In October 2007 when the SS Kyle.com website was first started with only a few photos, it was only a little more than 2 short months later when Dick Meiijer saw the website and had contacted Elizabeth “Libby” Earle, daughter of Guy Earle. He had said in his email that he worked for her father at Earle Fisheries Carbonear from 1963-1966 and had photos of the 1965 Hunt and Rescue on the SS Kyle. In February of 2008 Libby had received the photos half in small black and white photos and slides. Libby and her husband Brian DePiero creator of the website had then converted into JPEG form for easy use on the website. We later in time come to find out that Heber McGurk of Carbonear published a book called “Memories of a Former Era” also worked for Earle’s as 1st mate and watchmen on the SS Kyle had taken all the photos and had given out copies to many on the trip that year.
Dick Meijer, born 09-12-1942 in The Netherlands. In 1960-1965 working in our family company, Van Daal & Meijer. In those years the largest seal-business in the world. In 1960 our company cooperated with Earle Fisheries in Carbonear in purchasing the SS. KYLE to operate it for sealing offshore Newfoundland.
He mentioned he had the privilege to handle in Carbonear from 1963 – 1966 for our company the seal catch with the SS.KYLE in cooperation with Earle fisheries. I have seen the old coal burning lady SS.KYLE cripple coming in after being crushed in the ice in 1965.
He have been there for three years in Carbonear and felt and experienced the emotions and feelings the Newfoundland
people showed for the sealcatch and its maritime monument the SS.KYLE, bulldog of the North.
It has convinced me that there is no better way to tell the young and future generations the history/story of sealing than by
restoring the SS.KYLY in a historic site. The old coal burner can show better than any museum the true story/history of sealing and the hardship the sealers had to endure on/in the ice.
I sincerely hope and trust that this unique opportunity to give Newfoundland with the SS.KYLE a fantastic maritime
historic site , will be realized.
A Kerkhof 36
9711 JC Groningen
Most of the photos will be displayed on the www.sskyle.org website and facebook . They will be located on the Captain and crew page or the 1965 rescue .
STUCK IN THE ICE
On March 28th the SS Kyle, Captain Guy Earle set off to the Straits for the Hunt. Heber McGurk was the master watch of the Kyle when Guy brought the Kyle to Labrador. He now was off duty and sleeping with 2nd watchman on duty and “rumor has it the on duty watchmen was listening to the hockey game.” They were doing 4 knots an hour stuck in ice flow when they drifted onto a huge iceberg and gets hung up on it. It was upwards of 100 feet tall. After days until the icebreaker came to her rescue when she slid off the iceberg much damage was done to her forward port side. She had popped 21 rivets and torn out a panel from its steel plating just above the water line. Guy and his crew now knowing there was damage done with the Kyle now stopped, approx 26 men of the crew were afraid and left the ship and waited on the ice for the Icebreaker D’Bererville while the other half of the crew were still sleeping. During the time waiting Heber and other crew found repair Bolts to replace the broken rivets. As Herber Hung over the outside by lines while another crew member went down below on the interior and put on the nuts and tightened them. During this time Heber had to change his clothes 3 times because of the freezing waters he had to withstand. Once the rivets were replaced the men on the ice would now return to the ship. There was one rivet popped on the starboard side into the Coal room where repairs could still be seen from down below about 6 feet from the bottom if it was not filled with water.
“At the Seal Hunt the Kyle drifted fast in heavy ice flow until the 50-year-old vessel came to rest against a towering ice berg about 100-150 feet high on March 28th. Said the 47-years old captain, Guy Earle, “You could hardly see the top of it for snow drifts.” He thought winds at the time to be gale force T 85 MILES AN HOUR. He said he feared the giant berg would turn over and crush t he ship.” … Captain Earle said most of the deck was filled with heavy ice. Outside the boat was bulged in right from the midship to its bow on one side. As above, p 91 from the Evening Telegram. The top of vessel was torn asunder. Guy was able to get the Kyle, his men and the seals safely back to Carbonear, where he tied the Kyle to his wharf at Earle’s Fisheries.
After unloading all the seal pelts the following day Guy Earle, Charlie Dowden his Dad Stephen Dowden, and the Engineers took the SS Kyle to St. John’s to be inspected on dry dock by Jim Anderson (CSI) Canadian Steamship Inspector only to find out there was closer to $150,000 worth of damage and was only insured for $100,000.00. They launched her back into the water and brought her back late that night to Carbonear Harbour.
For the Next 2 days they unloaded all the food and salvageable goods ashore. Guy had asked Charlie Dowden & His Dad Stephen, both Captains along with the ships engineer Gerald M Bernard to moore the SS Kyle in Harbour grace where Charlie dropped the steam anchors with a good spread he said her boilers would cool for her final and last time.
BY KEITH HARDY
Captain Dowden was onboard that day on the Thomas S. Gorton when Guy Earle and company made port at Battle Hr. back in 1953 as they were working their way home to Carbonear . Along the way from Salmon Bight near Black Tickle while buying dried salt cod from the various harbours, islands and tickles on the way. Earle was known as nomadic showing up wherever he thought to gather some fish from other fishermen. The Earle’s were like their father after all fishermen themselves from childhood.
The firm, Baine Johnston and Company, were very much established in Nfld. and certainly at Battle Hr. the jewel in the crown of their fish operations in Labrador. Managers hired were well versed in the mechanics of accounting, retail and in this case the fishery. At that time Battle Hr. operation was the biggest on the coast and stood ground with some of the largest on the island of Nfld. .
The fishery was competitive! Here you had the company with salt, fuel, groceries and fishing supplies out on credit all season awaiting the local fishing crews to clue up and clear their accounts. On the other hand here was Earle going harbour to harbour buying from these same fishermen with cash .
Mr. Guy might have been a bit wound up when they tied on that evening after 6 pm. at the firm’s salmon wharf at Battle Hr. On the other hand it was Bert Hardy’s job as manager to uphold the companies interest . To have the competition to use the companies services and certainly without permission was against policy. Bert ( my father) went out and hailed to Guy that they could not tie on and had to leave the wharf ! ( according to Charl Dowden)
Guy on the other hand wound up by those watching from shore and on the wharf made mention he might come ashore and toss my father over the wharf!
