BY HAROLD N. WALTERS
Confederation was still cutting its milk teeth when I was a snot-nosed scholar in one of Joey’s brand new schools on Random Island. Often, to while away the final hours of Friday afternoon, the teacher assigned a popular ‘busy work’ exercise: ‘Draw a map of Newfoundland and label all the bays and capes’.
I knew the bays but I don’t remember ever naming all of the capes correctly. Yet there was one cape I never missed – Cape Race.
I remembered it because of the numerous shipwrecks in its vicinity and because, when he was a young sailor, my grandfather went overboard in that area wearing only the worsted drawers his mother had knitted him before he went to sea.
Safely sailing past Cape Race in nasty weather was, on a smaller scale, like rounding Cape Horn. Not really, I s’pose, but for some storm-tossed seamen just as fatal.
In ‘Rocks Ahead’ Frank Galgay, quoting an Evening Telegram story, tells of the loss of the ‘Odiorne’ at Cape Race: ‘… the brigantine F.H. Odiorne … came to grief on the west side of the Cape’.
‘Came to grief’, puts it mildly, or biblically, p’raps.
Confederation was chawing with its second set of choppers when I was a high school student in Joey’s northern ‘city’ – Labrador City. One of my buddies there was a guy from Saskatchewan.
Unlike me, who as a boy had dreamed of being a rootin’, tootin’ cowboy and horsey-back riding the prairies of Montana, Alberta and across the border into Saskatchewan, I s’pose, he dreamed of seeing an ocean. I reckon the generic ocean of his dreams was more like the tropical Pacific than the capricious North Atlantic.
Most of the ‘wrecks and rescues’ described in Galgay’s Rocks Ahead occurred in the North Atlantic between the years 1704 and 1944. He begins with the loss of the ‘Anne’ (1704) and ends with the sinking of the ‘S.S. Livingston’ (1944).
The Anne struck an iceberg; a German U-boat torpedoed the Livingston.
Here’s a phrase to ponder: ‘It wasn’t bad enough …’
It wasn’t bad enough to be wrecked on the reefs of Newfoundland’s inhospitable coastline, but oftentimes survivors who managed to reach shore found themselves further marooned at the base of massive cliffs.
Consider Chapter 17’s title: ‘S.S. Tolsby (1907) Wrecked Near Freshwater Point. Survivors Hauled Up Over Cliff’.
Think of that title and read this: after driving ashore “…the crew huddled on the rugged strip of land between the raging sea and 500 foot cliffs.”
And this: “One at a time, each member of the crew was tied up with rope and pulled up – (Up the cliffs!) – to safety by the fishermen.”
It wasn’t bad enough to be shipwrecked!
Endurance and inherent courage are always spoken of in stories of shipwrecks. I can’t imagine myself being one of the brave but I applaud those who instinctively act unselfishly and exhibit heartening courage.
Men like Hedley Snook of Fortune.
During the wreck of the ‘Vera B.’, Hedley volunteered to be lashed to a lifebuoy and cast overboard on the chance he’d wash ashore and then somehow rig a lifeline to the ship.
His captain said “No.”
Hedley replied with a line – a Lifeline of sorts – that should be stitched on a sampler and hung above the mantelpiece: “It’s just as well to take the risk as stay here and perish in the rigging.”
The final chapters of Rocks Ahead recount stories of ships torpedoed by German submarines. In passing, Galgay mentioned the railway ferry ‘Caribou’, sunk off Port aux Basques in 1942.
Like some of you, I’m familiar with the Caribou. Every time I sat down at Granny’s kitchen table, hanging on the wall directly across the oilcloth was a picture of the ill-fated Caribou, the solemn faces of some of the lost trimming the frame in oval insets like cameo brooches.
I’m not a boat – ship? – person. I don’t know the difference – I’m assuming there is one – between a brigantine and a schooner. I do know a forecastle – fo’c’s’le? – from a mizzenmast.
But what about this item: a ‘hogshead of water’? Sounds unappetizing.
Although I guessed barrel of some sort, nevertheless, I looked it up. It is a barrel that contains over a couple of hundred liters of water, or – sometimes more inviting – wine.
The word’s etymology is uncertain but it might stem from a Dutch custom of branding barrels with an ox head logo.
An oxhead of water? Or wine?
Thank you for reading.