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Captain Lauchie MacKinnon, right, holds his hand out to catch Kathy Couillard as her husband, Dan, sits and laughs during a ride on MacKinnon's commercial fishing boat, Keeping Traditions, on Aug. 7. The couple from Vermont was on a weeklong motorcycle ride around the island when MacKinnon agreed to host them for a ride on his boat while musicians Chrissy Crowley and Colin Grant played.
Musicians Colin Grant, left, and Chrissy Crowley play some jigs and reels while the Keeping Traditions commercial fishing boat travelled along the shore of Margaree harbour, up to Chimney Corner and back, on Aug. 7.
(From left) Colin Grant, Dan Couillard, Chrissy Crowley and Kathy Couillard sit on the Keeping Traditions fishing boat in Margaree harbour on Aug. 7. The Couillards are from Vermont and met Crowley four years ago during one of her performances in the United States. Since then, they've become friends and often meet up when the Couillards come to Cape Breton on vacation. Crowley and Grant treated the Couillards to a private concert aboard the boat while the captain took them for a ride to Chimney Corner and back.
Captain Lauchie MacKinnon shows his guests the mackerel reel, which has 50-100 hooks on it, a danger spot on the boat he advised them to stay away from during the impromptu boat ceilidh. "You've got the jigs, I've got the reels," MacKinnon joked with his guests.
The waves rocked the boat as Còig musician Chrissy Crowley played her fiddle and fellow musician Colin Grant showed off his step-dancing skills.
Video shows Grant laughing as he tries not to fall overboard the Keeping Traditions as it rides the rough waves along the shores of the Margaree harbour on Aug. 7.
After his dance performance, Grant returned to his fiddle to play with Crowey at the mini-ceilidh for two special guests — Dan and Kathy Couillard, tourists from Vermont.
“Captain Lauchie (MacKinnon) gave us brand-new life vests to wear, new chairs to sit in and explained all the rules, like where to puke if necessary and the danger spot (the reel of 100 fish hooks),” said Kathy, who was touring around Cape Breton with her husband on their motorcycles.
“We loved every minute of that rocking ride. Lauchie and Malcolm (his son) were kind gentlemen, super funny with amazing stories and huge hearts.
"We are forever grateful to meet them, their families and learn about the real meaning of Keeping Traditions.”
MacKinnon said he’s family friends with Crowley and when she asked if he’d be up for the mini-ceilidh on his boat for the Couillards, whom she met four years ago when performing in the U.S., he didn’t hesitate.
“I guess it’s just the Cape Breton way. It’s the way I am," he said.
"It is what we do best, isn’t it?”
Lauchie’s hospitality aboard his commercial fishing boat (he doesn’t do tours or charters) is something the Couillards have come to expect during their visits to Cape Breton.
During this last trip, their sixth to the island, the Couillards found themselves stranded in Baddeck on a holiday Monday after Dan’s bike wouldn’t start. The battery was dead and a stranger offered to drive to North Sydney to get them one.
Not only did the woman, who Kathy knows only as Melissa, drive to North Sydney to pick up the battery, she fronted the couple the $180 for it after the retail outlet wouldn’t accept the Couillard’s credit card over the phone.
“We paid her back in cash of course. The determination and trust she had was heart-melting,” Kathy said.
“Melissa accepted our thanks and hugs but no tip. She said, 'Pay it forward. This is what we do in Cape Breton.'”
Every August the Couillards ride their motorcycles for 16 days, seven of those around Cape Breton. And each visit they return to Vermont with new, lifelong friends.
Last year while driving in Pleasant Bay, they helped a Cape Bretoner named Mary Leigh MacDougall “out of a jam” and have been in contact ever since.
At Baddeck’s Festiville a few years ago, they met Lavonne Grant, who now invites them to her home each year they return.
They’ve met friends in Port Hood, Judique, Cheticamp and helped fellow riders when having motorcycle troubles of their own around the trail.
And they’ve started bringing friends and family from the U.S. with them to experience Cape Breton hospitality first hand.
“Cape Breton is gorgeous for riding but it is the people we come here for,” Couillard said.
But MacKinnon thinks it’s not something to make a fuss over, because it’s just the way Cape Bretoners are raised.
“You’d do it to. I know you would,” he said.