A res­cue on Mar­ti­cot Is­land

The Compass - - OPINION -

The Mon­day, Dec. 22, 1980 dawned with a promis­ing start at the Mar­ti­cot Is­land Light Sta­tion, on the west side of Pla­cen­tia Bay. The prin­ci­pal lightkeeper, Ge­orge Earle, and his as­sis­tant, Gord Price, had brought their wives and chil­dren out to the is­land, where they spent the day pre­par­ing for the hol­i­days.

At 15:30 hours, Earle spied a com­pany of ducks swoop­ing into the cove. “Have a look!” he called to Price. Grab­bing their coats, ri­fles and shells, they went out­side. “We’ll have fresh duck for Christ­mas din­ner,” Price promised his wife.

Half an hour later, the keep­ers po­si­tioned them­selves and waited. As the ducks flew within range, the men fired. How­ever, sear­ing pain in Earle’s arm told him some­thing had gone awry. His gun had ex­ploded, shrap­nel cut­ting into his flesh.

Back in­side the light sta­tion, the men could see a piece of the gun bolt pro­trud­ing from Earle’s parka. The blood flow in­di­cated the steel had sev­ered a vein or an artery. Price pried out the metal and tied a shirt around Earle’s arm.

By 16:50 hours, snow was fall­ing heav­ily and the wind had in­creased in in­ten­sity. Call­ing St. John’s, Price spoke with the tech­ni­cian su­per­vi­sor on duty, who told him to ap­ply the tourni­quet pres­sure to slow the flow of blood.

The su­per­vi­sor phoned the Cana­dian Coast Guard Res­cue Cen­tre. The Res­cue Of­fi­cer, Har­vey Buf­fett, con­tacted Res­cue Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­tre. Winds and heavy wet snow in Gan­der made it too dan­ger­ous to dis­patch a he­li­copter. The res­cue ves­sel at Burin was alerted to evac­u­ate Earle from Mar­ti­cot, but it was a four-hour voy­age.

Mean­while, Joe Hay­den of Rushoon, hav­ing heard about the res­cue at­tempt, of­fered his boat and ser­vices. The Burin doc­tor agreed to drive across the penin­sula to meet Hay­den. Mean­while, Joe’s brother in Pe­tite Forte of­fered the use of his ves­sel, as well.

At 17:50 hours, the Hay­dens set out for Mar­ti­cot, one from Rushoon and the other from Pe­tite Forte.

Fol­low­ing a rough trip, Joe, along with two fish­er­men, the Burin doc­tor and an RCMP of­fi­cer, an­chored in Mar­ti­cot Is­land cove. A two-kilo­me­tre trail led them to the light sta­tion. Re­fus­ing the stretcher, Earle set out with his res­cuers to walk across the is­land to the land­ing.

At 23:00 hours, the bedrag­gled res­cue party reached the cove, where Earle was trans­ferred to the other ves­sel. Fol­low­ing a ter­ri­ble night, they reached Rushoon, and Earle and the doc­tor sped off. Early the next morn­ing, Earl called the fam­i­lies on Mar­ti­cot and told them he was fine. On Christ­mas Eve, Earle was trans­ferred from Burin Hos­pi­tal to St. John’s for an op­er­a­tion on his arm.

On Christ­mas Day, the Ear­les had to set­tle for tur­key in­stead of duck for their main dish.

This is but one of scores of sto­ries my friend, Harold Chubbs, and Wade Kear­ley, tell in their book, “Fac­ing the Sea: Lightkeepers and Their Fam­i­lies.”

“This book,” Chubbs says, “is com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing the his­tory of, and rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness about, the unique place that lightkeepers played in the mar­itime her­itage of New­found­land and Labrador. While lightkeepers had peace­ful and se­cluded lives, they faced great dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing com­plex lights and fog sig­nal sys­tems, liv­ing in some of the most iso­lated light­houses, through some of the fiercest win­ters ever recorded.”

Kear­ley adds, “What a debt we owe to the light­house keep­ers, to their fam­i­lies and to their de­scen­dants who in­her­ited their com­mand over the dan­ger­ous and ex­posed head­lands, capes, and is­lands of New­found­land and Labrador.”

In 1965, Chubbs, a na­tive of Car­bon­ear, be­gan a 30-year ca­reer with the Cana­dian Coast Guard in St. John’s, even­tu­ally ser­vic­ing equip­ment on light sta­tions around the prov­ince’s coast. Dur­ing those years, he kept a record of the oral his­tory of the lightkeepers and their fam­i­lies. This book is the re­sult of his per­sonal ini­tia­tive.

“I en­joyed my vis­its to the light­houses,” Chubbs says, “ser­vic­ing and main­tain­ing light­house equip­ment and work­ing with the lightkeepers. I spent many hours lis­ten­ing in awe as they rem­i­nisced about their ex­pe­ri­ences and about dif­fi­cul­ties they had to over­come.”

“Pre­pare to en­joy your­self as you read th­ese sto­ries,” Kear­ley sug­gests, “be­cause the peo­ple you will meet are of a kind not of­ten en­coun­tered. The men and women whose lives you will glimpse had their foibles as well as their strengths. They cared for their fam­i­lies while at the same time ex­pos­ing those they loved to un­pre­dictable dan­gers.”

“Fac­ing the Sea: Lightkeepers and Their Fam­i­lies” is pub­lished by Flanker Press of St. John’s.

— Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net.

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