Save The Kyle
Woman sending S.O.S to save Bulldog of the North
Sailing S.S. Kyle out Harbour Grace harbour would be about as far fetched as refloating Titanic.
Accepting that cold, hard fact, Libby Earle DePiero would settle for having the old “Bulldog of the North” preserved in some form where she has been resting on a mussel bed in Riverhead for the past 45 years.
For the past three years, Earle DePiero has been returning from West Haven, Connecticut, where she resides with her husband, Brian DePiero, to stage her annual “Swim the Kyle.”
The purpose of the event is to focus public attention on what she believes is a growing urgency to preserve the 99year-old ship before it is claimed by the elements.
Close to 200 spectators, the largest turnout to date, lined Stapleton’s Beach Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9 to watch Earle DePiero swim out to the Kyle, touch its bough and swim back to shore. A zodiac from the Harbour Grace fire brigade’s cold water rescue team kept an eye on the swimmer.
Arms raised as she waded ashore after her swim, Earle DePiero shouted, “save The Kyle” before the cheering crowd.
Smokeroom on Kyle
After the swim, well-known Newfoundland musician and storyteller Kelly Russell boarded the ship and recited “The Smokeroom on The Kyle.” The epic recitation composed by his father, the late Ted Russell of Coley’s Point, was inspired by a room by that name on The Kyle. From the shoreline, people could hear the recitation coming through remote speakers set up on shore.
Although his father had travelled on The Kyle when she was in the coastal service, Sunday marked the younger Russell’s first time on board
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Russell told The Compass. Having performed the recitation so many times, he said he often wondered what it would be like to be on The Kyle. “Now I can say I have been — it’s something I always wanted to do.”
While the swim and recitation were taking place, Riverhead writer Pat Collins was signing copies of his latest book, “The Spirit of The Kyle,” at the nearby Kearney Tourist Chalet.
Meanwhile, back on shore after her swim, Earle DePiero told The Compass her concern for the fate of The Kyle grows every time she lays eyes on the aging ship.
ABOUT THE KYLE
• Oct. 8, 1912 — keel laid for S.S. Kyle at Newcastle upon Tyne, Englan; • builders — Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. • April 17, 1913 — begins maiden voyage across Atlantic; • May 20, 1913 — arrives St. John’s, became part of Reid Newfoundland Company’s Alphabet Fleet; • Some features — extra thick steel hull for icebreaking earned her the nickname “Bulldog of the North;” also known as last of the coal burners, as last vessel to use coal to power engines; • Years of service —52 (1913-’65); • uses — passengers, mail, medical services, fishing and sealing industries; • speed — up to 12 knots, fastest of the Alphabet Fleet; • 1914 — transported Newfoundland and Canadian troops preparing for battle in the First World War; • 1915 — became Newfoundland’s first scheduled ferry on Gulf run between Port aux Basques and North Sydney; • operated as a coastal vessel between Newfoundland and Labrador under Commission Government (1932-49); • 1949 — Canadian National Railways purchases Kyle and reassigns her to Gulf ferry service; • 1958 – sold to Shaw Steamships Co. Ltd., Halifax, renamed Arctic Eagle, painted green; • 1961 – Capt. Guy Earle, Earle Brothers Fisheries of Carbonear, purchased ship for $100,000; • Spring, 1965 — damaged by iceberg while at seal fishery at the Front; • Feb. 4, 1967 — broke from moorings in Harbour Grace Harbour and drifted into Riverhead; • 1972 — provincial government buys Kyle for $4,000; • 1997 — federal and provincial governments paint Kyle her original colors, black, white and canary yellow at a cost of $120,000; • 1997-present —poses for tourists to have photos taken in front of her.
Looking at the rusting hull, she said, “every year when I come back I see a little more deterioration — no one is taking care of it. It breaks my heart to see the way she is.”
Earle DePiero also has a personal connection and interest in the onceproud ship.
Describing The Kyle as her late father’s “pride and joy,” she said: “I’m swimming out here in memory of my dad (Capt. Guy Earle) and for all sea captains and fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Capt. Guy Earle of Carbonear skippered the Kyle during her final trips to the ice floes to prosecute the annual seal fishery in the mid-1960s. On her final voyage to the Front in 1965 the Kyle was damaged in heavy ice and returned to port in Carbonear with a list. She was moored in Harbour Grace harbor until Feb. 4, 1967 when she broke her moorings in a windstorm and ended up in Riverhead, where she remains.
Earle DePiero says she wants to help raise awareness of the importance of what the Kyle’s history means to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
She says she first got the idea to “swim the Kyle” from a guy who swims Long Island Sound from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Long Island, New York to help raise money for cancer research.
“So why not swim The Kyle, I thought?”
Her husband, Brian, also thought it was a good idea and got involved with the project in 2007.
It’s been 15 years since any public money was spent on the ship. That’s when the feds and the province spent some $120,000 of taxpayers’ money to paint the vessel for the Cabot 500 celebrations in 1997.
DePiero acknowledges it would take millions of dollars to restore The Kyle. He also admits citizens do not have the appetite to have their tax dollars spent on such restoration projects.
“A lot of Newfoundlanders would rather see public money going into streets and whatever. But if we could raise the money on our own … it’s a piece of history — that’s the way I look at it,” he said.