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8 - A Great Sea Rescue



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

Terrence O'Haggerty wiped his wind-chapped hand across his eyes and peered anxiously through the rain-spattered window of his little home perched high on the hillside of Ferryland, overlooking the Atlantic shore.

"I'm nigh on twenty years settled here now" said he to his wife, "and I've never seen such a night of storm in all that time."

Ellen O'Haggerty paused momentarily in her knitting to regard her husband across the heated dog-iron which seemed to hold the crimson glow against the gusts of wind howling down the chimney into the open fireplace.

"It's a fearful night on land" said Ellen, "and much worst on the sea. May heaven protect the poor men who have to bear the brunt of this awful gale."

Terrence O'Haggerty stooped, picked up a birch log, and threw it into the fireplace. "Indeed she's right", he mused, "Few ships, if any, will survive the fury of this gale."

The wind continued to rise to hurricane fury involving land, sea and sky in a great confusion. The wind came howling down from the hill-tops rushed through the forest and raced along the shore-line, uprooting trees and breaking off chimney tops. Huge waves came rolling shoreward, sweeping away fish flakes and stages, and smashing into matchwood any other property within its mighty grasp.

"This storm will be felt in every part of the island" mused Terrence O'Haggerty. "It will sweep the shore of Newfoundland from the Straits of Belle Isle to the southern-most tip." He pressed his face close against the small window near his stool and continued to look out into the fury of the night. His thoughts went back over many years, to the days of his youth, when he stood on the shores of old Ireland and watched the foaming seas breaking upon her headlands. Suddenly he was wrenched from the past by what he saw.

"Come here, Ellen!" he shouted. "Come quickly. Heaven forbid if my eyes are deceiving me. Can you see a light moving up and down out there on the sea? And look, is that a distress signal just fired into the sky? It's moving up and down like the roll of the sea. If I'm right, that light can't be too far from the Isle of Buoys. The wind is blowing on the land tonight and the poor fellows won't have a chance if their ship hits the island. To make matters worse I doubt if we can do anything for them. The seas are running mountains high."

Ellen O'Haggerty wiped the moisture from the window with the corner of her apron and looked out. Presently they were joined by their son Michael and daughter Margaret, who strained their eyes to confirm what their father had almost shouted a minute before.

Margaret's sweetheart and prospective husband, Barney Finnigan, was at sea that night. What if he were on that very ship which even now was drifting onto the rocks as fast as the wind and sea could drive it. The anxiety grew stronger within her heart. Barney Finnigan was really on board that doomed ship and he would be lost to her forever.

There was a superstition among the colonists in those days that on the nights of great storms dead seamen would stalk the shores carrying lights intended to mislead ships to their destruction, so that their crews would perish as they themselves had.

If a corpse could rise from the dead, its face could not have been more pallid than Margaret O'Haggerty's as she watched the breaking seas, visualizing Barney Finnigan smashing against the jagged rocks of the Isle of Buoys.The thought of the inevitable tragedy overwhelmed her and she prayed to heaven to have mercy on the one she loved and to send him safely back to her.

To picture a ship being dashed to pieces is enough to upset the strongest of hearts. The roar of the wind and the strength of the sea is unimaginable. If the Storm King, of whom poets have written, had his throne upon the Isle of Buoys that stormy night he could not have chosen a more strategic place for a battle between a ship, the rocks and the sea. The waves came charging high up the face of the jagged cliff and fell back in confusion, only to be flung back again with all the fury of an ocean bent on destruction.

Terrence O'Haggarty in all his experience had never seen the like of it. This was a supreme moment and his manhood would be tested now as never before.

"Man against the sea," he said with grim determination, and turned from the window. "A rescue party will have to be organized to take the crew off that ship. Get my long boots and my heavy reefer, Ellen. There's no time to waste if those men are to be saved." Despite his family's protests, O'Haggerty set about his mission with a will to win, and soon he had many lanterns flashing along the shoreline.Out at sea, Captain Langley breathed a prayer of thanks that is distress signal had been seen on land.

But did these blazing lanterns really mean that Captain Langely and his crew would be rescued from a watery grave that stormy night? If not, if was no fault of Ferryland's, for at that moment fifty men strong and brave were hurrying toward the Island of Bouys. "Those men must be rescued," cried O'Haggerty, "or we'll die the death of heroes!"

