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