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Caught in the Ice

44 - Caught in the Ice



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

It was winter and, of course, Chesley and I were just proud of being alive at this time of the year and at this age. You may ask, Why? Well, what are some of the most exciting and interesting things that accompany winter? Our glory and pride were the birds, and particularly the Newfoundland Saltwater duck. There birds are found around anywhere near the coast of Newfoundland.

Unfortunately, we could only get out birding on Saturdays, and sometimes, with our hearts out there, we would have to go in the woods cutting wood, or do some other job. However, when Saturdays finally rolled along, and we were not hitched on to our father's overalls, we spent every minute of the day on some exciting adventure.

Chesley (a very close relation of mine and my buddy) and I had high hopes for the coming Saturday as we walked home from school this particular Friday evening. It was very frosty and the air was filled with flying vapour. We knew quite well there would be plenty of birds flying next morning, and perhaps we'd see a few seals, because the ice was coming through Stag Harbour run.

Supper being over, we gathered in an old Store and loaded some shells, which, when fired, were more than just a pop. We did this to get a good kick (laugh) and perhaps darken our shoulder, but, nevertheless, we did kill more birds.

Both of us slept together that night in order to get up at three o'clock in the morning and make a quick start. With a few hours' sleep and a light breakfast, we headed for the other side of the run where our punt was hauled up. The usual thing for us to do was leave our boat here, instead of in the harbour, because if the ice came through the run on Friday, it made it impossible to get out from the harbour.

We arrived on the other side about an hour later, but it was 4.30 in the morning, and far from daylight. There wasn't any ice in sight so we decided to move up the run about a mile and an half and try out luck on Green Island. The outboard motor seemed to have the creeps on the way cutting out once in a while, but we did not have to use the oars.

With a second look we discovered that the ice was already below Green Island and moving out fast, but it was only loose, as yet. We decided to continue to the Island, and to our amazement we found that ducks were already there. After poking through the pans we finally managed to make the back of the Island on the side opposite from the birds, thinking to get a shot or two, but their searching eyes saw the punt. They swam around for a short time and then tried their wings, and almost came within gunshot. However, trigger-happy, we let drive. After the smoke cleared three birds lay dead in the water.

By this time the ice was well down the run and moving faster than we had realized. We decided to move about half a mile further down and land on the Look-out (an Island in the run). On our way we were held up in the ice and it was too thick to keep the motor going so if the oars could stand it, we didn't give a darn.

An hour later we landed on the island, and it suddenly came to me that we had not had a smoke since we left Green Island. With a package of Export baccy each, it wasn't too long before we were lying on the blackberry bushes having a few draws. It was during these idle moments that we missed a couple of shots. Our guns were below in the "gaze" and we, as usual, were up on a little hill not fifty feet away. A shot of ducks were coming straight for our decoys and we could do nothing but watch them. That chance was gone, and many other in the same way.

Now we were hungry. "How much food did we take with us?" I asked. "Have a guess", Chesley replied. I said I didn't have a clue. Anyway, I hadn't brought any. "Three date squares", he said, and that was not enough to keep a Jay alive. That's about all we thought about it until hunger closed in on us again.

The ice was still moving rapidly down the run and I saw it and said it Ches: "We'd better go up on the height of the Island and see what it looks like". We were so taken up with the excitement, that the ice, which was threatening and dangerous, was forgotten. "Oh", he said, "the ice is O.K. because it is loose, and we can easily push through it when the time comes for us to leave".

After a little argument we scaled the cliff, and soon had a perfect view of the ice. The pans were larger now than we had seen first and were rifting together and breaking up with the force of the ice and tide. We decided to leave as soon as we had things ready.

After inspecting the engine we found water in the carburetor and later it froze solid; it was useless to try to start the motor, Ches chucked it in the punt and we rowed to the edge of the ice. The boat reached there safely but now the tun was filled with the ice and we were in the only swatch of water to be seen anywhere. Moreover, the wind suddently shifted around to the west, thus driving the ice faster. The big question was; what were we going to do? Without any food it was useless to go back to the island and because of the cold icy wind there wasn't any shelter. We couldn't pick our way through the ice because it was a mixture of big and small "pans" closely packed and frozen together. We decided to shove the punt over the ice about half a mile; then we'd reach the shore, pull her up, and walk home.