My Dad according to onlookers that included Charl replied that if he thought to try it was up to him! ( Normally a gentle quiet man.)
Guy moved the vessel out in the middle of the harbour where they anchored for the night.
My father never once brought up the story again however Battle Hr. residents along with Charl had mentioned over the years.
During the winter Earle found people not banks willing to invest in their taking over Battle Hr. The owners wanted out of that type of business so to spend more time at other interest and investments.
Earle’s people tackled the operation for one year on their own. Great navigators, good fishermen and so on but were not trained in the day to day business end of such a large operation. I heard stories of them giving out endless fishing gear on memory and not entered in the ledger. The end of that first year with IOU’s written on cigarette packs and brown wrapping paper.
During this time Bert Hardy was still a full time employee of Baine Johnston working with that company at St. John’s .
Guy, in a proper way, inquired with that firm if he could approach Hardy to run Battle Harbour? Hardy had the accounting skills.
Hardy and Earle met for the second time where a friendship and keen interest in Battle Harbour and Labrador in general was formed. Our Dad really enjoyed his many years at Battle Hr. while working with the Earles .
The first year or so father boarded here while mom and my two older brothers remained in the new Mont Pearl. He then moved them to rent on the crossroads in Carbonear . They searched for the new type bungalow coming out in the mid-1950’s however neither close to work to be found. Guy suggested the high roofed home that was recently closed and up for sale at 148 Water Street. Right in front of Arthur Earle’s or Fred’s house .
Well in conclusion father had 35 years at Battle Hr. Guy, Fred and a few years later our dad also passed away. I am sending you this little note on the story you mentioned …. you guessed it …. from 148 Water St., Carbonear.
Charl Dowden can still remember and detail the chain of events that led to this neighbourhood we all still call home. He can detail far better than I would put to paper!
BY KEITH HARDY
Lives in Carbonear but his heart is in Battle Harbour
Shared stories and letters written by Keith Hardy
The Earle Freighting Service Limited and nothing less. Incoming mail with any other variation was unopened and turned back to the sender at the post office.It was this company who owned the other companies set up over the years. Earle Brothers Limited , Earle Wholesale , Earle Protein Ltd., Kyle Shipping Ltd. and Coastal Labrador Fisheries Ltd. Other variations and you would quickly find out you had to wait for your payment
I worked alongside my Dad , Jim’s Jones father , Joseph Hoyles , Willis Spurell , Allan Pligrim , Roy Saunders , Jim Saunders , and perhaps hundreds of others that made up the company staff . Everyone knew Earle and Earle knew everyone ! If the old office opened up again today I would be there looking for my job . It is a way of life gone past and along with it most of the good and at times perhaps bad memories . Like it or lump it that was the Earle’s take it or leave it as they were not about to change.
Again it is all about the history ! A handful now in their 80’s who shipped out on the boats , fished the Labrador or cut fillets in the plant . A thousand stories lost perhaps a hundred left untold. Maybe a few new ones in the bargain left to be written. Keep the faith !
Talking With the Captain!
Captain Guy Earle likely would be busy trying to get as much as they could from the salmon season in Labrador . Hoping that now that the caplin have landed that the cod would soon be in the traps around this province, delegating his fleet of schooners and traders to get salt and fuel out to the coves, islands and inlets of Nfld. and Labrador. He had his key people positioned to deal with the fishermen with supplies. One of the boys just saw the Thunderbird go flying by. Apparently he is driving to Clarenville with a cylinder head for the Round Hill. Known for his fast driving you better give him room.
In regards to Captain Charl Dowden we must understand he earned his title as well. Came from the dory in Rock Harbour to be ship’s master on the great ferries on the Port aux Basques run. He is a wealth of knowledge on the marine side of Earle. He can fully detail what is required in crew to operate a ship. In my case I sailed from Carbonear for over 40 years while hardly knowing the north direction from the south. I was only a passenger on the ship of life!( Lots more like me . )
Charl has the stories!!!
I might note that to my limited knowledge the SS Kyle had a great and extended career. Mr. Guy Earle had a vision that she could still have some life in her at the seal fishery. Kyle Shipping Ltd. a division of The Earle Freighting Service Ltd. used her to seal, fish, freight and contract out. However, due to her age and expensive requirement for coal as fuel she had a hard time making a profit. Certainly only my limited understanding.
She likely was about to end her days in a few more years before the iceberg damage off Labrador. She could have just as easily have been left on the bottom there however they survived, made a trip of seals and got back to homeport.
I know you live for the SS Kyle so to speak . One might consider that it was luck for the Bull Dog of the North that she did hit bottom in Hr. Grace. One that allows all of us more than memories of earlier transportation in this province.
VOYAGE DOWN TO LABRADOR
By William A. Ogletree
Per my travel orders, I reported to the Navy Liaison Office at MIT. After a brief interview, I was given the choice of assignments as Technician-in-Charge to install and operate top-secret gear in Greenland, Labrador, or Newfoundland. I chose Labrador, having learned that the secret base, Advance Base Buck, would become a Loran double-slave station and therefore present the greatest technical challenge.
To the best of my knowledge, new orders were never written, but I was told to anticipate and provide for the needs of 12 men in isolation for a period of two years. I received a book of approved requisition forms from the Boston Navy Yard and a batch of purchase requisitions for buying supplies not available from the Navy. A list of all food, needed to sustain 12 men for a period of two years in the Arctic, detailed to the cups of water, came from Washington. Captain Tom Hamilton, Supply Officer at the Boston Navy Yard was very cooperative and suggested a list of gear he would take to the Arctic. It included special clothing, skis, toboggans, snowshoes, Fox double-barrel shotguns, hunting rifles, sport pistols, fly-fishing gear and other equipment a sportsman would find useful. He encouraged me to use some of the purchase requisitions to buy the items from Boston and New York stores.
