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from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961
It was in 1930, the depression had set in, and I was hardly twenty years old. I had worked all that winter and spring helping my uncle building a schooner, and in June we launched her . . . her name, the "Florence and Viola". Nice names, but we were in for some unpleasant adventures.
It wasn't much time since we launched the schooner, skippered by my uncle, Capt. A. L. Rowe, that we ran into our first trouble. We were sailing to St. John's with a load of lime stone, and we put in at Catalina because of a storm from the southeast. We lay there for two days . . . and the wind started to shift to the north. The barometer fell to a dangerously low level.
But Capt. Rowe didn't believe the barometer. He didn't think we get the kind of wind the instrument was predicting, so before dawn on the third day we set out . . . hoping to reach St. John's before it grew worse. With a good breeze, it would only be six hours.
But it was quite a different outlook when daybreak came, it brought with it a blinding snowstorm and gale force winds. Before long we were obliged to double reef her, for the weather was getting very rough for a vessel loaded deck to water with lime stone. After getting every thing reefed down we were doing very well. However, we were about off Cape St. Frances when our main boom broke in three pieces.
It was a long time before we got it on deck and lashed down. When we finally did, the Capt. ordered the reading of the log, which showed we were past Cape St. Frances.
Our Capt. by this time was in a difficult position. He had to decide whether he would run for the narrows or run up around Cape Spear and try and get in Bay Bulls. You see we were quite helpless without a mainsail. she would not come around in such bad weather.
Now, to run for the narrows and not make it, seemed to be certain death in such weather. On the other hand, the prospect of having to stay out in the storm all night wet, cold and hungry as we were, did not appeal to any of us very much.
Finally the Capt. gave the order to run for the narrows; with two men on the lookout we were on our way with the hope that we may pick up sound of the Fort Amherst horn before we ran ashore.
However, according to our log we soon had run the distance. Our Capt. said we should see land by this time, if we were on our course. But we ran on and on, keeping a good lookout for land as good as you could in that kind of a snow storm. You could scarcely see the length of the ship. Everyone was getting pretty uneasy when the man on the lookout called out "land ahead, hard down hard."
Now, we had a small engine in the schooner - only a twenty horse power, but of course this was going at full speed. The order came to come around. I think I am safe in saying that we all owe our life to that small motor for if it had failed to operate at that time, I don't think there was much chance for us to survive once we struck land. Anyway, the vessel came around and headed into mountainous seas. We did not have much headway, but by the help of foresail and motor we weathered the Lee Point.
Once around the point the Capt. gave orders to keep away enough to let the vessel range ahead - whatever happens. So on we went again not knowing where we were or what land fall we made. Our Capt. was getting worried by this time; we did not pick up sound of Fort Amherst horn - that bothered him quite a lot. We were getting cold and hungry by this time, and it looked like we were going to have a night out in the storm after all. But at least we were safe.
After we were running for what seemed a long time to us, someone thought they heard a horn. After a while we made sure it was a horn. We shut off the motor to make sure and to get the bearing. It was a horn alright - it was Cape Spear horn. Now we knew we made land. According to the look of the cliffs it must have been in Black Head Bay. The thing was to try and get back to St. John's. After we got clear we brought her to the wind and headed for the narrows once more. By this time it was getting late in the afternoon and we were getting the wind a little more from the northwest.
Shortly after dark the snow lighted and we saw the lights of St. John's Harbour. It was a welcome sight. It seemed to make it easier to get along. About 9 o'clock at night we anchored off Ayre and Sons' wharf, went below for a clean-up and a good cup of Red Rose tea. After that we put the boat out to go ashore and get the news from the watchman at Ayres. He was a good friend of ours. We used to dock there all the time.
The watchman told us that all the Water St. stores were closed for the day because the weather was too bad for the traffic to get through. At that we said we would take a look at the streets before we went aboard. When we got on Water St. the snow on the sidewalk was up to our knees in some places and at some of the shop windows the drifts were half way to the tops.
It was the scene of an old time winter in our outports. It was something I never expected to live long enough to see in a city like St. John's.
Such is a sailor's life, it has lots of hardships.
We had one more trying experience during the time I spent with Capt. Rowe. One fall he decided to take his daughter along to St. John's for the trip, so my sister wanted to go along too.
We left for St. John's and arrived there on time with quite a splendid trip. When we were loaded we put to sea again. I think it was Wednesday around noon. A beautiful day and fair wind, but that, too, was short lived.
By night fall the wind came from the southeast and heavy fog.
It remained that way for the remainder of the week and on Saturday evening the wind came from the east and grew to a gale. We were obliged to heave to. According to the log we were somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Freels. The Capt. would not take any chances on running for the Peckfort Island Horn in that kind of weather, in the night, so we rode out the gale until just before dawn.
On Sunday morning when the wind died down we shook out our reefs and got under way. But we did not get far before we ran into the teeth of a gale from the north, which was much heavier. The sea ran mountains high.
Now we were in the vicinity of the Funk Islands, and that's a dangerous place to heave to, so we had to run before the gale for hours under bare poles. When we were a safe distance from the rocks we brought her to again. We lost some of our deck cargo, mostly coal.
On Monday morning we again shook out our reefs and set the course for Cape Freels, Gull Island. About midnight we dropped anchors at Seldom and our two passengers were none the worse for their experience. they weren't even sea sick! I guess they were too much afraid to get sick!
This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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