The Antigonish Casket
Thursday, January 13, 1910
The Fishermen's Awful Experience.
The story of Tuesday's storm with the gloom it cast over the settlements of White Head and Dover, of the suffering endured by the victims at sea, and the agony of friends at home, has been told in all its harrowing details in the daily press, and the picture painted in lurid colors. The story, as far as Dover and White Head was concerned, was no exaggeration; rather it fell short of the truth. The situation at Canso was not alarming. On either side of the fleet, operating in Chedabucto Bay, the friendly land stretched out its protecting arms, and with the wind well to the north, it was a broad reach and a gallant race for home. Vastly different was the case with the White Head and Dover boats. They were fishing off an exposed point whence the land recedes on either hand, and their only hope was the home ports dead to windward, with the Ocean Graveyard, Sable Island, under their lee.
As night came down on that black Tuesday it was known that one boat was ashore on an island across Dover Bay, but the fate of her three occupants was uncertain. Not one man of the twenty-six who had sailed away in the morning with high hopes had returned. Not one boat rode at anchor within the harbour. As evening fell, the snow became blinding, the wind increased to a hurricane, and the thermometer hovered about zero. It was agony to think of loved ones exposed in their frail crafts to the united fury of the elements. Sleep was out of the question. Human and impossible. Prayer alone remained; and with bursting hearts they turned to the mercy throne of God, whence alone help could come, and through prayer they reached out, "hands across the sea" to comfort and sustain their friends in distress.
In the morning a rescue party found the three men safe on the island. Their little craft, driven hard against the ever increasing wind and sea, had opened up under the strain, and in a sinking condition had been beached. Two other boats had been seen in the evening close in under the land and it was hoped they had found shelter in some of the many coves along the coast. In the morning the Government steamer "Thirty Three" engaged in cable repair at Dover, was sent out, and after searching the coast east and west returned to say that while a White Head boat containing two crews had been picked up, no trace of the Dover boats had been found. Then the heart of stricken Dover _____. Who can wonder. A wail of grief went up to heaven from those who had hurried down to the shore expecting good news, and that wail was taken up and ran the crescent of homes close built around the Bay.
From time to time throughout the day the telephone told of rescues at White Head, but no word came to cheer a solitary home in Dover. The writer visited all the stricken homes, and everywhere was the same heartrending scene. As the second night came down and grief became epidemic and uncontrolled, "a voice in Rama was heard, lamentatious and great mourning, Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted because they were not." Forty little children under twelve years were counted whose fathers were looked upon as dead, and one-half this number in a short time would be destitute. A fearful problem presented itself. The fishing throughout the year had been exceptionally unprofitable, and now the cup of misfortune seemed full to the brim. When the telephone system closed at 10 p.m. Wednesday, of the seventy-five men missing from White Head, the first evening, all but nineteen had been accounted for; while of the twenty-three missing from Dover, twenty-three were missing still. Is it any wonder, hope died out in many hearts? Is it any wonder correspondents sent in gloomy reports? May it never be the fate of any Town in this fair Province to pass through such an ordeal as fell to the lot of devoted Dover and White Head.
It was the eve of the Epiphany. A night that brings back an echo of the Christmas cheer --- when little children again hang their stockings for good old "Santa" to fill on his return trip. Alas for the poor children of Dover ! For them no such joy was in store. No little stockings hung from the mantels; but little hands were joined in prayer, and little sob-broken voices went up to the Divine Child who had guided the royal searchers in his crib, that he would also guide the noble searchers on the sea to their dear fathers and brothers, and his star point them the way to safety and home. In the parish church at Canso the Holy Sacrifice was offered on the Epiphany by the whole congregation for this intention. The voice of heart-broken wives and children, with the united prayer of all believers in Divine Providence, pierced the heavens and found favor at the Throne of Mercy.
Then came, in His own good time the long-delayed answer. Out of the o'ershadowing gloom, out of the night of storm and tempest, out of the depths of the sea, out of the very grave came the messages of hope and life fast following one upon the other, until every home in Dover had been comforted, and everyone, even to the last, accounted for. Then the bleeding heart of Dover was healed, and the people, crushed to earth, rose again chastened by the ordeal through which they had passed, - rose with renewed confidence in God, and in the power of prayer, - rose to pay in their own beautiful little church the first installment of what must be a life-long debt of gratitude, for the evident miracle wrought on their behalf, a miracle recognized and acclaimed as such by the most skeptical. "By the greatness of his might and strength and power not one of them was missing." God grant that they and we be ever grateful.
Not without reason and design has the scourge been applied, and mercy shown. The divine warning has been uttered in no uncertain voice. "He that has ears to hear let him hear." His voice has been heard in the tempest calling to men "I am the Lord thy God." "I will not give my glory to another" "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord his God in vain." No class of people are so completely in the hollow of God's hand as are "the men who go down to the sea in ships." No class of people have greater reason to speak reverently of God and his holy name, for no class have so continually impressed upon them the idea of their own loneliness, and helplessness, and God's omnipotence and goodness as they in the presence of ocean's solitude, vastness power and bounty. "The sorrows of death surrounded me, … in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God and he heard my voice from his Holy Temple, and my cry before him came into his ears….Thy right hand hath held me up, and thy discipline hath corrected me unto the end; and thy discipline, the 'same' shall teach me."