Men began reporting for assignment as they were released from various training classes. Radiomen 1st class Carl Newton and Leslie Mears took responsibility for checking every item on our manifest to make sure it was received. RM2c Bob Wirt, Walter Stewart, and John Nesmith saw to the safe delivery of every item to the packaging area and then to a locked storage area. Machinist Mate 1st class Girhard Howen, a Norwegian with 8 years of Bering Sea experience, fretted about not having real engines to work on, but he tried to get the tools and spare parts he might need to keep the Wisconsin gasoline engines we had to accept for driving our AC generators. Carlos Larsen, a Dane and private chef to the Chairman of Chase National Bank, was recruited by the Coast Guard as Shipâ€™s Cook 1st class and assigned to my group. He proved his worth the first day.
Larsen interrupted my conversation with CAPT Hamilton: â€œTwo tâ€™ousand pounds of vienna sausage! Tâ€™ree tâ€™ousand pounds of beans! Twenty-five hunnert pounds of chili con carne! Iâ€™m not going. Twelve men having to eat tâ€™is food will kill de cook!â€ He waved the papers before the CAPT and slapped them with his left hand for emphasis as he spoke.
Trying to get this â€œbootâ€ out of the CAPTâ€™s face, I said, â€œCookie, what substitutes do you suggest?â€
â€œSmoked hams, canned hams, bacon slabs, corned beef, powdered milk, ice-cream mix, and a hunnert other tâ€™ings I can name. Whoever made up dis list, never had to feed the same twelve men every day.â€
CAPT Hamilton asked, â€œWho prepared this food list?â€
â€œDieticians in Washington, sir.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think they know your mission. I would take this manâ€™s advice. Everything in the Yard is available to you, and see to it that he has purchase requisitions for foods he needs from commercial sources. If there is anything he canâ€™t find, let me know.â€
Every man of us was required to undergo thorough psychological and physical examinations, because we would be living and working together in isolation under Arctic weather conditions, without any medical care. Two otherwise qualified assignees did not meet the stringent requirements and were not accepted. Three RM3c, Michael Carroll, Frank Turano, and George Swanson, passed the screening and joined my group. Two important men came in late and were not examined. Both developed serious problems.
Larsen prepared his own list and procured the foodstuff. Finding Klim Powdered Milk and Klim Ice Cream Mix seemed impossible. When he rejected all other brands, I asked him why he insisted on Klim. â€œItâ€™s the best. Besides, I own ten tâ€™ousand shares of Klim stock.â€ The company shipped abundant supplies to him at the Boston Navy Yard.
Our supplies were packaged in wooden boxes, typically 200 pounds per box. The boxes were stored at the Navy Yard until loaded onto the Army Transport SS Seminole, formerly a passenger ship and still manned by a civilian crew.
We boarded the Seminole November 23, 1942, but had to remain in port for two days, due to bad weather. On the third day we stood out, but soon became fogbound and returned to Boston. A 450-man Construction Battalion came on board. On the fourth day, we proceeded toward New York to join a convoy, but south of Cape Cod Canal we were ordered back to Boston.
Finally, on November 30, the Seminole reached Long Island Sound but, instead of going to sea, headed toward New York, through East River to Bayonne, New Jersey. At midnight, we were ordered off the ship and went by open truck to Ellis Island, arriving in the early morning hours on December 1st. As we were traveling under sealed orders, I had to refuse to answer a lot of prying questions asked by the Coast Guard Executive Officer. He used his authority to make life unpleasant for us and would not permit us Liberty to go ashore. I then used my MIT channel to contact Navy Hq. at Washington. The same day, orders came from the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations that stopped the interrogations gave us private quarters, and off-island shore Liberty every night.
On Saturday, December 12th, verbal orders came. â€œProceed to Bayonne, NJ, and board naval vessel AF-9 for transport to your port of disembarkation.â€ As our open-truck conveyance came to a stop near the ship, I said, â€œMy God! Itâ€™s the Yukon.â€
The USS Yukon was the navy supply ship which lay disabled in the Irish Sea in January, 1942, until found by the USCGC ALEXANDER HAMILTON and towed over 600 miles in stormy seas, toward Iceland. The British tug Friskey relieved the Cutter of the tow at 1300 hours on January 29, 1942. The German submarine U-132 torpedoed the Cutter at 1313. John Nesmith and I were Radiomen aboard the Cutter and we saw the Yukon disappear over the horizon toward Reykjavik, Iceland, under her own power. He and I were among the men whose lifeboats were destroyed by the torpedo explosion, so we remained on the sinking Cutter over two hours, until we were rescued by the U.S. destroyer Gwin.
The prospects of going to sea on the Yukon did not please us. I made the fact that we were ALEXANDER HAMILTON survivors known to LCDR H. G. Williams, Executive Officer, then he assigned us plush duties, on the bridge and in the radio room.
The second day out, we encountered a gale and most of my men were seasick. Off Halifax, the Yukon joined a convoy of about 80 ships. At one point, about half of the ships separated from the convoy but the Yukon continued with it toward Iceland. We were going past Newfoundland when two Canadian Corvettes arrived and escorted the Yukon to St Johns harbor. We arrived in darkness Monday morning, December 21st.
Girhard Howen was sick and had a fever of 102Â°. We took him to the U.S. Army hospital, then found quarters for ourselves in the Army barracks at Fort Pepperell. The Yukon offloaded our cargo onto lighters and went to sea, escorted by a Canadian corvette.
That afternoon I went with Mr. Keel, our Commanding Officer, to find out when the Navy would take us to Battle Harbor, Labrador. We learned they had no icebreaker available and could not undertake the trip before Spring, meaning May at the earliest. We then visited the Army Air Transport Command, where we got help. The Col. could have our equipment, supplies, and personnel parachuted in the vicinity of Battle Harbor, but he could not land us on the ice and snow because the terrain was unknown. He then suggested that we advertise for a Newfoundland ship to deliver men and cargo to the Labrador coast. We had to keep secret our mission, so he prepared an ad from his office. It was run in the St Johnâ€™s Evening Telegraph and broadcast on the Gerald Doyle News Hour.
