In 1954, General Foods Birdseye Division was a big part of Rockland’s waterfront. In addition to a fish processing operation on Tillson Avenue, the company had a shipyard on Mechanic Street which maintained a fleet of nine fishing boats: Ridge, calm, Derivative, Ocean, Tide, Vague, Surf, Storm and squall.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 13, 1954, the Surf ran aground on the ledges of Devil’s Limb off Seal Island, western Nova Scotia. The Surf was built in 1937 and was registered at 309 tons. Her length was 132 feet with a beam of 25 feet, powered by a 750 horsepower diesel.
Captain Douglas Schwartz of Rockland was taking the trawler and her 10-man crew to the Grand Banks, having left the day before at 4 p.m. It is believed that the trawler’s compass was off. Men who sailed in the area observe the Surf was 15 or 20 miles off course when it ran aground. No one was hurt.
Captain Spinney was about 30 miles from the wreck, bound for Rockland with the trawler Bird’s Eye Tide. It was decided on Tideheavily laden with its catch, was unsuited to the rescue effort.
A Coast Guard cutter and tug Vera of Halifax take turns trying to dislodge Surf of his difficult situation; they were only able to move the ship a few feet.
Friday evening, October 15, at high tide, there was a last test. It failed. People at their home in Rockland on Saturday morning October 16 feared the trawler would sit on the rocks for a month when the higher tides returned.
Captain Schwartz had another idea. He rounded up Canadian lobster fishermen to take his anchors out to sea and try them out at noon on Saturday, October 16. to remove it began at high tide.
The effort continued as the tide began to recede. At the last possible moment, the heavy ship broke away from the ledges and slid into deep water. The crew reported that moments after breaking free, the ledges were whipped by white water and wind which would have pounded the ship on the rocks.
It was determined that there was a leak in the hull near the engine room and that the rudder mounts were damaged. Captain Schwartz located a sandy beach at Cromwell’s Cove and beached the Surf assess the condition of the hull. The crew was able to carry out some repairs themselves.
Captain Léo Doucet with the trawler Bird’s Eye Creteen route to Rockland, stood by Sunday until a tug was called from Pubnico and the Surf was removed from the beach at Cromwell Cove. Ridge followed the Surf closely in the port of Pubnico. So close, in fact, that their radios wouldn’t work properly.
The Surf departed the Port of Pubnico for Rockland at 3:00 p.m. Monday, October 18, accompanied by the tug Vera. The Surf arrived in Rockland on Tuesday, October 19, under her own power.
Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.
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