The Antigonish Casket

Thursday, January 20, 1910

Fisherman's Awful Experience


Last week in speaking of our fisherman's awful experience in the storm of Tuesday, 11th [sic] inst., we said that the safe return of the crew of the little Hazel Maud was perhaps the most remarkable feature in what we must regard as the miraculous deliverance of our fishing population.

This boat was the smallest of the fleet driven to sea, belonging to what is known as the "one dory" class, --- that is, a class of boats that fish the in-shore waters, or "on the edge" --- too small to take a dory on deck, they tow one dory each, and in a hard time cut it adrift.  The Hazel Maud was manned by James Rhynold, his younger brother John, both married, and Norman Fougere single, whose elder brother had been lost on the banks in the early summer.  They had scented wind and had made an earlier start for home than some of the larger boats; had worked in to within two miles of the land, and were about cutting adrift their dory when they sighted the government steamer 'Thirty-Three' standing out from Big Dover, apparently to their rescue.  With the steamer evidently bearing down upon them they decided to hold onto the dory and save it.  This resolve nearly cost their lives, and subjected them to and expereience such as few survive to describe.

The Thirty-Three, seeing the dory in tow, and the boat pointing well to windward on a back that promised to fetch her to land a little west of Dover - decided that assistance was unnecessary and returned to port.  The men on the Thirty-Three did not know that Rhynold was holding on to his dory because he was convinced the ship was coming to his aid; for the same reason he showed no signal of distress.  The men on the Thirty-Three could not tell from their wind-ward position that the little boat, while pointing high, was under the killing influence of the heavy tow, sagging off to leeward, and making absolutely no headway landward.  At this moment the drifting snow shut down thick o'er the waters and blotted out the approaching steamer.  In the increased blast that accompanied the snow every stitch of sail was carried away, and the craft was helpless.  Quickly the fishing anchor was freed and hove over --- the cable paid rapidly out, but it snapped like an icicle in one of the frozen kinks.  Helpless and adrift the men were yet encouraged by the knowledge that the Thrity-Three, manned by Canso and Dover fishermen, was near in that bank of drifting snow, and they waited till the squall should pass.

As the squall spent its force, and as the snow lifted, the helpless men peered anxiously into the widening expanse of angry waters about them, and the sight that met their eyes struck them dumb, and embittered the long hours and days of agony they were to endure.  When that cruel squall passed where they had expected help, they were met with the cruelest, bitterest (even though unconscious) taunt with which strength can mock at weakness - the receding sail to the despairing shipwrecked castaway - the Thirty-Three had, unseen through the drifting snow, turned, and now, half a mile distant, was steaming into land.

We have no intention of reflecting on the officers and men of the government ship 'Thirty-Three'.  We know them to be, one and all, brave and generous men. They knew and respected the men in the boats, and would have gladly rendered aid, had they thought it necessary.  It was, at worst, an error of judgement; and now that the story has been told, and the cost counted, we and they must even regret that a steel sea-going ship, well found and manned, and actually on the spot, contributed nothing to mitigate, even in the least, the awful suffering of the men, who might so easily have been spared it all.

With the passing of the 'Thirty-Three, the men braced themselves for the task before them.  Their little craft was badly iced, the sail and broken booms hung over the side and gathered ice rapidly.  A drag composed of a few trawl tubs, was run out ahead, but was not sufficient to keep her head up, and she wallowed in the trough of the sea.  The water that splashed into the wide open cock-pit, found its way into the hold, a hatch had been washed away, and through this opening also, the water poured in till it rose over the cuddy floor. In this little pen, below decks, in the peak of the boat with scarce four feet of head room, the men stood doubled up to the night long task of scooping water from the floor with a bucket and heaving it through the companionway.  All night long this work of bailing went on and the exertion, doubtless, prevented their perishing, as drenched to the skin, they had neither light, fire or food.  Fire -- yes, a match and dry handkerchief were found, as also a dry bit of lining in one of their coats, these were set on fire and as the little handful of cotton smouldered, it was passed from hand to hand - that was all.

God's ways are wonderful, and that little craft, now high upon the billow's crest, noe low down in the hollow of the sea, drifted safely through that awful sea that wrought havoc to the upperworks of great ocean going ships; and although with hatches gone, she was practically wide open, and with the weight of the accumulated ice, scarcely above the water level, no more water boarded her than one man could control with a bucket.

When Wednesday morning dawned, the companionway was so closed up with ice that it took considerable time and labor to enlarge it sufficiently to permit the passage of a man's body.  When at last the men, cramped drenched, cold and hungry, gained the deck, around them was the solitude of ocean, while between them and ocean's depth's was their tiny craft - a little ice-cake.  But they must work to keep up circulation.  They cleared away the tangle of frozen sails and broken booms. They pounded ice, freed the pump aft and soon had their boat free of water, but they still drifted helplessly to sea, so they waited, watched and prayed.  All day long they drifted to sea, all day long their weary eyes searched the horizon, but never once were they gladdened by the sight of sail or smoke.

