Friday, 12 June 2020

Roads, Moles and Groynes

A groyne at Ross Bay
As I walked along the groyne, or was it a mole, at the little harbour west of MacCauley Point, I looked out to sea at Royal Roads. The latter gave its name to the Royal Roads Military College, which became Royal Roads University, one of Victoria BC’s higher institutes of learning.

But why was it named Royal Roads? Royal after an early ship in the bay, but why Roads? Very few people in Victoria know, I suspect, but I do, not from any superior knowledge, but mere accident of birth. 

I grew up in a city suburb, midway between the capital, Perth, and the port, Fremantle, in Western Australia. Each day the local paper would publish the shipping news: which ships were berthed at the North and South Wharves, and which were waiting out to sea at Gage Roads. The roads, or roadstead, was the fairly sheltered area outside a harbour where ships would wait until a berth was free.

Seven or eight ships would be berthed at the wharves on each side of the harbour. There was no security in those days and I would wander down the wharf, looking at the ships and dreaming of one day sailing away on one. Eventually, I did, on a P&O liner, the Orcades, to England: £196 for the passage and sixpence a pint for the beer.

At the end of the wharves, at the entrance to the harbour, a breakwater, wide enough for a path on top, extended out to sea on each side, sheltering the harbour from rough weather. These  were known as the North and South Mole, popular spots for fishermen, or young people like me who would walk out to the end to experience the full force of a storm.

A few miles to the north at a popular beach was the Cottesloe Groyne, another breakwater, shorter and narrower this time, and perpendicular to the beach, intended not so much to provide shelter but to prevent erosion.

Both the groyne and the mole are breakwaters, lines of rocks extending out to sea.  But they differ in size and purpose. Their etymology gives a clue. A groyne, from the Latin grunium, a pig’s snout, protrudes a short distance and prevents erosion; the mole, from the Latin moles, mass, is a massive stucture protecting a harbour.

In Victoria, I would consider the Ogden Point breakwater a mole, since it's a massive structure providing shelter for the cruise ship harbour. But it has never been given that name. The breakwater at MacCauley Point is certainly protecting the little harbour, but is hardly massive enough to be called  a mole. It shall remain a breakwater. But we do have three groynes, so named, at Ross Bay, to prevent erosion and protect the sea wall. And just outside Esquimalt Harbour, ships would wait at Royal Roads.

Words are memories. I swam at Cottesloe beach beside the groyne, I walked out along the North Mole, and I looked out to Gage Roads.

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