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The following article was published in the “Western Star” on December 20, 1946. Stephenville should read Stephenville Crossing. Despite being less than 2 years old at the time, I do remember my parents discussing the event.
The following story contains excerpts from “Lost at Sea”, a collection of Newfoundland sea stories, compiled by Robert C. Parsons of Grand Bank, Newfoundland. These excerpts describe the events leading up to and following the grounding of the Christie and Eleanor on a beach in Stephenville Crossing, on the west coast of Newfoundland on December 16, 1946. The story of the Christie and Eleanor is one of many sea stories that have been researched and compiled by Robert C. Parsons2. I have taken the liberty to insert graphics and pictures into Robert’s description.
“It was Friday, December 13, 1946, when the Christie and Eleanor, laden with salt herring, headed for Gloucester, Massachusetts, from Lark Harbour on Newfoundland’s west coast. With a long and productive career behind her, the Christie and Eleanor was engaged in the coastal run for J. B. Patten’s interests of Grand Bank. She had been built in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1922.2.”
Schooner Christie and Eleanor (Under Sail)1
“At 8 a.m., in beautiful weather, she left the safety of Lark Harbour in company with the L. A. Dutton. Christie and Eleanor’s Captain, John Smith, was confident that he would be able to clear all the headlands by the next morning and reach the open waters of the Gulf. However, two hours later, both vessels ran into a sudden storm accompanied by thick snow.
Around ten o’clock that night, the winds increased to gale force. The L. A. Dutton, under Captain Robert Smith, found her engine power practically useless but was able to use the foresail to beat to the Eastern shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence2.”
“All Sunday, with a fairer wind, the Christie and Eleanor’s crew were able to keep their schooner off the land. Chart positions showed they were near enough to Bay St. George to take advantage of it’s shelter. On Monday evening the wind and snow came again, making it difficult to navigate. By now the crew were fearful of escaping with their lives as both lifeboats were gone. They had no way of leaving the doomed craft which was slowly but surely being pushed onto the land.
That Monday afternoon, December 16, near Indian Head, the auxilary schooner ran solidly aground, about 300 yards from shore. Within a few moments after she struck, exposed to the full strength of the breakers, the rudder unshiped and a hole opened in the stern. Gale force winds drove huge breakers over the Christie and Eleanor. The crew were forced to lash themselves to the heaving vessel and remain there all night2.”
“Not long after she struck the rocks, a crowd of people, mostly from Stephenville Crossing, gathered on the shore watching the wreck of the schooner and wanting to be of some assistance to the men trapped on her. Without lifeboats and his vessel breaking up beneath him, Captain Smith realized that each man’s life was in jeopardy unless help came soon. He also knew the stranded schooner was too far from shore for a lifeline or breeches buoy to be setup.
In desperation, he wrote an urgent plea, asking to be taken off the wrecked schooner. The message was put in a bottle, in turn, put in an oil can with the hope it would drift to shore. Tide and wind carried the container to the beach. Would-be rescuers waiting on the shore received the request for deliverance2.”
If I remember correctly, the schooner first grounded at the beach near what was known at the time as “The Love Lane”. Over time, “The Love Lane” evolved into Ocean Drive. The wreck eventually broke into pieces and the pieces were moved by the waves and tides along the beach in the direction of the Gut Bridge.
“Keeled over on the sand bar, the Christie and Eleanor lies partially submerged amid the breakers of Bay St. George. Photo courtesy of Captain John Smith2.”
“Spurred for the appeal for help, local residents three times made an effort to reach the shipwreck. Charles Fleet and Ron McIsaac tried to get a dory out, but each time the small craft was swamped in the boiling surf and rollers crashing on the sandy shore.
Officers from the newly-established Amercan military base at Harmon Field stayed on the shore all night keeping the lights of an army vehicle shinning on the scene. Commanding Officer Maxwell of Harmon tried to slack off a dory from a nearby tugboat to the Christie and Eleanor, but contrary winds and heavy sea made the attempt impossible.
Only the wheelhouse showed above the water that night; the bulk of the schooner had slipped off the rocks and settled down a little deeper. Six men inside the wheelhouse, already weakened by cold and exposure, stood in water up to their knees. With the coming of daylight on December 17, almost two days after the vessel had first struck the land off Sandy Point, efforts to save the stranded men redoubled.
Two local residents, Ron Bennett and Fred Campbell of Stephenville Crossing, succeeded in getting a small dory through the boiling surf. At great risk to their own lives they reached the six shipwrecked mariners. Four of them, first mate Joe English, cook Charles Fizzard, seaman Morgan Trimm, and engineer Welsh, who were though to be in the worst shape, fell, stiff and drained into the rescue dory. Half an hour later, a second trip brought Captain Smith and seaman John Manning of Oderin, Placentia Bay, to shore.
Despite prolonged exposure only John Manning remained in Stephenville hospital overnight suffering from frostbite to the hands and feet. The others were made comfortable by the citizens of the area until arrangements were made for the transportation to their coast homes2.”
As a child, growing up in Stephenville Crossing in the 1950s, the “old schooner”, as we called it, was moved up and down the beach by storms. At one point in time a rather large chunk of the schooner was located near where I lived. I recall a large rusting steel tank inside the structure. I recall many a lazy summer day, climbing on and swimming near the “old Schooner“. The beach at that time was quite pristine.
On a visit in December, 1977, I located the keel of the Christie and Eleanor not far from where I grew up.
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