The response was disappointing. He received only one reply. It was from a 25-year-old man named Guy Earle, of Carbonear. He claimed to have a schooner that could deliver 13 men and 128 tons of cargo â€œdown on the Labrador.â€ The Col. invited Guy Earle to his office where we met him on Wednesday, December 23, and told him our destination. He said that he would take us there, â€œIf itâ€™s possible, a-tall.â€
That afternoon, Guy returned with his lawyer and the draft of a Charter. He would take us aboard the schooner Thomas S. Gorton as near to Battle Harbor as he deemed safe. He reserved the right to discharge cargo and passengers if he deemed it necessary to save his vessel. His fee would be $495 per day. If his vessel became icebound and remained so until Spring, the fee would be $495 until he returned to St Johns. The schooner was en route to St Johns and could be loaded and ready to sail in one day.
I asked, â€œWhere is it written that you will take us to Battle Harbor â€˜if it is possible, a tall?â€™â€
The boyish-looking man replied, â€œSire, if I donâ€™t deliver ye to Battle Harbor, yeâ€™ll know it ainâ€™t possible.â€ He and his lawyer shared a big laugh over his â€œcute answer.â€
We went outside the office for a private discussion. The Col. said, â€œItâ€™s a long shot.â€ Mr. Keel said we had no other choice. I agreed and said that more delay would not give us milder winter weather. We went back into the office and Mr. Keel signed the Charter.
After a big mid-day Christmas dinner at the Fort, we went to the dock to board the 106-foot schooner Thomas S Gorton. Our large hotel-style, cast-iron cook stove and 55-gallon barrels of gasoline covered the deck, with no tie-downs visible.
I looked for the Plimsoll mark on the side of the black vessel and could see none. I thought it was underwater, as the vessel looked to be grossly overloaded. I also shared the sailorâ€™s usual superstition against Friday sailing dates, and Mr. Keel had my unspoken concurrence when he stepped from the vessel to the dock and announced, â€œWeâ€™ll not sail today, or ever, till more food is brought aboard.â€ On Christmas Day, shipâ€™s chandlers were not open.
Only a few stores opened on Saturday, December 26th. Guy had brought aboard two crates of oranges and bags of flour and beans before we arrived. Mr. Keel remained unhappy. He stepped onto the dock and refused to leave until more food was brought aboard. Guy Earle spoke to his men, â€œCast off the lines and prepare to get underway. Weâ€™re sailing on time, in keeping with mâ€™ Charter.â€
Then he spoke to Mr. Keel: â€œSire, I represent the owner of this vessel, â€˜n what I say, goes. Weâ€™re not bound for the end of the world. If we need it, weâ€™ll get food in outports along the coast. If ye be coming with us, step aboard, Sire.â€
Mr. Keel came aboard and we sailed from St Johns. The Master of the schooner was aboard. He was an older man, Solomon Abbot, called â€œSkipper Sol.â€ I did not understand why the Master yielded control to the young Guy Earle, even if he was the ownerâ€™s son.
I knew nothing about the Thomas S Gorton, but learned that it was nearly 40-years-old and had raced other schooners from the Grand Banks fishing grounds. In 1934, she finished third. The famous schooner Blue Nose, which I did know about, finished third.
Once clear of the harbor, we encountered a moderate sea and I spoke my concern to Guy about the gasoline drums, shifting about on deck. â€œDonâ€™t worry Sire. My men will take care of it.â€
Two crewmen hauled buckets of water from the sea and threw the water over the drums. They repeated the operation until the bottoms were locked to the deck by ice. I said to Guy, â€œWeâ€™d have those drums lashed down and deckhands out there chipping away any ice that forms topside. Arenâ€™t you afraid of making the vessel top heavy?â€
â€œSire, we ainâ€™t rich like the U.S. Navy. We use what we have. A few buckets oâ€™water wonâ€™t make much difference to the trim of this vessel. Donâ€™t worry. Afore we arrive Battle Harbor, yeâ€™ll know that â€˜Newfiesâ€™ are good seamen.â€
We began encountering snow squalls and fresh winds, but Guy left the mainsail hoisted and rode out the tempests. By nightfall we had rounded Cape St. Francis and the snow squalls increased. Guy ordered the sails struck and we ran under power of the sputtering diesel on a new course, WSW. Mr. Keel came aft to the wheelhouse and asked, â€œWhere are we heading?â€
Guy explained, â€œSire, I think weâ€™re in for what yeâ€™d call a Norâ€™easter with a big lot of snow. Weâ€™re going to take shelter in a safe port till the storm blows over.â€
It was about 0200 when Guy called my attention to a flickering light off our starboard bow. â€œMâ€™father is after lighting a beacon fire for us on the head of land. Weâ€™ll go into Carbonear Harbor and tie up at the pier till this storm ends. Itâ€™ll turn into a real blizzard, most likely, and nobody aâ€™tall knows the hours or days it takes a storm to blow over.â€
We docked in Carbonear at 0315 on December 27th. Guy introduced us to his father, Mr. Arthur Earle, who invited us to go up the hill to his house for a mug-up. I volunteered to stay aboard.
The next morning, Guyâ€™s father and mother kept an open breakfast table for us. Most of my men went to either the Catholic or Anglican Church of choice that Sunday. Outside the Anglican Church some men approached us. One of them asked, â€œYe be the men whatâ€™s bound for Loran Point?â€
We were astonished! We never heard the acronym Loran until we were leaving the MIT Radiation Lab. An instructor had each man come up and he whispered the word â€œLoranâ€ into his ear, a Top Secret word itself, should not be spoken except to men with proper clearances. He wrote on the blackboard then erased, â€œlong range aid to navigation,â€ and mentally we made the connection. Now, here was a Newfie, talking about Loran Point. I asked him, â€œWhat can you tell us about Loran Point?â€
He took a stick and drew a map on the surface of the snow, showing us where two buildings had been constructed and where three antenna poles stood. He said the proper name was False Harbor Point, but that during the previous summer, the McNamara Construction Co. had renamed it Loran Point.