The task that lay ahead of that skiff's crew was a herculean one, but they set out with courage and determination. "Settle down to it, boys," shouted O'Haggerty above the noise of the storm. "Swing your weight out of these oars, for every minute counts." With every ounce of strength at their command the men plier their oars and pulled towards the doomed ship while towering waves threatened to swamp their frail boat at any minute.

While the men in the rescue skiff strove to shorten the distance between them and the Isle of Bouys, the stricken ship continued to pound on the jagged rocks. At such a sight old Demon Derision might well have cried out with a loud voice "I'll swallow you up with a mighty sea." But what cared those hardy fishermen for the wrath of that storm? They were as much at ease on a storm-tossed ocean as they were on dry land, for ever since Cabot discovered Newfoundland, her fishermen have defied the fury of the sea to reap its harvest and to bring relief to those in distress.

The high seas continued to lash the grounded ship, tossing it in anger like a cork. In this great storm the ocean was stirred up from its very depths and buried the ship with every surge while her anxious crew remained lashed to the rigging, praying that rescue would come in time.

"Careful now, boys," shouted O'Haggerty as their boat neared the Isle of Bouys. "The seas along here are dangerous, and our skiff could easily be swamped." With extreme skill and courage, and with great personal risk, the men of that frail skiff managed to get near enough the stranded ship to take all the crew off, or so they thought. True to tradition, Captain Langely was the last man to leave the wave-swept deck of his ship and jump into the rescue boat.

The landward journey was even more perilous than the outward one, as the skiff was now deeply laden with men and could more easily be swamped by a treacherous sea. Despite the added dangers, they reached the beach safely and a roll call was hurriedly taken. One man, the cook, failed too answer his name. He must have suffered an injury and during the scramble to leave the ship his cry for help, if he did make such a cry, had passed unnoticed.

"We've got to finish the job, boys," said O'Haggerty. "That man must be rescued. I'll face the storm again, boys, if you'll join me".

"We're with you, O'Haggerty, twelve men strong" they shouted, and with renewed courage the skiff was launched and turned back to the surging sea for another journey to the wrecked ship. When the skill once more reached the side of the wave-swept ship O'Haggerty pulled himself on board amidst the swirling waters that covered the deck from stem to stern and tirelessly began searching for the missing man.

It was some minutes later when he reappeared at the ship's rail with the half-dead man flung across his shoulders. "I've found him, boys", he shouted above the roar of the storm. "Wait for the seas to break three times and then pull alongside and I'll make a jump for the skiff". Working as only a crew of well-trained seamen could, they manoeuvered the skiff into position, and when she reached the crest of a big wave O'Haggerty jumped with his burden and landed safely on board the skiff. "Pull for your lives, boys" he commanded. "If one of them growlers happens to hit us broadside, we're finished."

It might be supposed that their perils were now over, but not so. The gale blew with renewed fury. Without the slightest warning a great mountain of water rose beside them and thousands of tons of water came cascading down on that frail skiff, turning it bottom up and throwing all occupants into the angry sea. The moon driven like a tempest-tossed ship momentarily broke through the black clouds to light a scene which filled those waiting anxiously on the shore with horror. Clinging precariously to the keel of the wave-swept skiff was that crew of brave men who had twice risked their lives that others might live. Above the howl of the wind and pounding of the sea could be heard the commanding voice of Terrence O'Haggerty urging, "Hold fast men, and when the skiff drifts near shore strike out for yourselves. I'll look out for this poor fellow."

Divine Providence drove the skiff into the beach on the crest of a great wave, and all the crew were plucked from the sea by the strong hands of those on shore.

As O'Haggerty led the way up the path of his little home, he was met by the loving embrace of his wife and daughter. Turning to his daughter, he said softly, "Margaret, child you were right.Barney Finnigan was aboard that ship, but he's here now". With a glint in his eye, O'Haggerty added, "He's a bit of a wreck at the moment, but with a few day's care from your loving hands I believe he can be put back into shape again."

With hearts so strong, those men of brawn
Cared naught for the night of the storm
But to rescue those in direst need
Became their main concern.
"We'll do it now," OHaggerty cried
From the crest of the angry sea.
"When the skiff heaves in on the next big swell
We'll make it safely,
My boys,
We'll make it safely."



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

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

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