Some idea of the hardship and suffering endured by the Dover and White Head fishermen who were driven to sea in the storm of Tuesday, 4th inst., may be gathered from the experience of one of the Dover crews.
The "Lottie B.," 15 tons, of Dover, a boat grown venerable _____ in the service was commanded by Charles Richard, her owner, and her two dories were manned by Felix Gurney, Robert Munro, James Horn, and Levi Haynes, the latter unmarried, the others left at home fourteen small children.. They had "struck" the haddock that morning, they needed them, and so hung on to their trawls as long as possible, depending on a new suit of sails bent but a fortnight before, to carry them home. They had got back about two thirds of their gear, and then had about two hundred dollars worth of haddock when the weather conditions obliged them to cut their trawls and head for home, a long thrash dead to windward, with the wind and sea rapidly increasing. At 9 p.m., in the worst of the wind, they sighted the White head light bearing north perhaps five miles distant.
By this time the "Lottie" was heavy with ice, and the driving snow, and icy water constantly dashing over her and freezing as it fell, cut like knives the faces of the men and chilled them to the bone. Then in a vicious blast the jibs were carried away and the struggle to reach land had to be abandoned. The mainsail stiff, stiff as a plank, was taken in, and furled as well as its icy condition would permit. One dory had been swept away, and the other half full of ice was imbedded deep in the ice that covered the deck. Under these conditions nothing could be gained by remaining on deck exposed to the fury of the storm, so the old boat was hove-to under the foresail, the wheel lashed, and the men went below, to snatch a moment of rest and warmth and await the out come. The water at this time was what fishermen call "rough" but the "Lottie" seemed to take the sea easy and the men were beginning to congratulate themselves that she would ride it out safely, when with a roar that the seaman well knows, and that makes the heart of the bravest stand still, tons of solid water fell upon deck as an unlucky sea broke aboard. There was the sound of breaking timbers, inrushing waters, and most remarkable of all a portion of the dory imbedded in ice on deck was forced obliquely through the hatch, and through the bulkhead into the cuddy where the horrified men stood for a moment appalled. Life was dear, and instinctly they clambered through the inrush of water to the deck, to find half the foresail gone, main boom broken, dory split asunder, deck crushed in, and through the gaping seams the water poured into the doomed craft that now wallowed deep in the sea. Death stared them in the face, but while there was life there was hope, and the supreme test of human bravery and endurance now began. The hatches had been washed away, and the men sprang into the hole waist-deep in the icy water; they forked the fish overboard, threw out some of the ballast and with buckets frantically bailed out the water that continued relentlessly to pour in through the riven deck.
This heart-breaking struggle against the slowly gaining water began about 9 p.m. Tuesday evening and continued without respite all night. Morning brought no sign of rescue. No friendly sail appeared, but the weather was milder with still a strong breeze and some snow. Still a portion of the crew held out and pumped and bailed for life. About 1 p.m. a craft was sighted to leeward. Who can tell what the sight meant to those men? Hope revived and they nerved themselves for one final struggle. A small fragment of a jib was set, the boats head swung off and she crept slowly out to sea, towards the object of hope. The craft proved to be the 'Sea Flea' Capt. Alden Munroe, of White Head. She had also been driven off, and was lying to. When the condition of the 'Lottie' had been realized the men inspired by Wm. Munroe, light-keeper at White Head, who was on board that day, made all haste to loosen their frozen sails, and chop their dory from the shapeless mass of ice that almost filled and covered it. Two hours were spent by willing expert hands in freeing the sails and the dory, and they were long hours to the men on the sinking craft who expected her to slip from under them ere the help in sight could reach them. At last the dory was launched, badly hacked and bruised by the rough handling necessary to liberate it. One man rowed while another bailed out water with a bucket. Slowly it drew near the sinking craft, and the doomed men breathed again. New life came surging back as their sinking hearts, fed by the prospect of rescue, again took up the task of life, and the throb on throb kept time to the strokes of the approaching oars. In a few minutes they were safe with their heroic rescuers, enjoying shelters, food and fire. It was only a matter of minutes while the rescued men looked on, before the 'Lottie B' rose for the last time to the wave, the foresail caught its last full, - a ship's last breath of life, then plunged beneath forever.
The suffering of the men was at an end. In a few hours a steamers light was sighted, a torch was burned and the ship bore down upon them. It was the SS. 'Cabot', searching for the missing men. The Dover men were taken on board and the ship under half steam towed the 'Sea Flea' to White Head. In one respect the case of the Hazel Maud was, if possible, worse. Three days and two nights they spent at sea without food or fire. They saw no passing ship, received no human aid, heaven alone guided them home. The 'Trilby' with eight men was found by an ocean liner and the crew landed at Halifax. The 'Milo' with six men reached Seal Harbour unaided, and thus the joy of Dover was complete, save for the thought that one boat with three of their fellow fishermen from White Head was missing and at this date still unreported.