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50 - Friday The Thirteenth



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

The story I am about to relate happened back in the year 1951, on Friday, the 13th day of June.

Now a Friday which falls on the 13th is supposed to be an unlucky day, but it turned out to be a lucky one for me and my companion, as you will see.

The day in particular was a lovely day weather-wise, with the wind blowing a light breeze from the southwest, and the sun shining brightly. A perfect day for boating and what a day for going over across the harbour to a place called Broad-Cove to look for the favourite fish of the spring of the year - the Newfoundland "Two-eyed Beefsteak", commonly called caplin. Now all Newfoundlanders know what a delicious meal the caplin make when they first come in to spring. So we figured if we could get some, we would have it made.

By 2 o'clock in the afternoon we had readied our cast nets and dip nets, put on warm clothes and long rubber boots and headed for the punt, which was moored to one of the wharves. It was sturdy craft, about five or six years old, but she had been lying up on the beach for the past winter. Since she had been launched only a week earlier and was sort of "dried out". She would be wet enough before the day was through, but we new nothing of this at the time.

We crossed the harbour with the large sail baffling in the light breeze - our spirits high with thoughts of casting caplin. A perfect day, we thought.

When we finally arrived at the Cove where the little fish were supposed to be, there was none to be seen. We were a few days too early. Before heading back we rolled a cigarette out of good old "Target" tobacco, and lay back and got a smoke. By this time the wind had almost subsided. Although three was hardly enough for sailing, we kept the sail up.

We moved along slowly, I on the right gunwale of the boat, my buddy, at the sculling oar. About four hundred feet from the shore, the wind suddenly began to blow a gale. Before we knew what was happening a sudden gust hit us hard, and over went the boat, tossing me and my buddy in the water. My first reaction to the cold water was to shut my eyes tight. As I began to surface my head struck something hard. I dived deeper, swimming away from the boat. My lungs were bursting for air when I finally surfaced.

What I saw before me didn't look so good. There was the boat, turned over on her side, with the sail stretched across the water, and no sign of my buddy. It took me awhile to reach the boat as I still had my long rubbers on. When they get filled with water a person cannot make much of a hand at swimming. I caught hold and tried to get in, but she turned completely bottom up. As I crawled up and straddled her like a cowboy would a horse, my companion came to the surface. He was just about all in. I reached out my foot for him to grab and we were both in the water again. No sooner did we climb up again then we over-balanced her and into the water we went. We did this several times before we mastered the trick of keeping our balance and staying on the bottom of the boat.

Now we figured all was well and we would soon drift in to shore. It wasn't long before we realized the anchor had been thrown out when we capsized and we weren't moving. The question was what to do. We figured if the two of us swam for shore, one might get tired and grab the other, drowning both of us. We would make it okay if one could make it to shore and get help. so with this in mind I dived off the bottom of the boat, rubber boots and all, and started for shore.

The wind was blowing a stiff breeze. I bobbed up and down on the heavy waves. In the background I could hear the voice of my buddy calling out, "keep going, you can make it, keep going". In my own mind I thought that I could not because my legs were becoming awfully heavy. Fortunately I was able to slip one rubber boot off, then the other. This gave me more hope. Finally exhausted and beat out, I made it to shore, but there was no time to rest. Before me was a cliff about twenty feet high which continued along the beach. By the time I reached the top of the wall of sharp rocks three were cuts on my hands and feet. Before me there stood a house so I hurried over, stiff as a poker, and walked in. Thee were two children and their mother at home. One of the children, a boy, jumped on his bike and went to seek help. The woman gave me some warm dry clothes to put on, which I quickly did.

Before too long a crowd of men came in a truck and ran down toward the beach, where a small boat was pulled up. It wasn't long before they had my buddy in the warm kitchen, in warm blankets. He soon came to his senses. A doctor arrived, treated him and before long he was feeling okay.

Now, every year when the caplin come rolling on the beaches, I always think of the narrow escape we had. and every time a Friday falls on the thirteenth of the month I make sure that I don't go near the water, especially boating.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

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

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