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Wreck of a Bonavista Bay Workhorse




by Robert C. Parsons
"NF Shipwrecks on the Web"

By the 1950s many of the old wooden schooners were disappearing from Bonavista Bay. Those lost or wrecked were not replaced, owners of small shipyards deemed it uneconomical to build the out-moded schooner, and several vessels that were beached or sunk near wharves were never repaired or refloated.

On December 6, 1950, a well-known schooner and an old workhorse of Bonavista Bay, Athlete II, while carrying coal and food to Bonavista Bay ports, was wrecked on Offer Gooseberry Island. (Offer Gooseberry Island is located about ten miles from the eastern end of Cottle Island, Bonavista Bay.)

Schooners like M.V. Athlete II, powered by an engine by the 1950s, were in the coasting trade. They brought food, dry goods, coal, and general supplies from larger centres to smaller towns, generally from St. John's to Bonavista Bay communities.

The first owner of Athlete II, Captain Ernest Burry of Safe Harbour had been in the coasting trade for years; in fact in 1932 he was the last to see the ill-fated Stanley Parsons, as both ships were headed north from St. John's. Stanley Parsons, a freighting schooner from Lush's Bight near Bay of Islands, disappeared while en route to Little Bay Islands in November 1932. (See endnote for the crew list of Stanley Parsons)

Early in her career owner and Captain Ernest Burry skippered Athlete II, and by the late 1940s his son John Burry had taken command. However, on the night Athlete II was lost these Bonavista Bay men were crew:

Captain Carson Attwood, Safe Harbour engineer Ronald Barbour, Safe Harbour Ron Janes, Safe Harbour Jim Sturge, Safe Harbour Walter Pope, Pool's Island Ellis Rodgers, Pool's Island

On Athlete II's final voyage, in the evening of December 6, 1950, all had gone well until she reached Bonavista Bay. In the darkness, navigation was hampered by a dense fog which obliterated all lights in the area. As Captain Attwood steered for Greenspond, Bonavista Bay, he had no beacons or lights to guide him. Without warning, the one hundred thirty-two ton Athlete II piled into rocks near the Offer Gooseberry Island and sank almost immediately.

The crew barely had time to throw the dory over the side and to abandon ship before Athlete II sank. Seaman Walter Pope of Pool's Island was struck by an oil cask that floated off the deck and he sustained severe bruises in the abdomen. Pope, in addition to his injury, lost eighty dollars in cash which was in his wallet in the forecastle. The schooner broke up and sank so quickly he was unable to get below to retrieve his belongings.

Ron Barbour was in the engine room and had just reached the deck when the hatch to the engine room was blocked tight by a barrel of apples that floated from the ship's hole. A few minutes more and he would not have been able to reach the safety of the deck. None of the crew saved any clothes or personal effects.

Athlete II sank about 8:30 pm and after rowing four and a half hours in a dory in dense fog, the crew reached Dock Cove at St. Brendan's on Cottel Island about midnight. During the time they were there, the crew was well cared for. Ron Barbour recalled staying with a St. Brendan's family who had several small children, but despite crowded conditions, they willingly found room for a shipwrecked seaman. Barbour (now deceased), in later years, could not remember the name of that family, but he always felt a dept of gratitude toward them.

Within a day or so the crew joined S.S. Glencoe for their homes at Safe Harbour and Pool's Island. Although they did not know it at the time, the coasting schooner Tishy, owned and commanded by Captain William Blackmore of St. John's, came to grief on Smart Island at the entrance to Shambler's Cove near Greenspond, Bonavista Bay, on the same night Athlete II was lost, December 6, 1950.

The loss of these coasting vessels had a direct effect on coal supplies on certain towns on the northeast coast and Bonavista Bay. By December of 1950, for example, National Stores of Wesleyville and Bown & Company, Badger's Quay expected a cargo of two hundred ton. In contrast Fishermen's Protective Union Limited store at Valleyfield had had a large stock in October, but fall sales dwindled the supply leaving some Bonavista Bay families with a fuel shortage.

In addition to the loss of her coal cargo, many of the crew of Athlete II had winter food and clothing aboard for their own families. Each household would have extra burdens that winter.

Endnote: those who disappeared on the schooner Stanley Parsons, lost December 6-12, 1932, were all from Lush's Bight, Long Island, Notre Dame Bay. This ship, bound from St. John's to Long Island with food and general cargo, was last seen on December 5 off Catalina by Captain Ernest Burry in the Athlete II.

Crew of the "Stanley Parsons":

Captain/owner Sidney Parsons, married with four children; mate James Maye, age fifty-one, married with four children, three girls and a boy; cook Uriah Miller, married with six children; the deckhands were all single, Cecil Hollett, age twenty;

Thomas Caravan, twenty-five; his brother Wesley Caravan, age nineteen; Alwin Parsons, the passenger, had a business in Lush's Bight and came to St. John's to buy winter provisions for his store. He had a trip back home on Stanley Parsons. He was married with two children.

Anyone with further information, corrections, or photos is welcome to contact the author by e-mail or by writing 32 Pearson Place, Grand Banks.

This article was provided by:
Robert Parsons, Marine Historian

His website is: NF Shipwrecks on the Web



This page Contributed February 16th, 2000 by Robert Parsons

Page Revised: October - 2016 (Kevin Reddigan)

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