fishermen all gathered on this unusually fine morning at the fishing wharves
and plants, in high hopes of a good fishing day not realizing the tragedy
that would befall them before they would get back to those wharves and
their homes that night. That is those who did return on that fateful day.
Never to be forgotten by the fishing folk of the South Shore of Nova Scotia,
White Head was the hardest hit.
The time was 9:00. In that time the fishing vessels had no engines, and
were wholly dependent on sail and of course with sails, you must have
wind. Now a days the calmer the wind is the happier the fishermen are,
as it is all motor power anyway.
In the old days, when it would be stark calm, such as the morning of the
blizzard, the boys would have their chins hanging to their knees, as that
meant towing the vessel to the fishing ground with the dories. Now if
you can think of the hardest job you ever did as a laborer you would need
twice the energy and stamina to get ahead of a vessel in a dory, tow her
ten to fifteen miles to the fishing ground, then haul trawl all day in
the dory and possibly tow part the way back to harbor, or maybe all of
At the time of the blizzard there were about 30 sail of schooners and
vessels out of White Head (150 mi.) and of course, all hands had to tow
to the fishing ground that morning. Like in any fleet of schooners there
were some very fine new schooners, well rigged, and of course there were
some very old ones quite shoddily rigged.
About 8:00 am that morning, little puffs of wind were hitting across the
water from the SE and very dull and heavy overhead. The barometer was
28. The older men realized what this could mean. It could mean heavy snow
from the SE as a "Nar, Wester", which with the barometer this
low would be a real "ten toasty".
The "Nar Wester" hit with gale force around 9:00 am. The sky
darkened, as though night was coming. Pa said you could hear the roar
of the wind like thunder, even before it hit. The dories were all out
away from the schooners hauling trawl, and the schooners would have just
the one man aboard, the skipper. The skippers would have to get to the
sail halyards and let the sails run down, put in reefs and raise a minimum
of sail, to handle the boats. It was now spitting snow, so the schooner's
dropped to leeward of the dories as fast as they could, and dropped down
along side the vessels laying to leeward. In most cases the men got on
deck out of the dories and let them go, as they would be smashed up.
I think that there were only two schooners returned to the harbor that
night. One was Mr. Bill Digdon. He beat his vessel up the harbor, and
ran her on the beach in front of his house, and never went haddocking
again. The other was _______.
The next morning was
a gloomy one in White Head. Where the ground had been bare the morning
before, the snow was now waist deep. The women, and old men, too old for
winter fishing, gathered in groups at the different houses.
The fish merchant Mr. Wells, Grandfather Ned, and Uncle Joe came to our
house. Uncle Joe said, "Well Ned there's nothing in the cove now,
but the buoys on the boat moorings."
Alongside the schooner before the men could get them aboard the fight
for life began. The land and home lay many miles to windward, and the
storm now at gale force with snow, sleet and wind kept coming at the fleet
of small vessels and schooners like an angry beast. The men would have
to stay on deck to watch the sails and rigging, as one bad move by the
helmsmen could strip the masts and sails off any vessel. A lot of the
schooners had lost sails and had busted stays when the wind first hit.
Uncle Alden, my father's brother, had a very old schooner of only about
10 or 11 tons and the rigging were not strong enough to weather anything
like this. She wasn't much of a boat anyhow. If you put masts and rigging
on a wash tub you would have about the same thing. Uncle Alden and his
crew never arrived in home until the fifth day after the blizzard. When
the storm struck, he was fortunate and got his dories aboard which were
broken up after and washed over board but the men were safe in the meantime
anyhow. While drifting under bare poles - he had lowered all sail to conserve
them, and let them lay loose and the flapping of them kept the spray and
snow from freezing them into solid chunks. As I was saying, while drifting
under bare poles, they saw a vessel to leeward that had been dismasted,
wallowing in the sea. The masts tearing out decking, she was quickly filling
with water. The men were bailing frantically; knowing their end was minutes
away. When they saw Uncle Alden's boat the "Sea Flea" coming
down toward them, they dropped their buckets and waved frantically. The
"Sea Flea" came right down along side; a rope was put aboard,
and the men taken off, 5 of them. Just as the last man got off the derelict
schooner she sank, a sigh of "God have mercy on us" went up
from all on board the "Sea Flea". Three days later, after drifting
hundreds of miles before the gale, the wind moderated, and hauled the
"Sea Flea", so they hoisted the sails and was homeward bound.
A steam ship, which had been sent from Halifax to hunt up missing boats,
sighted them that evening, came up and put a line aboard them. They took
the big line from the steamer, and took turns on the windless foremast
and main mast. By this time it was dark, Uncle Alden signaled with a lantern
to the ship that he was being towed fast enough. When the water started
running down the deck from the hawse pipes, he gave the signal.
The next afternoon they sailed into White Head astern of the steamer.
The folk of White Head could hardly believe what they saw. The only one
person who had not given them up for lost was my father, Uncle Alden's
brother. That family understood boats and weather, like a mother understands