|CAUGHT IN THE ICE DURING A MID WINTER STORM
Used with permission, the following story was related by George Brown
who turned 95 on Dec 31, 2004. George is the son of Absalom and Emma
(Wells) Brown of Brown's Point, Joe Batt’s Arm, Newfoundland. The story
was written by Ford Thoms of Boyd's Cove.
Blessed with a good memory I am pleased to be able to relate this story
to you on the occasion of my 95th birthday. Many thanks for taking the
time to visit. Your prayers and good wishes brightened my day.
It was the month of February, sixty-six years ago, when we left Joe
Batt’s Arm on a two week duck hunting trip. The crew consisted of what can
be termed "all in the family": Jacob Brown, brother, Bert Elliott, John
Henry Freake, Claude Hewitt, Ken Hewitt were my brothers in law, and yours
truly, George Brown, aged 29. We were in a large sturdy row boat (punt)
that I had built during the winter. There were not many outboard motors at
that time; however, we were in our prime, hale and hearty, looking forward
to getting a few ducks to bake in the oven, so swinging the paddles was
just child’s play to us.
It was a very good civil morning as we rowed and poled our boat through
the loose ice and slob in what is known as Joe Batt’s Arm Bight, working
our way out towards the Eastern Islands.
We made very good progress - arriving in good time at our destination,
Storehouse Island, one of the many that make up Little Fogo Islands. We
were soon quite comfortable in our premises on the island. The two week
trip, filled with interest, soon went by, and we did well with the ducks.
It was now time to make tracks for home, our food was just about gone;
moreover, our families would be worried if we stayed longer. Early morning
we left the island, as having to contend with a bit of ice and slob, the
going would be slow. Little did we know what we were in for, when we were
half way to Joe Batts Arm Long Point.
It was about eleven o'clock when the wind started to breeze from the
southeast, accompanied with snow. In less than an hour, the wind was gale
force with blinding snow. Our punt got caught in the ice and slob that was
moving very rapid to the North West. All landmarks disappeared in the
whirling blizzard. We did catch a glimpse of a light late that evening,
which we figured to be Long Point Lighthouse. However, we were caught
helpless in the moving ice, and all we could do was go with the flow.
It was sometime after midnight, we thought we must be somewhere between
Twillingate Long Point and Cape John, when the wind suddenly chopped from
the North West, and believe it or not, taking our ice bound boat back the
way from whence we came. It was still snowing, and the high North wind was
mighty cold. Coated with snow, we were six weary concerned snow-men. I was
wearing a sheep skin lined coat with a high collar, which was, thank
goodness, a warm garment.
We were not talking very much at this stage; after hours of drifting
with the ice - we know not where - everyone was nursing their own
thoughts. By dawn we noticed a slacking of wind, and the ice was moving
slower. Peering through the blowing snow we glimpsed a cliff. Someone
grabbed a gaff and just hooked the end of what turned out to be Gabby
Island. So far so good!
We secured the boat by hooking a grapnel in a crevice. The snow and
frozen spray had made the sheer cliff slippery, and it certainly would be
a problem to climb to the top.
Being the smallest of the crew, I was elected to see if it was possible
to get a rope to the top. First, ropes were rigged on the oars to help me
up a little way; from there I used just toe and finger holds in the small
crevices in the cliff. The hope that we may get out of this alive and see
our wives and families again spurred me on, to the point than I am
positive that no cat could claw its way up the cliff faster than I did
that early morning.
With the rope fastened at the top of the cliff, the rest of the crew,
with the exception of John Henry Freake, managed to reach the top. John
Henry was a big man - try as he may, he just couldn't make it. So we tied
him down in the bottom of the boat and dragged the boat and John Henry up
over that cliff. It was a mighty effort, and it sure warmed us up
somewhat. After a short breather we turned the boat bottom up, and went to
look for some kind of shelter on the small island.
As luck would have it we discovered a small cabin (learned later it
belonged to George Best of Fogo Harbour). Apparently it was not occupied
for some time - being in very poor condition. However, it was good to get
out of the cold wind, and I would say that the cabin, such as it was,
saved our lives. There was no stove; however, we were more than lucky to
see a bit of firewood packed under the bunk. From an empty oil drum, some
old stove piping and some pieces of tin, we improvised a stove that worked
very well. After getting a fire going and drinking a drop of warm water
(we had no tea), we felt a little better, but it took just about a day to
dry out our clothing and get the chill out of our bones. Meanwhile
outside, the storm still persisted with visibility down to zero.
The last meal we had was early breakfast at the Storehouse yesterday
morning. Figuring that we would make it home within a few hours, we did
not bother to take the little food we had left.
After all the beating around, exposed in an open boat in the worst mid
winter weather imaginable, we were beat out, and very hungry. There were
some yellow split peas on a shelf in the cabin that turned out to be
moldy. We melted some snow and washed the peas and made a kind of watery
soup. We roasted a couple of duck on the top of the stove. There was no
salt or savory. The soup and the roast duck left very much to be desired
flavor wise, but it stopped the hunger pangs for a little while, and it
helped to keep body and soul together.
Day three, we launched the boat in an attempt to get home. However, we
soon realized that it was impossible to get anywhere, and the boat was
hauled back on the island.
On the morning of day four, weather and ice conditions were a little
better. Anyway, we were at the end of our rope. We had no choice, over or
under, we just had to go, or stay on the island and die of starvation, or
perish with the cold.
Someone at Fogo Harbour spied a boat, with men aboard, leave the
island, and making its way very slowly in the Bight. Considering the
magnitude of the winter storm, we were given up for lost, to the point a
Memorial Service was scheduled for us at St. John the Evangelist Anglican
Church. One may imagine what impact the news from Fogo had, not only on
our families, but on the whole community.
I will not dwell on the agonizing hours it took us to reach Barr'd
Islands. As I said before, we were at the end of our rope and we made it
on the fast moving ice on pure determination and grit.
All the days of my long life I never forgot the hundred or more people
(men and women) we saw standing on the ice edge, waiting for our boat to
reach them. They bought food and drink, and most of all, as brother
fishermen of the sea, they knew what we went through, and showed their
affection and concern.
Finally, I am the last living member of the crew of six. Most of the
men and women who helped us on the ice are gone (may they rest in peace).
If I may, I will mention Lucy Newman, who asked me into her home that day
for a warm up, and a drop of hot tea. I never forgot how concerned she was
over my welfare. I am happy to say that this gracious lady, although
numbered in years like myself, is still with us.
The members of the Boyd's Cove Crossroads Seniors Club do thank Mr.
Brown for his interesting and moving story.