Rough seas … the perfect storm

Online First Pictou Island Memories

I can relate to the movie titled The Perfect Storm. Judith Reeves based this movie on her actual accounts. Ms. Reeves was based on a Japanese fishing boat and was monitoring the tuna catch some 275 kilometers off Nova Scotia on the night of Oct. 29 1991. Three weather systems came together on that night off Nova Scotia and developed into what was called The Storm of the Century. Ms. Reeves was stationed on a ship that was approximately 160 feet long. Waves that were registered at 40 feet high smashed against this trawler and tossed it around like a cork. Fortunately the trawler did make its way safely into Halifax for repairs two days later. Ms. Reeves encounter has me recalling a personal experience that happened one Saturday in early May 1966.

Our house on Pictou Island had been destroyed by fire in 1965.  My parents had been staying in our trap house for the lobster season at the Pictou Island wharf. Robert Pallerine who now lives on the Scotsburn Road was fishing lobsters with my father that year. I was attending West Pictou District High School and I wanted to go fishing on Saturday morning with them. My father had sailed over to Caribou on Friday evening to take me back to the island.

We arose on that Saturday morning at 4:30 AM and witnessed what we thought to be a gorgeous day. The sun was a bright orange as it rose against a cloudless blue sky. The water was as still as a pain of glass. Not a breath of wind was blowing. We set sail for our fishing grounds after devouring an enormous breakfast at the cookhouse. We probably had about three-quarters of the gear hauled when the sky began turning a frightening dark colour. A sudden forceful wind from the east created short choppy waves. I remember my father saying, looks like we might be in for a rough ride home. Dad went on to say that maybe we should head into the wharf, pick up mother and head for home in Caribou.

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We only had about two miles to sail into the wharf from where we were fishing but the wind came up so quickly that it was really rough going. Most lobster boats during those years didn’t have cabins to protect you from the weather; the Dream Boat was one of those. Dad wasn’t wasting any time sailing to the wharf with the Dream Boat III. We were sailing along at a pretty good speed while skimming the wave tops. Dad was navigating with the steering stick behind the motor. Robert and I were standing in the bow when suddenly we hit this one big wave. The spray came over the bow and made a direct hit on Robert. It picked him up and he flew through the air from the force and landed in the stern beside by father. I can still see the horrified look on Roberts’s face when he realized how close he had come to going overboard. He wasn’t hurt or at least he said he wasn’t hurt and we continued on.

My parents were quite content to stay on the island that night and wait for the wind to die down but Robert and I had plans for the weekend and they didn’t include Pictou Island. So after a little persuading to my father, we set off for the Little Entrance in Caribou. During those years my brother Vincent fished in a 30-foot PEI boat and he started for Caribou just before us. I have to say that in all my years of sailing, this was probably the worst I had ever sailed in. The winds were steadily increasing from the east and the sea was hitting us side on. We could only idle along and since Dad was in control of navigating the boat, Mum was steadily manning the hand pump. Automatic bilge pumps were still not in use by most local fishermen.

Those waves were of monstrous size. A wall of water and the sky was all that we could see when we would go down into the trough of a wave. We would look up and watch as a large wave would break high above us and the wind would whip the spray into the boat. I visualized those waves to be at least 15 to 20 feet high. We would easily have been swamped if any of those waves had of broken directly over the boat but fortunately they always seemed to break before hitting us. We knew that Vincent was somewhere ahead of us but his boat could not be seen. I remember Robert saying to me, do you think that we are going to make it? We both wondered what would happen if the engine stopped. I guess we are here today because that didn’t happen.

We could normally have made that crossing in the Dream Boat in about 15 minutes. It took us an hour and a half on that day to reach the Little Entrance at Caribou. Vincent did stay ahead of us and the floors in his boat were floating by the time he made the wharf at the little entrance. His hand pump couldn’t keep up with the water that was washing into his boat.

These are just more memories of being a fisherman and living from the sea.