Sinking of the Tonka

Community Online First

It was on a clear morning of August 21, 1959 when Scott Falconer’s boat Tonka, loaded with herring, was accidentally rammed and sunk by another boat. The lucrative herring run had just begun and Scott was then without a boat.

Scott’s good friend Arnold MacMillan from Pictou Island felt really sorry that such a thing had happened to him. Arnold, knowing that Scott was in need of immediate assistance, came to his aid and sold Scott his boat called Rocket. Rocket was a 38-foot wooden boat that my father had built for Arnold in 1953. Arnold then went to Cape Tormentine N.B and purchased a new 40-foot boat that he named GEA. GEA were the initials of the boat’s builder.

Arnold needed a motor for the new boat so he naturally kept the motor from the Rocket. The herring run around the waters of Pictou Island was just beginning and Scott was thankful that he now had another boat. Nevertheless, he still had one problem that needed immediate attention. His new boat Rocket was without a motor. The motor from the Tonka was still in the smashed boat that had been hauled onto the shore in Pictou. Any night missed from fishing could mean a lot of money and Scott didn’t want to loose out.

On September 4, 1959, my father towed the Rocket without a motor around to the backside of Pictou Island with the Slo-Mo-Shun. Here, he and Scott set their herring nets from both boats at John Dan’s Cove. Schools of herring hit their nets that night and both their boats were loaded. My father then towed the now loaded Rocket into Pictou where the Slo-Mo-Shun and Rocket were unloaded of their herring catch. That was one night that Scott was able to save money on gas expenses. Vernon Turple took Scott’s boat motor over to Pictou Island two days later and they installed it in the Rocket.

As I stated before, Scott caught more than fish from around the shores of Pictou Island that year. He and my older sister Rita were married on July 10, 1959. Scott and his beautiful 16-year-old bride assumed that there was more to life then fishing. They both being young and adventurous wanted to try a new way of life and besides, Scott wasn’t too keen on going for any more unexpected swims. On October 1, 1959, Rita and Scott set out for Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

Newfoundland offered employment and many new friends but it just wasn’t the same as being your own boss. He and Rita returned to Pictou Island on August 8, 1960. They rented a bungalow on Pictou Island from Archie MacDonald and spent that winter there. The sea was calling Scott and he was again going to be a fisherman. He acquired another boat and built new lobster traps over the winter months. It was that simple years ago when regulations, licenses, fees and taxes were not attached to everything.

Moving ahead to the spring of 1965.

Scott had fished lobsters and herring for the past three years. He and Rita had moved from Pictou Island and had made their home on Caribou Island. Scott was fishing alone in his 45-foot boat named Roger M. This was also the second year since my parents and I had moved off Pictou Island. I was then 15 years old and lived with my parents in Central Caribou. I finished school that year sometime in early June and immediately looked for a summer job. Scott hired me at $5 per day to fish the remaining lobster season with him. I had picked up an old Bridgestone 90 motorcycle for $100 and every morning before daylight I would drive on the dirt road to Caribou Island. Yes, I was only 15 years old and had no license but remember, I was once a kid, too.

Scott kept the Roger M anchored off the beach below his house on Caribou Island and I would meet him at his boat every morning.

I remember this one real foggy day when we were hauling traps off Pictou Island’s West End. The fog was so thick that I could barely see the front of the Roger M when standing at the back picking fish from the traps. Scott decided to call it quits for the day when the front of the boat almost touched the rocks at the Island’s West End reef. We could see nothing but fog and I had no idea which direction was east, west, north or south. I compare that day to spinning someone who is blindfolded and then instructing them to pin the tail on the donkey. Scott didn’t have a compass on board but he swung the boat around and headed off. I recall saying, Scott where are we going? He replied, “wherever we stop”. I was kind of hopeful that we were heading in the direction of Caribou although, at that point, nothing would surprise me. Occasionally we would sail by someone else’s boat and we would give our usual wave. I still have no idea how Scott determined which way we should have been going but after sailing for about 20 minutes, we suddenly came to a stop. We had grounded on the sand bar just a few feet to the right off the Caribou/PEI ferry channel. The fog started to lift a little and Laurie MacCarthy from Caribou was sailing by. He stopped, threw us a line and pulled us back into the channel.

Thinking back to those years… All lobster boats were open and without cabins. Most all fishermen had a compass on board their boat but there were a rare few fishermen who didn’t. Radar, sonar equipment or sounders were not heard of. I have often wondered how Scott knew which direction Caribou was in that day. Maybe the Roger M was like an old horse and knew which way to go home?       

     Jimturple4@gmail.com