Keys to survival at sea: be prepared and keep cool
The recent survival of sealer, Rex Saunders, of St. Lunaire who survived on a pan of ice for two nights was nothing short of a miracle. His ability to keep his cool and not panic is the number one thing to do in a crisis.
It reminds me of the time I got in much the same situation, it happened in 1974, when I was living in Deer Lake.
I decided to have a day out sealing, so myself, my son David, who was only 14 at the time, and Norman Moss, Sr., a man whom I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with. We left Deer Lake on Friday evening with my 16-foot speedboat in tow and went to Brighton. We spent the night in the camper and got up next morning and went out on the water. The wind was light easterly blowing on land with loose ice. In the afternoon there was a string of ice pans moving in Long Tickle. We came in on the Brighton side of the ice but decided to go through the ice and look for seals on the other side. After traveling so far on that side, I saw the ice was very close to land and decided to make a run through to get to open water on the other side. Shortly after entering the ice, it struck land at a point called Pilley’s Head on Pilley’s Island and when ice is running on land it doesn’t take long to tighten up. As soon as that happened I ran the boat up on a pan of ice and was there all Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night. As soon as we got jammed in ice, my hunting partner who was much older than me, said, and I can still hear him now:“I knew this was going to happen some day.”
The reason for that statement was I am the type of person who goes the limit and sometimes you get caught. There are two reasons I am here today to tell the story.
The first is I had a small house on the boat, as I always had for the simple reason, if you are out on the ocean in bad weather you have a place of shelter and in this case it saved our lives.
The wind was easterly and cold and foggy. We spent most of our time in this space and had a small propane stove for cooking and heat.
By Sunday our food was scarce having left a loaf of bread in the camper, but we rationed it and thawed snow to make tea, the tea bags were scarce and boiled over many times.
On Sunday there were people out looking for us. We saw a longliner owned by Dick Lush of Triton trimming the edge of the ice, but they couldn’t see us because we were in under the land, and it was very foggy.
After dark Sunday night, the fog lifted and we could see some lights in Brighton, so I used a trick my grandfather taught me. I put a sausage can on the roof of the house with some gas in it and lit it and it burned like a candle. It wasn’t very long before we heard gunshots from Brighton. People were keeping watch and we knew we were seen, while there was nothing that could be done in the dark. There were no helicopters around in those days, but we knew there would be a rescue attempted in the morning.
We were getting worried by that time because the pressure on the ice was gradually breaking up on land and it was drifting closer to the shore. With a moderate sea on, we would have had trouble getting ashore and if we had we would not have anywhere to go because of the high icy cliffs.