institut maritime du Quebec in Rimouski, and will be back onboard the Cabot on Dec. 1.
As for trucking on snow and ice, he says, “I will drive this winter, but I do not have much experience driving in the winter. I am afraid of jackknives.”
Belley wants to take a business course, and much further downstream he sees himself as a pilot on the St. Lawrence.
These highly-trained specialists board and navigate ships travelling between Montreal and Les Escoumins, just east of Rivieredu- Loup.
“My long-term goal is to become a river pilot, and buy my Mustang,” he laughs.
Still, the future is a mysterious place. Belley likes packing his plug-in cooler with salmon and fruit and hitting the road.
“I like it when the dispatcher calls me, tells me to do a pick-up in, say, East Angus. I have no idea where that is. I check my GPS. I explore Quebec. The hours pass quickly in the truck.” •