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15 - They Survived Hurricane Betsy



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

Charlie Marryatt went into the pilot house of the Angela B. Mills on Friday morning, August 17, 1957. He seemed worried, because all the fishing boats which were with them had heard on the radio the warning about 'Hurricane Betsy' which was coming up the New England coast. He talked it over with Captain Harold Henneberry, a 41-year-old veteran of the Grand Banks, and decided to take a chance that the storm would pass them by. They were on the southwest corner of the Grand Banks about 240 miles from the nearest land. All the boys aboard wanted to stay and fish.

The weather was fine, the sea calm, and there was scarcely a cloud in the sky. Charlie Burke of Louisburg, N.S. went aloft to look for fish and later the whole crew started to watch from a spar about sixty feet high with a cross tree on which the crew sits. From there they could see the fins of the swordfish cut the surface. they would run the boat full speed until the harpoon could strike the fish, then one of the crew would get in the dory and pull the harpoon until the fish was dead, a chore of about three hours. They got fourteen fish that day, and as a result they were so busy that they made little headway towards land.

They had just headed towards land, when they got another weather report. The hurricane was getting nearer. If they kept going they would run into the middle of it so they decided to stop, they were all a bit jittery. On August 18 a stiff breeze was blowing from the south. They pounded off to windward to try and get outside the hurricane. About 11.30 that night it was raining hard and blowing about 25 miles per hour. The crew went to sleep. Not long after, Charlie Marryatt wakened the boys with a yell that the ship was sinking. The boys worked the deck pump while the captain tried to get at the pumps in the engine room, but the water was already halfway up the engines and he could only get one pump going.

He tried to phone but the line was dead; he tried calling that the Angela B. Mills was sinking on the end of the Grand Banks, but he knew no one would heard him. The lights were getting dim as the water crept over the batteries. At last they had nothing but a flashlight and couldn't get the other pumps working. Some supplies were piled in the dories along with some water which was half salt from the rolling sea. At this point Charlie lost the flashlight and they were left in darkness. They had some canned goods, two loaves of bread, a carton of cigarettes, 11 quarts of whisky, a handful of matches, a pistol and bullets and a couple of blankets.

The boys in the dories were yelling to jump as the boat was sinking fast. They tied a rope to the sinking vessel and then tied all their dories to this rope, one behind the other. Melvin Gray looked at his watch. It was 3 a.m. and here they were in dories about 250 miles from land.

After daylight the wind howled to the north; it blew really hard, so they untied the dories from the stern of the vessel and tied themselves together forming a T. Three swordfish went by and came back for a second look. Towards sunset they decided to head for land. The captain and Roy Marryatt were in one dory, Charlie Burke and Melvin Gray were in another, and Keith Gray, Charlie and Herb Marryatt, brothers, were in the third. There was only one set of oars for each dory, so they secured them with ropes. It was not long before the vessel faded from sight. Many had lumps in their throats and a tear or two in their eyes.

She was a $30,000 loss without insurance, but at the time money was the least of their worries. Through the first night they bucked a northerly wind, but next morning it changed to southeast and helped them along. It was cold, rainy and foggy. They were all soaked to the skin and the waves were so high they could hardly row. Keith Gray asked how long it would take them to row to land. About five or six days, the captain replied. He knew it would take longer but did not want to worry him. Keith had enough on his mind. He kept thinking about his wife who was going to have a baby, which he found out later was a girl. Each man would row for a while and the others would rest and keep the dories bailed out. They were shipping lots of sea.

On Tuesday morning, August 21, Charlie Marryatt rigged up a sail, using a blanket, a seat board and some fish galls. It was crude but it worked. Herb Marryatt's trench coat provided a second sail. They got along fine that day, but by nightfall it was so cold that they had to take down the sails to keep them warm.

That night something happened to the captain's eye. He was seeing double, for he had gone without sleep for two nights. After a drink of whisky and short nap he felt better.

Wednesday the wind howled to the northwest and forced them to row too much eastward. The boys didn't like this and complained they would never find land. In the afternoon the fog lifted, and the sun peeped through. They took off their clothes to dry but within an hour it was raining and they had to put their wet clothes on again. A small whale gave them a fright by following them for hours. Just two years before they'd heard of a whale knocking a fisherman ten feet in the air and smashing his boat. They tried to keep up their spirits by talking of all kinds of little things. "Our sons will never know what we look like," Roy said.

That night, Charlie Marryatt, who was in the lead dory, yelled that he could see lights. Sure enough there were two boats. They nearly tore themselves to pieces trying to get abreast of the ships, blowing the horn and yelling. But they had no light and the ships never saw them.

That evening the wind swung around to the east and blew so hard they couldn't keep up the blanket for a sail. It was too stormy even to row. The dories half-filled with water and the oars were whipped from their hands. The winds thirty miles an hour, maybe more. Two of the boys sat huddled with a blanket pulled over the stern to ward off some of the water as they bailed out the rest. They had to do this all night.

Friday the 24th they had to row to keep warm. Keith was thinking of his wife and wondering if he would ever see her again. Everyone said all the prayers he knew and together they sang hymns. By now they were all hungry and thirsty, and the bird they shot that day didn't go far toward filling them. Later that day a shark about twenty-five feet long followed their boat, but they chased it with their oars as they had the whale.

Everyone was losing hope of ever seeing land again. Most thought of food and water; some wondered if they would ever make it. Charlie Burke was so cold his voice was just a rasp. Charlie Marryatt had salt water boils on his arms. Roy had a sore arm, and their legs were chafed from sitting on the dory seat, but they had to keep moving.

About eight o'clock that morning they saw a plane, but it did not see them. At last the rain stopped. Some of the boys lay down and wanted to stay there. The captain was going to nail his wallet to the dory, but he knew if he did they would all give up.

Saturday, August 25th the sky cleared. They sighted a liner on the horizon, but had nothing to signal with and she went by. As soon as dawn came the captain began to look shoreward, but when he shouted "land!" several of the crew just lay there and didn't even try to see.

A few hours later they saw the cliffs of Newfoundland. Everyone began to feel better. We're going to make it, they said. They cut their dories apart and drank their last can of milk. It was then 6 a.m.

At 2 p.m. it looked as if the fog was going to shut down on them before they could make shore, but they saw a fishing boat and rowed towards it, blowing their horn. Luck was with them after so many disappointments. The boat turned around and headed towards them. Allan Sutton, John Penney and Lyl Sutton got them aboard their fishing boat and gave them some hot tea and a meal, which they said was the best they'd ever tasted.

They were safe, seven and a half days from the time their vessel sank off the Grand Banks. They had rowed about 300 miles. The fog shut down once more, but now they didn't care. Betsy had won the Angela B. Mills, but their ordeal was over and they were going home.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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