Rocks Ahead: Wrecks, Res­cues and a Cof­fin Ship


Con­fed­er­a­tion was still cut­ting its milk teeth when I was a snot-nosed scholar in one of Joey’s brand new schools on Ran­dom Is­land. Of­ten, to while away the fi­nal hours of Fri­day af­ter­noon, the teacher as­signed a pop­u­lar “ busy work” ex­er­cise: “Draw a map of New­found­land and la­bel all the bays and capes.”

I knew the bays but I don’t re­mem­ber ever nam­ing all of the capes cor­rectly. Yet there was one cape I never missed — Cape Rac e . I re­mem­bered it be­cause of the nu­mer­ous ship­wrecks in its vicin­ity and be­cause, when he was a young sailor, my grand­fa­ther went over­board in that a re a w e a r i n g o n l y the worsted draw­ers his mother had knit­ted him be­fore he went to sea.

Safely sail­ing past Cape Race in nasty weather was, on a smaller scale, like round­ing Cape Horn. Not re­ally, I s’pose, but for some storm-tossed sea­men just a s fa­tal . In “Rocks Ahead,” author Frank Gal­gay, quot­ing an Evening Tele­gram story, tells of the loss of the Odiorne at Cape Race: “... the brig­an­tine F.H. Odiorne ... came to grief on the west side of the Cape.”

“Came to grief,” puts it mildly, or bib­li­cally, p’raps.

Con­fed­er­a­tion was chaw­ing with its sec­ond set of chop­pers when I was a high school stu­dent in Joey’s north­ern “city” — Labrador City. One of my bud­dies there was a guy from Saskatchewan. Un­like me, who as a boy had dreamed of be­ing a rootin’, tootin’ cow­boy and horsey-back rid­ing the prairies of Mon­tana, Al­berta, and across the border into Saskatchewan, I s’pose, he dreamed of see­ing an ocean. I reckon the generic ocean of his dreams was more like

the trop­i­cal Pa­cific than the capri­cious North At­lantic.

Most of the “ wrecks and res­cues” de­scribed in Gal­gay’s Rocks Ahead oc­curred in t h e Nor t h At lan t i c be­tween the years 1704 and 1944. He be­gins with the loss of the Anne [1704] and ends with the sink­ing of the SS Liv­ingston [1944]. The Anne struck an ice­berg; the Liv­ingston was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man U-boat.

Here’s a phrase to pon­der: It wasn’t bad enough ...

It wasn’t bad enough to be wrecked on the reefs of New­found­land’s in­hos­pitable coast­line, but of­ten­times sur­vivors who man­aged to reach shore found them­selves fur­ther ma­rooned at the base of mas­sive cliffs.

Con­sider Chap­ter 17’s ti­tle: SS Tolsby [1907] Wrecked Near Fresh­wa­ter Point. Sur­vivors Hauled Up Over Cliff.

Think of that ti­tle and read this: af­ter driv­ing ashore “... the crew hud­dled on the rugged strip of land be­tween the rag­ing sea and 500 foot cliffs.”

And this: “One at a time, each mem­ber of the crew was tied up with rope and pulled up — [Up the cliffs!] — to safety by the fish­er­men.”

It wasn’t bad enough to be ship­wrecked! En­durance and in­her­ent courage are al­ways spo­ken of in sto­ries of ship­wrecks. I can’t imag­ine my­self be­ing one of the brave but I ap­plaud those who in­stinc­tively act un­selfishly and ex­hibit heart­en­ing courage.

Men like Hed­ley Snook of For­tune. Dur­ing the wreck of the Vera B., Hed­ley vol­un­teered to be lashed to a lifebuoy and cast over­board on the chance that he’d wash ashore and then some­how rig a life­line to the ship. His cap­tain said no.

Hed­ley replied with a line — a life­line, of sorts — that should be stitched on a sam­pler and hung above the man­tel­piece: “It’s just as well to take the risk as stay here and per­ish in the rig­ging.”

The fi­nal chap­ters of Rocks Ahead re­count sto­ries of ships tor­pe­doed by Ger­man sub­marines. In pass­ing, Gal­gay men­tions the rail­way ferry Cari­bou sunk off Port aux Basque in 1942.

Like some of you, I’m fa­mil­iar with the Cari­bou. Ev­ery time I sat down at Granny’s kitchen ta­ble, hang­ing on the wall di­rectly across the oil­cloth was a pic­ture of the ill­fated Cari­bou, the solemn faces of some of the lost trim­ming the frame in oval in­sets like cameo brooches.

I’m not a boat — ship? — per­son. I don’t know the dif­fer­ence; I’m as­sum­ing there is one-be­tween a brig­an­tine and a schooner. I do know a fore­cas­tle — fo’c’s’le? — from a mizzen­mast.

But what about this item: a hogshead of wa­ter? Sounds unap­pe­tiz­ing.

Al­though I guessed bar­rel of some sort, nev­er­the­less, I looked it up. It is a bar­rel that con­tains over a cou­ple of hun­dred liters of wa­ter, or — some­times more invit­ing — wine. The word’s et­y­mol­ogy is un­cer­tain but it might stem from a Dutch cus­tom of brand­ing bar­rels with an ox head logo. An ox­head of wa­ter? Or wine? Thank you for read­ing.

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