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.


• 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.

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