We met many friendly residents about town, but Frank Turano said he was chased by three goats and did not ask if they were friendly. Later that day, he earned the name â€œForty Fathomsâ€ when he and Walter Stewart went rowing in a dory, broke an oar while trying to row to safety in a high wind and were blown onto the breakwater. Local men went to their rescue and brought them safely ashore. The gusty northeast wind kept getting stronger.
Sleeping accommodations on the schooner were limited, so Mr. Keel moved us ashore on December 28. Six of us went to the Goff Hostel and seven went to the West Side Hotel.
Although frequent snow squalls and high winds continued, Mr. Keel fretted about our delay. Guy Earle said that no one was in charge of the weather and that we were lucky to be in a safe harbor at a time like this. Mr. Earleâ€™s house and Guyâ€™s house stayed open to us. Beside his parents, we met Guyâ€™s sisters and his wife Mildred, who looked like a teenager, but was the mother of a baby and two other children. All over Carbonear, people opened their homes to us and, on December 30, a dance was held at St. Patricks in our honor. On December 31, we all had dinner at the Earlesâ€™ house.
When the sun came out and the winds abated that afternoon, Mr. Keel demanded that we get underway at once. Guy said that he would wait â€œ. . . to see what the morrow brings. It may be just a respite in the storm, sire.â€
Early on New Yearâ€™s Day, 1943, we rounded Grates Point to the north, then sailed WNW through Trinity Bay, and tied up at Port Union Dock for the night. Weâ€™d made good progress. When underway with a fair wind, we ran under sail. There being no aids to navigation, other than stone cairns on the highest hills along the coast, Guy tried to schedule safe coves for anchorage at night, knowing we might have to wait a day or two for fair weather before again venturing to sea.
We passed Cape Bonavista and were crossing Bonavista Bay under sail, with the lee rail often awash, when a squall struck. The crew tried to lower the foresail, but it only slacked and the sheet jammed in the sheave at the mast.
The wind billowed the sail and caused the boom to whip about over the deck, forcing the crew to stand clear. Guy told me to take the helm hard-to-port till we headed into the wind, then he dashed from the wheelhouse and climbed the starboard stays running to the foremast. When the wind whipped the sail toward him, he swung out from the rigging and threw his legs over the top of the sail. With his back to the deck, he let go of the stay and with the sail locked in the bend of his knees, he fell, bringing down the sail. Nobody could move fast enough to keep him from crashing headfirst onto the deck, but he suddenly somersaulted free and cat-like, landed upright on his feet. We all joined in applauding his acrobatic performance.
We ran a NW course under diesel power to Pool’s Island, where we dropped anchor. On January 3rd, we ran under sail with fair winds and continued sailing through the night. On January 4th, the winds blew hard, so we anchored between Fogo and Farewell Islands for the night. There, we saw our first brilliant display of Northern Lights.
On January 5th, Guy decided against stopping in Hooping Harbor and was sailing NNE about one mile offshore when a heavy snowstorm struck. We hauled down the sails and ran under diesel power. We could not see the lookout on the bow when Guy called out to him, â€œRed, come back to the wheelhouse and get warm. You canâ€™t see a thing, a-tall.â€
â€œSkipper Sol, you take the helm. Steady as she goes. Iâ€™m going forward.â€ Then Guy disappeared in the blowing snow. After a while, he called out, â€œSol, take her three points to port!â€ Then he returned to the wheelhouse.
Skipper Sol asked, â€œWhere be ye going?â€
â€œHeading straight down Conch Bight,â€ Guy said, pointing at the chart, then he added, â€œRed, go to the bow. Use the leadline and call out the depth nears eight fatâ€™oms. Listen too for the sea breaking onto the land and sing out bâ€™y, if weâ€™re getting too close.
After a while, Red sang out, â€œNine fatâ€™oms and shoaling up.â€
Guy ordered the anchor lowered on forty fathoms of line. It took hold and the schooner came about. Skipper Sol went forward then came aft and said that we were dragging anchor. Guy told him to drop the spare anchor and said that weâ€™d keep the engine running.
After the snowstorm passed, the wind continued strong, blowing straight down the Bight. I asked Guy what kind of a town was Conch.
â€œJust an outport, Sire. A village youâ€™d call itâ€”has a post office and a general store. This time of year the men work seal nets. You can buy good sealskin boots here, if youâ€™re in the market for them.â€
â€œIs there a doctor here?â€
â€œNot even a nurse station, sire. The general store may carry a few medicines.â€
I was interested in buying medicine. After we left Carbonear, Mr. Keel told me about his plan to â€œâ€™climatizeâ€™ these Yahoos.â€
I said that the men were being acclimated, gradually. We had so few bunks, some men slept two to a bunk and rotated night-day sleeps. When not asleep, they had to come topside, for there was no toilet on board. The crewmen would squat on the fantail and relieve themselves directly into the sea. For us, they provided a bucket. A line tied to its bail permitted us to toss it overboard and get water in it. Upon finishing, the user would dump water and all overboard, then drag the bucket in the sea to make it clean for the next man. I told Mr. Keel, â€œBesides the necessities, the men always stay topside until the cold drives them below.â€
He explained, â€œThatâ€™s what bothers me. They ainâ€™t getting climatized to the cold. They go below as soon as they feel the chill. Theyâ€™ve got to get acclimatized.â€
He showed me a duty list assigning two-hour starboard and bow submarine lookout watches, around the clock. My name was not on his list, but I objected. â€œWhy the lookouts? We donâ€™t have guns, or even a transmitter to report a sub-sighting. Besides the men will get overly cold, standing on deck for two hours in the clothes they wear. Weâ€™ve stowed most of our foul-weather gear in the hold with the cargo.
Mr. Keelâ€™s mind was made up, and I blamed the submarine watch for colds that several men had by the time we reached Conch Bight.