It was two-thirty when we struck the "slob" that was running along by the edge of the ice. It was very difficult to make much progress through this; it was three to four feet thick and very heavy. After considerable effort we finally zig-zagged our way to the partially frozen together "pans" of ice. We then hauled our craft upon the ice and began our weary journey.

We not only had to haul our boat (which was 15 or 16 feet long) but our outboard motor, six birds, a grapple that almost weighed a ton, four gallons of oil, four paddles, a gaff, and may other things which would make it much heavier for two boys.

The ice was now moving out the run faster than before we started. After hauling for half an hour we didn't gain an inch because we drifted away from where we were heading. After working very hard our only hope looked slim. Moveover, we could not rest, and hunger was beginning to take over our fatigued bodies. If our attempt in reaching our goal proved unsuccessful we would be swept with the ice into the cold open Atlantic.

On the ice again, the difficulties and dangers were many and occurred very often. The ice was just remaining together; in fact, it was not hard enough for us to haul our punt over, and impossible to pick out way through it. The boat would sometimes jump from one "pan" to the other with a crash that I always dreaded. You'd swear she'd break in two or the ice would puncture a hole through the bottom, but boats built in Newfoundland do not break as easily as that. When it finally landed, through the partially frozen slob it would go; then it took ten or fifteen minutes to pull her out again. Sometimes this frozen stuff would take our weight but quite often we'd sink through to our knees, the water quickly freezing up, Tired and hungry, we couldn't haul very hard, but in this condition I pulled the "risings" clean from the punt.

We chose a place to land directly across from where we first started, but after in the ice for an hour or more, we drifted. So, nothing left to do, we tried to make the "last" point of land.

After a period of hard work and a painful silence, Ches asked me what time it was, in a toneless voice. It was half past five in the evening, thus making it exactly three hours since we started. Another danger still stared us in the face; this time in a different form. Located about in the centre of the run was a large black pole marking shallow ground and each time a "pan" of ice came in contact sit it, there was a thundering sound. Then in the next instant this "pan" was flying in the air. The ice that the punt was now being hauled over was swerving directly towards this obstacle. If the boat got hit by this pole, it would surely crush her, and then leave us helpless.

A few minutes later the pole was no more than ten feet away. With the punt on a good safe "pan", in case it hit the craft, we could do nothing but wait. Suddenly and without warning the "pan" rose from the icy water. We quickly shoved the punt from the opposite end and jumped down in the bottom and waited. A few seconds after the boat safely landed, the "pan" sank back into the water, missing us about six feet. We were very thankful that we came through this predicament alive.

To our amazement the ice suddenly changed course and created a large body of open water between the land and the main edge of ice. This lake of water was not more than one hundred feet from us and it filled our hearts with joy just to see it and know that, by just a little more effort, we would finally reach land.

Unfortunately there were things which we did not think about. The edge of ice was moving much more rapidly than the centre ice because of the tide moving out the run. by the time the boat was hauled over the remainder of ice, we were drifting out in the full force of the gale. Moreover, we had to row this distance with stomachs that hadn't digested a grain of food (except a date-square) since three o'clock the night before. It was not six o'clock and the sun was set below the horizon.

Somehow we managed to haul the punt over the rest of the ice and reach the long desired water. With our coats taken off and shirt-sleeves skinned up we headed her for the shore, and arrived there only to find that the water had fallen, thus making it impossible to get the boat to safety for the night. After a little blow I tied on the boat, and when I finished, a mouse caused me to turn around, and who should be there but a couple of friends who were looking for us.

Before the boat was on shore we got the boys to roll up a cigarette, and without a smoke so long I felt like chewing it up. Then we headed home with three birds apiece and left the rest to the boys.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

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

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