Sea­wor­thy Soul Mates

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Ayer’s Cliff

There is no short­age of in­ter­est­ing and dy­namic peo­ple in the Town­ships; some are home-grown while oth­ers grav­i­tate here from far-away places, adopt­ing the area as their new home af­ter suc­cumb­ing to its many charms.

Liv­ing in the pic­turesque vil­lage of Ayer’s Cliff for the last seven years, Dr. David Doust and Su­san Fletcher-doust are ex­am­ples of both of those types of Town­ship­pers.

Su­san grew up in Mas­saw­ippi, be­came a suc­cess­ful busi­ness wo­man in the field of trans­porta­tion in Montreal, then moved back to the re­gion in the early 90’s. Dr. Doust, a world fa­mous Naval Ar­chi­tect and marine con­sul­tant, grew up in Portsmouth in the south of Eng­land, moved to Montreal in 1966 af­ter be­ing spon­sored by the Duke of Ed­in­burgh, Prince Philip, and then to Ayer’s Cliff in 1990.

“When we first met in 1993, my com­pany was in­volved in all three kinds of trans­porta­tion, land, sea and air, and David also had his own com­pany and was very busy,” ex­plained Mrs. Fletcher-doust in an in­ter­view at the cou­ple’s 108 year-old home at the heart of the vil­lage. David, who had worked as a Sci­en­tific Of­fi­cer at the National Mar­itime In­sti­tute of Lon­don, even­tu­ally be­ing named the In­sti­tute’s Prin­ci­pal Sci­en­tific Of­fi­cer, be­fore com­ing to Canada, had be­gun a new ca­reer here as a marine con­sul­tant.

“I re­ceived an of­fer to come to Montreal; there were things I wanted to do in the com­mer­cial in­dus­try to do with lit­i­ga­tion and de­sign. I did my thing,” said Dr. Doust. His ‘thing’, what he ad­mit­ted was like a third ca­reer in naval ar­chi­tec­ture af­ter work­ing ex­ten­sively on the de­sign, re­search and build­ing of ships, was a 45 year ca­reer as an ‘ex­pert wit­ness’, spe­cial­iz­ing in de­ter­min­ing who was at fault when marine ac­ci­dents, some of Canada and the United States’ ma­jor cases, oc­curred. Dr. Doust’s find­ings were used in trial pro­ceed­ings or pre-trial ne­go­ti­a­tions to de­ter­mine who was at fault for the ac­ci­dents.

“I in­ves­ti­gated all kinds of ac­ci­dents: con­tain­ers fall­ing off ships, ships hit­ting each other in the Se­away, ca­bles snap­ping, boats snap­ping in half. You need to study weather re­ports to recre­ate the con­di­tions of the mo­ment, con­sider the con­di­tion of the tides, the kind of water,” said David. “First he would do a sur­vey of the acci- dent and then he would get boxes of doc­u­men­ta­tion. He some­times would be ap­pear­ing in court for sev­eral years,” added Su­san.

“There was a tremen­dous amount of pres­sure in the job. The av­er­age work­ing life of an ex­pert marine wit­ness is only four or five years be­cause the lawyers would get them to change their opinion slightly. I never changed any­thing in my opin­ions and I was on the win­ning side 90% of the time,” com­mented Dr. Doust.

The job of be­ing an Ex­pert Wit­ness for such ma­jor cases as the Irv­ing Whale, the oil tanker that sank off the coast of Prince Ed­ward Is­land, in 1970, with over one mil­lion gal­lons of oil on board, and the sink­ing of the Mekhanik Tarasov east of New­found­land, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Doust, “was not a 9 to 5 job. It was a 24 hour a day job and I of­ten got the an­swers I was look­ing for in my dreams.” What he en­joyed most about the work was the re­search. “I like find­ing out why things hap­pen. A clas­sic case was the Mekhanik Tarasov. Water went over the sides, into the ven­ti­la­tors, and it sank. The cap­tain had re­fused early of­fers of as­sis­tance from a nearby boat. The ship was lost, the cargo was lost, and ev­ery­one was blam­ing each other. I was work­ing for the peo­ple who lost their lives. We got all the ship’s draw­ings in Rus­sian, had to trans­late them, and saw that the ven­ti­la­tion shafts were im­prop­erly de­signed. A judge agreed with me and $60 mil­lion changed hands. I was pleased be­cause the fam­i­lies of the peo­ple who lost their lives were com­pen­sated.”