Five of us, Guy, King, Skipper Sol, Frank Turano, and I went ashore in the dory. Frank and I wore caps with aviator-type goggles. As we went ahead, we met a man whose eyebrows and eyelashes sparkled with ice crystals. He was carrying sticks of wood, but when he saw us, he dropped them and called out, â€œOh by the Lordy Jesus Christ! Whereâ€™d ye come from a-tall? An airyplane?â€
We found the general store. Four men sat around a warm cast-iron stove. I asked the shopkeeper if he had any medicine for colds. He said, â€œYes, sire, but itâ€™s only for livyers.â€
I said, â€œEven if it just treats the liver, I would like to buy some.â€
Guy began laughing, â€œNo, Sire. Heâ€™s not saying itâ€™s liver medicine. He says â€˜live-heresâ€™â€”itâ€™s for folks what live here.â€
The answer was the same on everything in the storeâ€”he has keeping it for the livyers and would not sell even an aspirin to me.
We next went over to the post office where the lady postmistress was busy sending a message by landline Morse code on a small battery-powered wireless set. When she finished and turned off the set, I reached over and tapped out a message on the dead key, â€œIS THERE ANY FOOD OR MEDICINE IN CONCH THAT I CAN BUY? I PAY IN MONEY OR YANKEE CIGARETTES.â€
She tapped back, â€œI CAN GIVE YOU A TIN OF ASPIRIN. A MAN GOT 14 SEALS TODAY. DO YOU WANT TO BUY SEAL MEAT?â€
At that point Guy said, â€œWhat are you ticky-ticking with the lass? You canâ€™t shack up here, bâ€™y. Mr. Keel will make me sail tonight if you ainâ€™t in the dory when we return.â€
The postmistress sent a boy to fetch the man who had the seals. He returned with him and I traded 9 packs of cigarettes for 6 seal carcasses. We took one with us and he agreed to bring the other five to the schooner.
For $2 the postmistress would send a telegram to Boston. I addressed it to my fiancÃ¨, Connie Dewees: â€œREMEMBERING YOU ALWAYS STOP ENJOYING COLD WEATHER IN GOOD HEALTH.â€ I gave the postmistress a pack of cigarettes for the box of aspirins, although she asked for no pay.
When we returned to the dory, the tide had gone out and the surf was breaking some distance from the snow-covered shore where we had left the dory. Guy said, â€œSheâ€™s after breaking over the bellicotter.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s a bellicotter, and how do you spell it? I asked.
â€œI donâ€™t think its got a spelling, Sire. Just an old Newfie word used for the ice wall that builds up on shore at waterâ€™s edge, where the sea pounds over it. With the high wind, the sea is up and now breaks over the ice wall out there at low tide. The trick is to be there in the dory when the smallest wave is coming in, else weâ€™ll be spilled out. Wait till I say the word, then give the oars all yeâ€™ve got.â€
We did as Guy said, shoved off when the biggest wave broke over the bellicotter and rode over the ice wall on a small wave that followed. That day, I gained a new respect for the dory, and was surprised at how well thole pins worked, having never used anything to support oars but oarlocks.
On the schooner, the cook cut up the seal carcass with a handsaw and cooked the slices in a large frying pan on the coal stove in the foâ€™câ€™stle. The meat was black and tasted like fishy liver, but we ate it. Just as Guy said, â€œItâ€™s easy to love the taste, if yeâ€™re hungry.â€
All that night the wind and sea beat down on the schooner, which dragged anchors so that we were less than a quarter-mile from shore at the bottom of the Bight. Guy said that we would wait for the wind to slack off before leaving, but we got underway, and re-anchored nearly a mile offshore. Mr. Keel wanted to keep going but Guy explained that we were seeing more slob ice and if strong winds drove the schooner close to shore, the slob ice could â€œshelve-up. When that happens, it can sink any ship a-tall, even a battleship.â€
Six men went ashore in the dory the next morning, even though the sea was rough in the bight. When they returned, we had difficulty bringing them on board. Walter Stewart stood up to grasp the railing of the schooner just as the dory plunged down in a trough of the sea, leaving him dangling. We rushed to grab him, but Guy stood up in the dory, grasped his legs and tossed him onto the schooner.
While we waited for the on-shore wind to slacken, I got into a discussion with Guy and asked him how he had navigated into Conch Bight so accurately in the blinding snowstorm. â€œItâ€™s a secret, Sire, but Iâ€™ll tell you how to do it. There be breaks in a snowstorm. I knew about where we were by dead reckoning, but not exactly. In the bow, with mâ€™ back to the wind, I keep looking up for the headland. Every now and again I catch glimpses of the peaks and crags ashore. Finally, a moment of break came in the snow and I see a rock cairn of a shape thatâ€™s only found on the peak at the south entrance to Conch Bight. Thatâ€™s when I told Skipper Sol to change course.