Night came again and they betook themselves to their cramped quarters below, to trust in God, and take up the struggle against overpowering sleep, which under the circumstances meant death.  They tried to cheer each other, and in turn, gave false alarms to rouse from sleep and growing numbness.  Through the night the wind again freshened, but without matches they could not see the compass, and so could not tell its direction; but when, at last, that awful, endless night had merged into day, the faithful needle told them the wind was south, and they were on their homeward drift.  Home, that magic word with all its hallowed associations, brought new life.  The old staysail was dragged out and set as a spinnaker on the foremast; a course north was set, and with a cracking breeze that at times threatened the destruction of the sole remaining sail, the Hazel Maud, with the sturdy form of Fougere braced at the tiller, holding her true to her course, raced toward the land - what land?

As the day wore on to evening, the land they desired and sought became an object of anxiety.  There could now be no turning back .  They had no anchor.  They had no sail with which to work off an unfriendly landfall.  What reception awaited them ashore.  Some half sheltered beach where they might hope to drag their weary limbs through the surf to land, or one of the mighty granite cliffs that rise sheer as cathedral walls from the sea?  How they prayed that daylight might stand them, and that God might protect them in the supreme moment!

Through the day their aching eyes had seen land, where land there was none, and they shuddered at these indications of approaching collapse; but as the shades of evening fell a deeper gloom ahead caught their gaze, quickly it loomed up and took shape in its true proportions. It was land. It was "bleak Nova Scotia's unpromising strand" with a vengeance.  Close aboard to starboard and a little more remote over the port bow rose two solid granite headlands with the inevitable white line of angry surf at their base. Others and smaller specimens stepped quickly from that retaining wall of fog and the whole prospect  had a strangely familiar appearance.  Merciful Heaven! Was it Home? Or was it a vision conjured up by a disordered imagination!  No it must be true.  There is White Point - there is Big Dover Head, and there, most convincing of all, the bones of the ill-fated 'Cairn-craig' in their last resting place on Snorting Rocks.  It was land - it was home - it was heaven.

The course North had led them straight as an arrow; on it they barely squeezed past the treacherous foot of White Point, thrust out to trip them up at the last moment, past Moosy Island, past Hauling Head, and in the lee of the sheltering land they dropped down to Little Dover, and plugged the gallant little craft into the mud in a sheltered cove where the falling tide securely anchored her.  They dragged their weary swollen limbs up the beach to a hut occasionally occupied by a local trapper.  He was absent but there was bread, matches, dry wood and bedding. What more was wanted? That night they reveled in the joy of food warmth and sleep.

Think, dear readers.  Those men had snatched a hasty breakfast at three o'clock Tuesday morning and sailed for the fishing grounds, each man with a slice or two of bread in his pocket for a cold mid day lunch; think of Tuesday  with its hard work, and Tuesday night with its horrors; Wednesday and Wednesday night no less horrible than the preceeding; all day Thursday, and Thursday at dusk we leave them in the little hut for the first time breaking fast and feeling the friendly glow of warmth.

At home in Dover, three miles distant up the Bay, fathers, mothers and wives had given up hope; all the other missing men had been accounted for - although none as yet reached home. Friday morning came and Dover stirred again to life; men moved again in a half-hearted manner about their necessary work, for
                "Men must work while women weep
                Though storms be sudden and waters deep,
                And the harbour bar be moaning"

From Force of habit - hoping against hope - those men scanned the harbour and sea.  There was nothing afloat, nothing stirring.  Suddenly out of the clouds came a call, and the men stood alert as the name of "James Rhynold" sounded somewhere in the air. Again a great hoarse, distant voice spoke from somewhere calling for help.  What could it mean?  Men called to their neighbours in amazement, and stood alert and ready to act, but not knowing whither to turn.  Again the mysterious voice called pronouncing the name more clearly and all eyes turned to see the long lost craft in her strange rig creep out from behind Burnt Island with three men standing on her deck, one of them using the megaphone that had conveyed in so startling a manner the glorious news.  The imagination can best picture the scene that followed, - the race of the men down the harbour to the relief , - the joy of friends at home.

The telephone spread the joyful news that the long lost men were coming up the harbour, and with characteristic thoughtfulness and kindness, Dr. Hugh Ross of Hazel Hill, tendered his services free, and held himself in readiness to come if it was found on their arrival that the men needed medical attention, and later came when it was found that Fougere, who had born the brunt of the last day's work and had stood at the tiller throughout the day without chance of motion sufficient to stimulate circulation, had been badly frost bitten and his hands and feet much swollen.

This morning the 17th, the Church of St. Agnes at Dover was the scene of a memorable and edifying spectacle.  The people requested a solemn mass of thanksgiving and a general communion, and this morning this spontaneous outpouring of grateful hearts took pace in a way that made words of exhortation seem out of keeping.  The people felt they had a duty to perform and nobly they fulfilled it.  To the Communion rail came in a body every man from Dover that had been exposed that day, all save poor Fougere still confined to bed, and after them practically every communicant in the settlement. The total population is two hundred and forty, and one hundred received Holy Communion, and offered back to God the only gift worthy of his accesptance.

After Mass the people decided to erect on an eminence in view of the settlement and overlooking the sea, a large cross commemorative of the miraculous deliverance of the fishermen, and suggestive of their everlasting gratitude.

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