“We were both in­volved in the trans­porta­tion in­dus­try when we met and so it took off from there. We started as busi­ness part­ners,” com­mented Su­san who was soon trav­el­ling around the world with David, work­ing on in­ves­ti­ga­tions with him. “We’d be wear­ing hel­mets, steel boots, cam­eras stuffed into our work clothes, ul­tra­sound equip­ment. We would lit­er­ally have to climb down steel lad­ders to get to the bot­tom of the ships,” she added. “Then we’d come back and write it all up, mak­ing an opinion. When­ever there’s a col­li­sion, a sink­ing, loss of life, there’s al­ways lit­i­ga­tion, al­ways a dis­pute. Our ex­per­tise was sought af­ter; within an hour of an ac­ci­dent our phone would start ring­ing,” added Dr. Doust.

“What re­ally in­ter­ested me when we met was the va­ri­ety of cases that David was work­ing on. It was like an on­go­ing movie. I told him that he should write a book,” said Su­san. Sub­se­quently Dr. Doust wrote two books, The Naval Ar­chi­tect and The Ex­pert Wit­ness. “We self-pub­lished when peo­ple didn’t dare, and the books went into sec­ond and third pub­li­ca­tions,” added Mrs. Fletcher-doust.

With the firm be­lief that much im­prove­ment was needed in the ship­ping in­dus­try, Dr. Doust sent copies of his books to ev­ery Supreme Court judge in Canada. “Many of those judges I had worked with as marine lawyers; that’s what’s so ironic about be­ing around so long,” com­mented the oc­to­ge­nar­ian. Cana­dian marine law was even­tu­ally changed as a re­sult of this in­ter­ven­tion.

If you’re lucky enough to come across a copy of

The Ex­pert Wit­ness, you’ll no­tice an in­ter­est­ing crest on the book’s cover. The Doust fam­ily crest was cre­ated for Dr. Doust’s un­cle, Cap­tain Wil­liam Alexan­der Doust, by Win­ston Churchill in recog­ni­tion of his marine sal­vage work dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Mrs. Fletcher-doust, who even­tu­ally be­came cer­ti­fied as a Naval Ar­chi­tect through her years of train­ing with her hus­band, con­tin­ued: “As a re­sult of all this ex­pe­ri­ence we ini­ti­ated the first in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence, held in the United King­dom in 1998, on the solv­ing of marine mat­ters. We got all the com­peti­tors to­gether to look to the fu­ture, to share knowl­edge and im­prove the in­dus­try to achieve a health­ier re­sult. And we did it all from here, in Ayer’s Cliff!”

The Dousts re­tired from their work as in­dus­try marine con­sul­tants in the 1990’s, only to be­gin an­other marine-re­lated busi­ness closer to home. “Soon af­ter we re­tired an in­sur­ance com­pany called us to see if we would take a look at a nearby ves­sel that had an ac­ci­dent. Af­ter that one phone call we de­cided to cre­ate a sec­ond busi­ness: pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in sur­vey­ing plea­sure craft. That was our sum­mer job!” The Dousts re­tired from that work only three years ago. “We de­cided to leave on a high,” joked David. “Now all these skills have landed at the door of the Le­gion!” said Su­san, the new pres­i­dent of the Ayer’s Cliff Le­gion, with a smile.

The cou­ple’s beauti-

ful home near the cen­ter of town, dis­tinc­tive with the Scot­tish stone wall that David de­signed, was built by Homer Ayer in 1904. “I like to be at the cen­ter of the vil­lage. Af­ter a cer­tain age it’s nice to be able to walk to the bank, to the gro­cery store or to the restau­rants. That’s my re­frig­er­a­tor across the street (Marché Pa­try) and it’s ‘Wood­ies’ in the sum­mer!” con­cluded Dr. Doust.

Marine dis­as­ter in the news

How co­in­ci­den­tal that last Fri­day, while I was in­ter­view­ing the Dousts about their ex­pe­ri­ence as marine con­sul­tants, a marine dis­as­ter was un­fold­ing on the other side of the world. The Costa Con­cor­dia, a Car­ni­val cruise ship car­ry­ing more than 4000 peo­ple, ran aground off the Tus­can is­land of Giglio when the ship’s cap­tain al­legedly de­vi­ated from the ship’s course. Need­less to say, the Dousts have been fol­low­ing the story with great in­ter­est. “It ap­pears to be an­other ex­am­ple yet again, such as that of the Mekhanik Tarasov or the Exxon Valdez, of a cap­tain who made er­rors of judg­ment. Per­son­ally, I strongly rec­om­mend that ship­ping com­pa­nies main­tain very high stan­dards when they en­gage per­son­nel,” com­mented Dr. Doust.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Dr. Doust and Su­san Fletcher-doust, both Naval Ar­chi­tects with il­lus­tri­ous ca­reers, now live in Ayer’s Cliff where they are busily re­tired.

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