Mr. Keel had brought along a Shipâ€™s Log Book, which he kept locked in his briefcase when he was not writing in it. â€œWhat the Hell do he find to write about? Every day he asks me, â€˜Whatâ€™s our noon position and how many miles did we make good in the past 24 hours?â€™ but it donâ€™t take him all day and night to write that, Sire.â€
I didnâ€™t tell Guy that Mr. Keel wrote down everything, including criticisms of my own men, the crew and especially Guy Earle, who had hurt Mr. Keelâ€™s feelings when he threatened to leave him standing on the dock in St Johns the day after Christmas. I felt that we had been well-served by Guy and his crew and that Mr. Keel had been too critical of them, but I was not going to tell that to Guy. After all, Mr. Keel was my C.O. and if he wanted to, he could write trivial things in his log. Once when Nesmith was sick, I got him interested in drinking some canned tomato juice. I saw Mr. Keel write in his log: â€œNesmith felt like tomato juice. Gave same.â€
â€œGuy, donâ€™t worry about Mr. Keelâ€™s log book. Heâ€™s probably the only one whoâ€™ll ever read it. Now tell me somethingâ€”you Newfoundlanders appear to be strong-minded people, proud to have the King of England over you, and the fact you live in Englandâ€™s oldest colony, what do you think of the King?â€
â€œWell Sire, you donâ€™t understand the old saying, â€œThe King is dead, long live the King. The Kingâ€™s the King, you know. He can do no wrong. Fact is, he can do nothing now but be respected. Has his own Church and he can do nothing that earns disrespect. Take the case of recent King Edwardâ€”a great Kingâ€”trained for it all his life, he did. He abdicated so that the King would not be criticized, but since heâ€™s no longer King, heâ€™s criticized a-plenty. Even as Prince of Wales, he was Admiral of the British Fleet. Now heâ€™s Third Mate on an American Tramp.â€ With a wry smile he added, â€œThatâ€™s a Newfie joke.â€
On January 7th, we departed Conch Bight, hoping to reach St Anthony that day, our last port in Newfoundland. As he often did, Skipper Sol stood on the foredeck, wearing a heavy black overcoat that was kept closed with wooden pegs for buttons. He would swing his arms and beat his hands against his body, front and back, to keep warm. As I had done many times, I asked him if he thought weâ€™d â€œmake Battle Harbor.â€
His reply was always the same, â€œNo mison. Neara bitta Battle Harbor yillsee tisyear. Slobice smaking intebites.â€ I finally got the meaning: â€œNo my son. Never a bit of Battle Harbor youâ€™ll see this year. Slob ice is making in the bights.â€
This seasoned skipper spoke openly about the impossibility of our mission. All the while, he worked hard and faced our failure and unknown fate courageously. Guy sailed on without showing any doubt about succeeding.
Guy was only four years older than I was. At first I assumed that he was acting skipper only because his father owned the schooner. In fact, he told me that Skipper Sol was aboard because he had masterâ€™s papers. It was much later when I learned that Guy also had papers, having become the youngest Newfoundland master at 17.
One day I borrowed Guyâ€™s small calibre pistol, which he kept in the wheelhouse. We were passing a sea pigeon some 50 feet abeam. As I took aim, Guy called out, â€œThat birdâ€™s plenty safe,â€ just in time to see it killed by my shot.
â€œSo yeâ€™re a marksman with the pistol, Sire, but howâ€™re ye going to get the bird? Rule of the North is that we eats what we shoots.â€
â€œSorry, I did not know the rule. Besides, it was a lucky shot. My dad gave me a double-barrel shotgun when I was 12, just as his father had done for him. I sold it and bought a .22 rifle and later got an old .22 and made a pistol of it with a 10-inch barrel. Old man Cub Brooks, a negro who worked on our farm, taught me to hunt. I became a good shot by using my single-shot guns just like Iâ€™d throw a rock. I shot crows flying and rabbits running, never thinking about how to shoot targets on the range by squeezing off the trigger. Now I can hit targets, but Iâ€™m no longer a good hunter.â€œ
â€œLetâ€™s see you do some target shooting. Here, Red, take this stick to the bow and hold it out for Wo to shoot.â€ The de-barked stick was about one-inch in diameter and six inches long. I thought Guy was joking, but when Red stood in the bow with his left arm outstretched, holding the stick, Guy stood about 60 feet aft and fired a shot that caused the stick to fall to the deck, pierced by the pistol bullet about two inches from the end. I did not compete.
As we neared St Anthony, the slob ice covered the inlet and solid ice covered most of the harbor. We made headway slowly through the slob and finally tied up against the landlocked ice. Our first task was to take five of my men to the Grenfell Mission Hospital. Walter Steward had an allergy to bedbug bites and his face had swollen so that his eyes were closed and he could not see. Larsen was sick. Howen had not recovered from pneumonia. We took them and two other men with sore throats to hospital for treatment.
On January 8th, we walked about St Anthony, did a little shopping and met some residents who invited us to dinner in their homes. Mr. Keel said that one man had to remain onboard, armed at all times to safeguard our cargo. I volunteered for the night duty, because the other able-bodied men wanted to be ashore in the evening hours. Two of them claimed to have had quality shack time in warm beds.
On January 9th, Guy Earle woke me at 0400. â€œSire, itâ€™s blowing a gale from the east today. If ever weâ€™re to cross the Strait of Belle Isles to the Labrador, todayâ€™s the day.â€
I woke my men aboard and we made our way to hospital where we wakened our shipmates and helped them get dressed. Two men were too weak to walk, so we borrowed stretchers and carried them to the schooner. The nurses sent word to Dr Curtis, the hospitalâ€™s chief physician. He soon arrived on board the schooner and told us, â€œIf you take these men now, you are taking them to their deaths!â€
Mr. Keel explained that we had no choice. Our orders were to arrive at Battle Harbor as soon as possible. Dr Curtis then suggested that two men return to hospital with him and get medicines and directions for their use, so that we could continue treatment of the sick men.
Before the men returned, villagers came out on the ice to wish us Godspeed. Their faces betrayed a great fear for us. Silence settled over the vessel as we watched them in the dawnâ€™s dim light. First a few, then almost all of them walked over the ice, up the hill and into the church.
After clearing the harbor ice, Guy had the foresail hoisted, the jib set, and the diesel running at cruising speed as we made headway among scattered ice floes.
As we rounded Cape Bauld, the crew began hourly turns as barrelman atop the mast, on the lookout for leads in the ice field, which extended as far as the eye could see. All day, the schooner moved haltingly in a north north-westerly direction, past Belle Isles and through the strait, steering for leads of open water espied by the barrelman on the mast.
Often a large floe would block our way, but the wind, mountainous waves, and force of the schooner pressing onward would cause the flow to break or turn slowly and let the vessel slide by, into the tumult of smaller floes.
At nightfall the schoonerâ€™s progress was blocked by landlocked ice that covered Caribou Bay, but we had achieved what no other vessel had ever done in mid-winterâ€”we had sailed from Newfoundland â€œdown north to the Labrador.â€
Guy Earle, Frank Turano, and I walked over the ice to a small cabin we had seen on the island in the bay. Inside, I struck a match and saw five ookalik (arctic hares) hanging from the rafters. â€œDout the light!â€ Guy commanded.
