Sink­ing ship strands Amer­i­can cou­ple in LaPoile

En­joy­ing lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity de­spite bad luck

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSALYN ROY

A Penn­syl­va­nia pair’s usual sail­ing ad­ven­ture along the south­west coast took an un­ex­pected turn when their boat be­gan to sink.

The cou­ple was en route to Petites for the re­cent film­ing of a Land and Sea episode about the re­set­tled out­port when they had to be res­cued by fish­er­men from LaPoile. The tiny com­mu­nity has since taken them in while they await a so­lu­tion.

“We’ve been sail­ing up this way for quite a long time,” Kit Leary said via phone in­ter­view. “I ini­tially came up with my sis­ter and brother-in-law.”

Leary first vis­ited the area in 1992, and Adri­enne Men­dell, his wife and sail­ing part­ner, has been along for the trip since 1996.

“We both fell in love with New­found­land and have been com­ing back ever since,” says Adri­enne.

While sail­ing the south­west coast in 2005, the cou­ple hap­pened upon Petites, which had been re­set­tled two years be­fore. At the time, Bethany United Church was still in pris­tine con­di­tion. Through a pair of for­mer Petites res­i­dents, Kit and Adri­enne learned the church was also sell­ing off the school­house and com­mu­nity cen­tre.

“It made sense be­cause we just wanted to be part of New­found­land so we bought those places,” said Adri­enne.

It would be a decade be­fore the cou­ple would re­turn to visit, and while the school­house has

fared rea­son­ably well given the cli­mate, Kit says van­dals have ripped apart the old com­mu­nity cen­tre.

“They ba­si­cally tore out every­thing, in­clude the two by fours that hold up the walls,” Kit re­ports.

Part of the rea­son for the cou­ple’s re­turn this sum­mer was to take some ply­wood and other ma­te­ri­als in an ef­fort to bet­ter se­cure the build­ings and prevent fur­ther dam­age. They were also plan­ning to offer it as free shel­ter for vis­i­tors com­ing to Petites for the film­ing, and in­tended to help out with the on­go­ing church restora­tion.

Headed for Petites

On Sept. 6 they left LaPoile and headed for Petites on their sail­boat, Splice. About an hour af­ter de­par­ture and third of the way through the voy­age, Adri­enne went be­low to grab a warm jacket and found the cabin fill­ing with water.

“I some­how ex­pected he would come up and say it’s no big deal,” said Adri­enne.

In­stead Kit told her, “Make a may­day call to the Coast Guard. We’re sink­ing.”

The Coast Guard re­sponded with an ETA of two hours.

“Our re­sponse was we’ll be at the bot­tom in two hours,” re­calls Kit.

Af­ter some back and forth a he­li­copter was dis­patched from Gan­der and a boat from

Bur­geo, but given the rapid rate at which Splice was tak­ing on water both would ar­rive too late.

The cou­ple asked the Coast Guard to turn to LaPoile, still the clos­est com­mu­nity at that point. The Coast Guard con­tacted some­one in Bur­geo who reached out to Ross Fran­cis, a fish­er­man in LaPoile.

Luck­ily for Splice, Fran­cis had just re­turned to port and along with two other men, promptly rushed to help, bring­ing along a pow­er­ful gaso­line pump that would keep the founder­ing sail­boat afloat.

Once Splice was shel­tered in a bay the pump failed, even though it had been work­ing fine only a month be­fore. By then Kit was ex­hausted. He had been bail­ing out his boat by hand for over three and a half hours, chuck­ing bucket af­ter bucket of sea­wa­ter over the side while Adri­enne kept tend­ing the sails and steer­ing them to­wards safety.

One of the res­cuers, Brian Chant, jumped into the sail­boat to help. To­gether the two men man­aged to stay ahead of the leak long enough to be towed into LaPoile by Ross’ ves­sel, 4 Strong Winds II, as the water had got­ten too high and over­came Splice’s en­gines.

More peo­ple joined the res­cue, bring­ing the LaPoile fire pump down to the dock to drain water from Splice. That pump also failed.

“I called up to the dock and asked if any­body up there knew how to op­er­ate a bucket,” said Kit.

Matthew Fran­cis im­me­di­ately jumped in to help, re­liev­ing Chant who was try­ing to get the pump oper­at­ing.

Com­mu­nity ef­fort

Much of the rest of the town had turned out to wit­ness the com­mo­tion, in­clud­ing teacher Terry-Lynn Or­gan, whose tiny school­house has a to­tal of three stu­dents. Kit and Adri­enne had met her on a pre­vi­ous trip, and it was Or­gan who had the idea to use a sump pump. Dolores Vau­tier quickly rounded up two.

“That’s what saved us,” says Kit. “We got the boat pumped out far enough that we could see where the water was com­ing in.”

The cul­prit turned out to be a drain fit­ting that had bro­ken, and Kit was able to close it some­what with a wooden plug. The sail­boat was still tak­ing on water though, al­beit much more slowly, mean­ing it couldn’t be left unat­tended.

The cou­ple asked if there were any divers that could help, but there were no com­mer­cial divers close by. Trevor Fran­cis, Matthew’s brother, vol­un­teered any­way. He jumped into the water and se­cured the out­side of the leak with a steel plate, which Kit also se­cured from the in­side. Fi­nally, the leak was stopped.

“That was the end of step one,” says Kit. “We had an in­sur­ance sur­veyor come. Now that alone took a week.”

A com­mu­nity of only 85 peo­ple, LaPoile lacks a ho­tel, a B&B or even a restau­rant, forc­ing the Amer­i­can cou­ple to rely on the kind­ness of strangers. Al­most three full weeks later the pair is still in LaPoile, rent­ing a two-bed­room house cour­tesy of Chant. The in­sur­ance rep­re­sen­ta­tive stayed in the spare room of the cou­ple’s rental house while he eval­u­ated op­tions.

Nor­mally the boat would be towed to Bur­geo to be lifted out of the water, but the Bur­geo heavy lift is cur­rently in need of some ex­pense re­pairs if not out­right re­plac­ing. In­stead the plan is to have Splice towed to Isle aux Morts and lifted from the water with a crane that will be brought down from Port aux Basques. From there the sail­boat will be put on a truck and taken to Halifax, Nova Sco­tia.

“It’s a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare,” ad­mits Kit.

For now, the cou­ple can do lit­tle but con­tinue to wait for their in­sur­ance provider to fi­nal­ize ar­range­ments. In the mean­time, they are en­joy­ing the com­fort and hos­pi­tal­ity of their new neigh­bours and friends.

“It re­ally is a spe­cial place. The peo­ple here are to­tally, to­tally amaz­ing,” says a grate­ful Adri­enne, who de­lights in such things as chop­ping up a piece of moose meat to make her firstever moose stew. “The south coast is to­tally spe­cial. There’s noth­ing at all like it.”


Kit Leary and Adri­enne Men­dell on the Splice in warmer waters.


Adri­enne Men­dell, Kit Leary and LaPoile school­teacher Terry-Lynn Or­gan in the Petites school­house.

Terry-Lynn Or­gan in the Splice’s cabin. The next day the water was up to the seat level.

Fish­er­man Ross Fran­cis came to the res­cue when the Splice be­gan to sink.

LaPoile at sun­rise.

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