A true story told by Mary Hunt (née Way), a ninety-two-year-old retired Avon representative who lives in St. John's, NF. The story was written down by her grandson, Rob Fritz, and brought to Geist by her niece, Lily Gontard, a contributing editor.
My father, Stephen Way, was a First World War veteran and a fisherman who did not like fishing very much but did like the sea. Around 1930 or ’31, when I was ten or eleven years old, he decided to spend some more time at sea and joined a schooner, Mona Marie, boarded with dry cod fish and bound for Portugal. The captain, Moses Pelley, had his four sons with him—Jonathan, Baxter and two others whose names I do not remember. All the crew were from Trinity Bay except my father, who was from Flower’s Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.
The ship arrived in Portugal after a voyage of twenty-three days, which was long but not unheard of at that time. On their return they lost the schooner near St. Philip’s on the east coast of Newfoundland. The owner, Angus Genge, a businessman from Flower’s Cove, bought another schooner, the Cote Nord. With the same captain and crew, the ship made another voyage to Old Porto, Portugal, and took about the same length of time as before. By now the September storms were settling in, and this ship was not the best ever to set out to sea.
On the return trip they stopped at Barbados and took on a cargo of molasses, then started out for the stormy voyage through the Atlantic Ocean. The Cote Nord met with many storms and could barely weather the gales. The ship and crew arrived off the Virgin Rocks, about a hundred miles off St. John’s. The vessel was supposed to go over the rocks, but the water was not deep enough in the storm. The men lost their steering gear and rudder and started drifting.
The ship drifted in the North Atlantic for fifty-four days. The men ran out of food and drinking water—and, worse, precious tobacco. They made cigarettes by rolling tea in bits of brown paper bag, and when that had been consumed, they shredded finely cut rope and smoked that. The crew took turns keeping watch, two at a time in four-hour shifts, and tied themselves to the ship so as not to be washed overboard. Never at any time did they see a sign of life.
One night in October, in a severe storm, the Cote Nord sprang a leak and started taking in water. The engine room filled up and the gas engine failed to operate. News went to Captain Pelley, who told them all to come to his cabin and wait for the ship to sink. “In the meantime we’ll sit around and say a few prayers,” he said. After a while, he suggested a couple of boys go and look in the hold where the molasses had been before they discharged all of their cargo into the sea. On the men’s return they announced, “We are about three-quarters full of water.” Everyone sat around again. The captain said, “My biggest regret is that I have taken all my boys; there is neither one left to take care of their mother.”
Around dawn, they were still afloat. Again the captain sent two men down to see what was happening. They came back and reported that the ship was empty of water and all the floors were dried up.
That day a Scandinavian ship spotted them and picked them up. The crew were taken aboard the ship, and the Cote Nord was towed safely to Barbados. From there the men were sent to Halifax on the SS Lady Nelson, and they took a ferry from Halifax to Deer Lake. My Uncle Dan, my father’s brother, went to Deer Lake by dog team and brought my father home. It was Easter week.
The men had been gone for so many days that almost everybody thought they were lost, and so the Reverend Canon Richards wanted to have a memorial service. All five of my father’s brothers, Uncle George, Matthew, Thomas, Daniel and Elijah, believed it was time for the memorial service, but my mother had said, “Not yet, I have faith that he will return.”