We carried the ookalik back to the schooner, where the cook cleaned them and put them to boil in a large pot on the coal stove in the foâ€™câ€™stle. We all looked forward to a change in diet from sealmeat and beans. Just as the first shift was sitting down to eat, a young Labrador settler came aboard, whose name was Doug Bradley. He said he had gone gunning for ducks on the island. The first day, ice formed in the Tickle, too thick to row through and too thin to walk over to his home on Little Caribou Island. High seas later broke up the ice, so that he could neither walk on the slob, nor row his boat through it. He had been snaring hares for food. â€œNow, somebodyâ€™s after taking mâ€™only food.â€
Guy gave the young man a $5 bill and invited him to eat dinner and spend the night on the schooner.
At about 0330, I woke up to the sound of pounding feet and went topside. Guy told me to lend a hand. The wind had shifted, breaking off a large segment of bay ice to which we were moored, and we were being carried seaward by it. â€œGo help mâ€™ men cut the grappling hooks free, or weâ€™ve been to Labrador and left already!â€
We cut ice around the two large grappling hooks, got them free and back on board. Guy said that the wind would clear the slob out of the bay and coves and, if we could hold our position, weâ€™d soon have open water to the shoreline. At first light, we saw that we had been blown into Caribou Run, where we were caught in a river of ice, carrying us seaward. Guy had a man mount the barrel atop the mast. He reported that the flow of â€œslobâ€ ice appeared to be thinning in the distance and open water extended out from Cape St Charles to the south.
Guy told Skipper Sol, â€œHead south, toward Cape Charles, then go north along the solid ice. When the slob ice thins out, weâ€™ll head north to Battle Harbour.
We made slow headway when we edged northward in the opening the wind created between the shore and the slob ice. The ice field was packed solid around Battle Island and we were forced to stay to seaward in navigable water. That course led us toward Indian Cove.
Gus Bradley, the leading settler there and father of Doug, rowed his dory out and came aboard. Guy was preparing to start unloading cargo onto the solid ice but Gus advised against it. â€œWait till the morrow, Sire. Most likely the wind will be blowing a gale from the west and if so, Iâ€™ll pilot ye around Great Caribou Island to False Harbor Cove. Itâ€™s just down the cliff from the station and the best place for discharging the cargo.â€
Other dories soon came out and Mr. Keel decided that he would take most of our men ashore, where they could go overland 3 miles by kamatik (dog sled) to the empty barracks that had been built for us the prior summer by McNamara Construction Co. Thatâ€™s how the first Coast Guardsmen arrived at Advance Base Buck on January 10, 1943.
True to Gusâ€™ prediction, a strong wind blew from the west and he was able to pilot the schooner to False Harbor Cove, where we moored to landlocked ice that covered half of the cove. We rigged a cargo net to the boom and lowered the net into the hold, where I and two other Coast Guardsmen tried to select boxes in the order needed ashore, load them into the net, have them hoisted, swung outboard and lowered to the ice. The boxes were later loaded onto kamatiks and hauled down the cove, around the rocky crags and uphill to the barracks.
There were too many stopsâ€”waiting for the kamatiks, the boom cargo unloading, etc. Guy had his men lean one of the hatch covers over the side, so that it made a ramp from the schooner to the ice. The boxes were then slid down it and stacked on the ice, to be hauled away by kamatiks.
My two men and I stacked boxes to make a stairway from the bilge to the deck, and two men carried up each 200-pound box. Being the third man, I began bringing up a box by myself. Soon we were waiting for men on deck to move the boxes and clear the way, so my men went topside to do that. I was still going strong hours later, sweating through my shirt and trousers. I began seeing settlersâ€™ faces on deck, looking at the American man who was discharging all the cargo from the hold.
Keel signed papers that certified the safe delivery of men and cargo to Battle Harbor. He gave them to Guy, along with official letters to be mailed, addressed to CG Headquarters and the First Naval District CG Office.
On the envelopes he had stamped a return address below, which compromised all items of secrecy [underlined portions] about the stationâ€™s location and mission. The FPO Box 228 was cancelled and a mail clerk somewhere could justifiably conclude that the unit was destroyed by enemy action. Consequently all mail, personal and official, was appropriately marked and returned to senders. Even Boston Radio insisted on trying to communicate with NJN by calling on 2670 kcs, as though we were just up the Charles River.
At long last, with official mail being bounced and families complaining to the Red Cross, CG Hqtrs., et al, somebody finally put the letters in mail bags, held them until some authority assigned a new FPO Box number to CG Unit 35, notified senders, and dropped the bags of accumulated mail on Battle Harbor 11 months after we arrived.
Commanding Officer, Advance Base Buck
Coast Guard Unit 35, Radio Station NJN
LORAN Site #3, Battle Harbour, Labrador
c/o Fleet Post Office Box 228, NY NY USA
The Thomas S Gorton left the Labrador coast in twilight and re-crossed the Strait of Belle Isles with a fair wind of near gale force. It was the latest date for a shipâ€™s crossing in history, a record which may still stand. At about midnight, the schooner sailed into St Anthony Harbor where the villagers rang the church bell and celebrated the crewâ€™s safe return with a party till daylight.
Thanks never expressed were due to Guy Earle, who dared try to do what more experienced skippers knew was not possible. He matched bravery with masterful control of the schooner Thomas S Gorton to land 13 men and 128 tons of cargo safely down on the Labrador, January 11, 1943, when it was hardly possible a-tall.
Our new Commanding Officer, Harry H Harrison, arrived on the first Newfoundland freighter to Battle Harbor in the spring of 1943 and Mr. Keel returned to the States, where the USCG rewarded him with a 3-step promotion, from Warrant Officer to Lieutenant. Guy Earleâ€™s feat accrued to his credit, as did the work of my technicians in providing precision electronic position-finding to Allied ships and planes navigating the Great Circle Routes in the North Atlantic between America and England during World War II. We had overcome great obstacles to make the Battle Harbor Loran double-slave station operational on March 1, 1943.