Boat ramming during lobster boat races

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First snow of 1966 occurred on January 7. That was our third winter living on the mainland. I’m assuming that Mom was getting a little homesick for she wanted to spend a few days visiting with our former Pictou Island friends. On January 21 at 9 a.m., mother flew to Pictou Island from Trenton airport in Dwayne MacKawane’s two-seater mail plane and stayed with Arnold and Loraine MacMillan. Mom spent the next few days visiting with past island friends and neighbours including Jen Turple, Charlie & Eleanor MacMillan, the Patterson’s, Katie & Campbell MacCallum, Roy & Cassie MacCallum, Howard MacLean, Katie, Duncan, Verna, Cecil, Shirley, Janet & Ernie Rankin. These Rankins were from four different island homes.

Mother had written in her diary that she along with Loraine and Arnold went to the weekly card game on Friday night. These card games were held at the schoolhouse and nine tables with four people per table were in attendance. Two days later, Mom & Loraine returned to the mainland via mail plane and were driven home from the airport by Ronnie & Eleanor MacDonald.

Snow and flurries prevailed over the next few weeks accompanied by cold northerly winds. The temperature dropped to minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit on February 22. This was one of the coldest nights of that winter. The weather turned milder the next day and continued being mild with a lot of rain falling throughout March.

Cameron MacDonald, Art Ferguson, Alvin MacLean, Lorne MacMillan, Raymond Battist and Cecil and Donnie Shaw were visiting with us at our home in Caribou on March 18. The ice in the Northumberland Strait was scattering quickly and those men were probably discussing the upcoming lobster season. The ice in the Northumberland Strait had all gone by March 21.

Melvin MacDonald, Harold Bennett and Cecil Rankin made first boat crossing from Pictou Island to Pictou on March 25. The month of April was even milder with warm sunny days. Lobster fishermen were now at the wharves painting and preparing their open wooden boats for lobster season.

Pictou Island’s Andrew (Happy) MacDonald passed away Thursday, April 28.

Lobster season began on April 30 and dad hired Robert Pallerine from Pictou to fish with him that year for $5 per day. Robert was a young teenager who was eager to take on any of life’s challenges. It couldn’t be that bad fishing in a 34 foot open wooden lobster boat. However, after battling heavy rains, sleet, high winds and high seas for two months, I don’t think that fishing met up to Robert’s expectations. I don’t believe that he ever went back to fishing.

Price paid for canner lobster in 1966 was 47 cents per pound. Market lobster sold for 57 cents per pound. Lobster catches were average during the month of May with most fishermen averaging between two to three hundred pounds plus per day. However the lobster catches quickly declined during the month of June to 40-50 pounds per day. Many fishermen began landing their lobster traps on Thursday, June 23.

The annual Pictou Lobster Carnival began Friday, July 8. That Saturday was a hot sunny day and the lobster boat races were held in the afternoon. The lobster boat races were always a popular event that would see hundreds of spectatorss standing four to five deep on all local wharves along the waterfront. My father raced his Dream Boat powered by a 401 cubic inch Buick Wildcat against a V-bottomed boat named Brenton. Brenton was powered by a 428 cubic inch Ford and owned by Blain Nicole from PEI. Dad placed second in his race category but placed first in the free for all. First prize earned Dad a new boat propeller, a wall plaque, $50, and two gallons of white paint. He received $25 and a pair of oilskins for second prize.

To have a better view, many boats carrying spectators would be anchored, drifting or sailing around the three-buoy race course. Harold Bennett from Pictou Island had a number of spectators with him in his lobster boat on that day. A few of them were Alvin MacLean, Frank MacDonald and Gorman Glover. They were sailing past one of the wharves when, for whatever reason, Lorie MacCarty from Caribou was taking his boat out of that same wharf area at full throttle. The MacCarty boat hit Bennett’s boat side on splitting it in half. Many people aboard Bennett’s boat were directly hit. The impact of the ramming threw most everyone into the water. Some victims were able to swim and stay afloat while others had been knocked out and lay motionless in the water. Theodore MacLean, Albert MacCallum, Judy Rankin and Marilyn Bigney were not far away in Theodore’s boat Kevin W. They rushed to the sunken boat and began pulling people from the water. Alvin MacLean was laying face down in the water and not breathing. His false teeth had lodged far back in his throat. Frank MacDonald was pinned at the hips and lay motionless with his arms dangling over the washboard of the sunken boat. Gorman Glover was knocked out and suffered a concussion. He was lying unconscious in the water. The RCMP patrol boat was quick on the scene and immediately took over the rescue mission. They quickly transported all casualties to a waiting ambulance on the wharf. The victims were then rushed to the then full functioning Pictou Hospital where immediate life saving procedures were applied. Thankfully there were no fatalities on that day.

jimturple@eastlink.ca