The Perfect Storm with a Perfect Ending
July 18, 2011
The Eskasoni Fishing Crew Speaks on their Crisis in Sea
Exactly what sunk Eskasoni’s communal fishing vessel, “Bessie aqq Wilfred” is still under investigation but that is insignificant compared to what could have happened if the crew went down with the vessel.
The community was in a state of panic when they heard about the sinking of “Bessie aqq Wilfred,” but were grateful to hear that Captain Shawn Stevens and his crew were safely on land on the morning of July 10, 2011.
First and foremost, the entire fishing crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred” want to thank everyone, from the community, family and friends, the staff of Crane Cove Seafoods, RCMP Constable, Gaetanne Stevens and most importantly the Canadian Coast Guard for bringing them back home safe.
Our story begins on July 8 when the fishing crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred,” set out for snow crabs with Captain Shawn Stevens on the helm with deckhands, Frances (Gubble) Stevens, Maynard P. Young Sr., Jonathan (Jon) Johnson, George Denny and Charles (Chuck) Francis.
The crew began hauling traps at 3am the following day and worked 11 hours straight with no time for rest and hauled what they said was a record catch in such a short time. In less than 12 hours, “Bessie aqq Wilfred,” was full to capacity with over 30,000 pounds of snow crab.
The long voyage back to Petit de Grat began and the crew was now able to relax after an amazing day.
During that evening a storm started brewing but it was not a major concern for the captain and his crew. Deckhand, Jon Johnson took his shift at the helm late in the evening and just made sure to monitor the radar and keep his coordinates towards home.
Jon was well into his shift when about 1:05am he noticed a major problem. The engine was at full speed but it was only going 4 knots. We he looked back at the deck and he noticed snow crab everywhere, under 3 feet of water.
Jon immediately woke up the Captain and the entire crew. Maynard began passing out the survival suits and Shawn called out mayday at approximately 1:15am. Captain, Jibby Paul of “Dr. Granny” responded but the signal was going in and out but Shawn was able to give his coordinated to Jibby.
“Bessie aqq Wilfred” was bringing in water and the crew was certain if the engine wasn’t still in gear, the boat would have gone down a long time ago. The crew believes that this is what saved them.
Captain Shawn said our boat was literally half submerged, with only the front moving forward. Deckhand, Maynard cut the cord on the life raft and deckhands, George and Jon deployed the raft.
At this time the crew called out to the captain, “This is it skip!” but Shawn didn’t want to leave his vessel. “This is it skip!” the crew yelled again and Shawn finally radioed “Abandon ship” to the Coast Guard at approximately 1:30am and the entire crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred” jumped in the life raft.
With all the chaos that was occurring, the entire crew said we were all in control and we never panicked. Shawn credits their survival training, instincts and team work. Shawn said, “Even Jon was still having a smoke before we abandoned ship.”
Once the crew was all in the life raft, within a half an hour, the coast guard’s Hercules plane flew over them. Jon lit up a flare to indicate the life raft’s location. Moments later the plane threw down flares in the water so that the coast guard chopper could easily find their location.
For three hours, the last crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred” floated aimless in sea only about 17 kilometers northeast of Canso. But the crew knew they were safe. They saw land and it was only a matter of time before they were to be rescued.
Amidst all the drama that had just unfolded, the crew had a good laugh when deckhand George Denny said, “What a f**kn birthday!”
At approximately 4:20am the coast guard chopper located the crew and everyone was hoisted up to the chopper. Once everyone was safely on board, the chopper headed to Halifax because of the unsafe weather conditions in Cape Breton.
The Canadian Coast Guard chopper landed at the Halifax International Airport before 6am with Deployment and License Supervisor, Leon Denny of Crane Cove Seafoods and RCMP Constable, Gaetanne Stevens waiting to take them home. The crew arrived back home in Eskasoni around 11am.
Looking back, the last crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred,” said all they could think about on the life raft was to be home safe with the family. Captain Shawn said for a few days after couldn’t sleep and kept having nightmares of his real life ordeal at sea but after a few good night sleeps he said he is ready to work again.
Deckhand Maynard Young said, “For a few days I had my guard up and was easily startled but I’m OK now and ready to work.” Maynard said he is sorrier that they lost the boat and lost a great catch.” He added, “A great day turned into a nightmare. On top of that, I lost my coors light bag that I just bought.”
Most of the last crew of “Bessie aqq Wilfred” are already back at work and all of them agreed that they are more prepared to work now because they have been through it and they know that their safety training will kick in if ever a crisis situation where to happen again.