Surviving drama at sea
Lorne Jolliffe and his crew watched helplessly as Ocean Negotiator slipped below the surface
Lorne Jolliffe spent much of the morning on May 23 with a phone to his ear, talking with an insurance agent, marine transportation experts and doing media interviews. He would have much preferred to be fishing. But the Old Perlican resident now has a big problem. He doesn’t have a boat.
The 37-year-old harvester and his three crewmen watched helplessly on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 22 from the wheelhouse of another vessel as the 50-foot Ocean Negotiator filled with water and sank about 45 miles (72 kilometres) east of Bay de Verde Head.
Some 24 hours later, Lorne was still in a daze, trying to process how things could go so bad, so quickly. But he was also expressing relief that there were no injuries or loss of life, and offering praise for those who promptly came to the aid of his crew and their stricken vessel.
“I’m just happy it went so good and nobody got hurt,” Lorne told The Compass during a phone interview. “We all escaped without a scratch or a bruise.”
The Negotiator was making its way back to port in Bay de Verde Wednesday morning when the engine started “grumbling,” Lorne explained.
He called Coast Guard shortly after 9 a.m., requesting a tow, and later made contact with another vessel fishing several miles away, The Jennifer Tyler, which is owned by Carl Coish of Bay de Verde.
Coish agreed to take the Negotiator in tow, and asked if he had time to finish hauling some gear. At the time, the situation seemed manageable, so Lorne told his fellow skipper there was time.
But within minutes, the bilge alarm sounded, and when a crewmember looked into the engine compartment, he saw it was quickly filling with seawater. The crew pressed an auxiliary pump into action, but it was unable to handle the volume of water, and then the generator went silent.
That’s when Lorne ordered his crew to don survival suits and prepare the emergency raft.
He also radioed the Tyler. The situation had become dire, and they were in immediate need of help.
Luckily, the seas were relatively calm, the sun was shining and their emergency evacuation skills were well-honed. They calmly stepped from the deck of the Negotiator and into the raft, and later onto the deck of the Tyler. Nobody even got wet.
The incident was captured by a photographer onboard a circling search and rescue aircraft.
“It all went like clockwork,” said Lorne, who co-owns the enterprise with his father, Stan Jolliffe.
Once onboard the Tyler, Lorne and his crew continued to hold out hope that the pumps would keep running, and the Negotiator would be saved. But by about 2 p.m., all hope faded. The white vessel with green trim continued to settle down in the water, stern first. She then took a starboard list and slipped below, with only a small portion of the bow bobbing above the surface, a pocket of air in the forecastle preventing her from going to the bottom.
“I was there in a daze, looking, watching my livelihood go down,” Lorne said. They finally made the decision to head back to Bay de Verde, arriving in port at about 10 p.m. Wednesday, greeted by relieved family members and friends.
When asked what might have happened, Lorne said he had several theories, but couldn’t be sure. He said there were no signs of trouble up to that point.
“Something major let go,” he offered.
Meanwhile, the Jolliffe’s have some big decisions to make, but there’s no question about whether they will be back on the water.
Lorne said many generations of his family have earned a living from the fishery, and he’s not about to give up. “I’ll be back at it,” he stated. One of the first orders of business will be how to harvest the remainder of their crab quota. Lorne said it was only their third or fourth trip of the season, and roughly one-quarter of the quota had been landed.
As for the Negotiator, Lorne is not the nostalgic type, calling it “just a possession.”
“It can be replaced. Everybody is safe. I really don’t care about the boat,” he said.
In these two photos, the crew of the Ocean Negotiator are seen preparing to deploy a life raft in this aerial photo provided by Fisheries and Oceans.
An emergency raft is seen at the bow of The Jennifer Tyler (left), while the Ocean Negotiator (right) floats nearby.