GRAND BANK, NL – Every February when gale-force winds blow, and bitter cold sends the seas crashing and freezing on the shoreline, memories go back to 1959 and 1966 and the men of the Blue Wave and Blue Mist – and to their wives and children waiting anxiously at home for their loved ones to return.
In the early 1950s the Bonavista Cold Storage Co. fresh fish plant at Grand Bank opened its doors, just as the days of the traditional schooner salt fishery were coming to an end.
Similar plants were already operational or would be built over the ensuing decade at Burin, Fortune, Ramea, Burgeo and Gaultois, followed in the 1960s with fresh-fish filleting plants opening at Harbour Breton and Marystown.
Workers were in big demand, both to man the growing number of trawlers and for employment in the onshore processing facilities.
For decades, men from smaller communities in Fortune Bay had helped crew the schooners fishing out of larger Burin Peninsula ports like Grand Bank, as well as fishing on the vessels out of Lunenburg and other Nova Scotia centres.
Thus, it was a natural transition for these experienced, deep-sea dory fishermen to switch to the newly arriving side trawlers, which were going to be used to catch the millions of pounds of different species of fish that would be needed to keep the plants working year-round.
Brunette Island and Femme, both in Fortune Bay, were two of the many communities resettled in the 1950s under the provincial government’s resettlement program. Most of the families from there moved to either Grand Bank or Fortune, and in some cases, brought their houses with them.
Many men found employment waiting for them on the trawlers, while others, both women and men, were readily hired at the fish-processing plants.
On Feb. 9, 1959, the ice-laden Grand Bank side trawler Blue Wave sank, carrying its 16-man crew to a watery grave.
Just seven years later, on Feb. 18, 1966, another Bonavista Cold Storage Co. steel trawler, Blue Mist, went to the bottom, claiming the lives of her 13-man crew.
The loss of the 29 men resulted in 98 dependents – widows and children – being left to face a very uncertain future. All but two of the men lived in Grand Bank or Fortune; 23 were from Grand Bank, four from Fortune and the other two from Creston.
Many of these families had moved into both Grand Bank and Fortune from Brunette and Femme just a few years before and in quite a few cases, the families were closely related.
The MT Blue Wave and the MT Blue Mist were the first steel side trawlers purchased by the Bonavista Cold Storage Co. They came from the United Kingdom and were designed for the North Sea fishery.
It didn’t take too many years before it became painfully obvious that these small 130-135-foot vessels could not stand up to the winter storms that lash the North Atlantic.
Lying low in the water, they were susceptible to “icing-up” as gale force winds whipped up heavy seas, sending tonnes of salt water crashing over the trawlers on the fishing grounds or as they butted their way to and from their home port.
They were not good sea boats and even in normal weather conditions both the Wave and the Mist were known to have “gone over on their beam’s end” – completely on one side in the sea.
When that happened, the engine would have to be immediately stopped to allow the vessel to right itself.
If you add a savage North Atlantic winter storm, coupled with a build-up of tonnes of ice, to the mix, it would prove to be disastrous.
Although these tragedies occurred nearly six decades ago, emotions and painful memories still resurface every year and the pain and loss carries into future generations.
In Part Two of “Remembering the Blue Wave and the Blue Mist” we will speak with four of the children of one man lost on the Blue Wave of some of the challenges they faced both in moving from Brunette to Fortune and losing their father at a very young age.
Allan Stoodley lives in Grand Bank. He was working at the Bonavista Cold Storage fish plant in 1959 when the Blue Wave was lost and reported on the tragedy for the Evening Telegram. He also covered the sinking of the Blue Mist for the paper and at the time and recalls “I could look out my window and see half a dozen homes with their blinds drawn.”
He can be reached at email@example.com and he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.