Survival off Sambro

It was a warm spring day back in early May of 197_ . I was working the counter of the family marine supply store here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 10am a fellow came in to buy some charts of the local waters. We struck up a conversation and I found he had just bought a 25 footer that he was planning to take to his home in St. Margaret's Bay. He said he needed some help as he was new to the area and a novice sailor to boot.

When do you want to go? Says I.
Right away. Says he.
I'm your man, lets go. Says I.

With that I grabbed my sailing bag. Luckily it was in the trunk of my car and had all my normal racing gear including my sea boots, a floater coat, rigging knife and a few outdated hand flares.

The boat was moored at one of the downtown piers and looked reasonably seaworthy. It was about 25 foot, wooden hull, small cuddy forward, and a gas engine. It looked like a converted lifeboat off a coaster. We started up the engine and let go the lines. The new owner, he was a Mountie who had just been transferred to Halifax from the Prairies, had never been on salt water before and was gung ho. I checked the fuel tank with a dip stick and suggested we top up at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron before heading out of the harbour. Anyway we were underway about an hour later and set our course to take us out of Halifax Harbour and through The Sambro Ledges, along the coast to Peggy's Cove, and then up into St.Margaret's Bay.

As we rounded Chebucto Head at the entrance to Halifax Harbour and entered Sambro Channel the seas increased a little and the wind came up some from the south west. Still a pleasant trip and a nice day to be out on the ocean. It was about 30 minutes later that the engine started to make some odd noises. We shut her down and checked the oil and the cooling tank. Everything seemed OK. We restarted and proceeded on course. About 10 minutes later we were abeam Pennant Buoy when the engine suddenly gasped and died. This time we removed the entire engine box and checked underneath. There was a lot of oil in the bilge. We had lost all the lube oil and the engine was siezed solid. It was about 15:00 hours by now and I figured we would have no problem getting a tow into Sambro from one of the fishing boats heading back to port. We found the anchor but no rode. We took every bit of line we could find and tied it all together ending up with about 70 feet of anchor line. The anchor was only a lunch hook but it seemed to be holding.

By now the wind had strengthened and the seas were building in the shallow confines of Sambro Channel. It wasn't long before we started to drag our anchor. We saw a few fish boats heading in but were unable to catch their attention. I dug the flares out of my sea bag and fired 2 rockets I found but still couldn't catch any attention. As it got dark we continued to drag our way down the channel just missing a couple of shoals as we went. We lit off our last flares with no apparent response. We dug out an old bucket and jammed it full of rags, oil and grease and lit that off and set it up as high as we could. It seemed to give off a good solid glow.

The anchor finally seemed to have caught and was holding us about 100 feet off an outcropping of rock that the seas were breaking over. Sambro Island lay about a quarter mile to port of us. My Mountie buddie was starting to get a little nervous and was telling me about how good a swimmer he was. It must have been the increasing water in the bilges that brought that to mind. We started bailing. By midnight we were bailing a lot and not really making any progress. Our smoke pot was still glowing away, totally unobserved we thought. Around 03:00 the seas were starting to break the boat up. By now we were really getting worried. The water temperature was in the low 40's and no way was I going in the water.

We saw a ship astern of us make the turn and head up the Sambro Channel. As it got closer I could see it was one of the Halifax based Coastguard cutters, either the CCGS Rapid or Rally. They had their searchlight on so we figured we had been reported. For about an hour they steamed around and flashed their searchlight on us a couple of times but couldn't get in close. We must have been to deep in the shoals for them to render us any immediate assistance. We figured they would hold off until daylight and then send in their inflatable to pick us up. Our little vessel was wallowing by now and we had to sit up on the fore deck to keep out of the water. We were cold and hungry and getting quite scared.

Suddenly I spotted off to starboard some running lights emerging out of the mist. It looked to be headed for us from Sambro Harbour. As the lights got closer we could see a longliner steaming her way through the shoals and it was headed towards us. She was the Oran II out of Sambro.What a wonderfull sight. A few minutes later she came up to us and a crew member yelled at us to jump aboard. waiting for a favourable roll we leaped and were grabbed by the crew. Seconds later we were sitting in the warm wheelhouse talking to Capt. Cyril Garrison . I knew Cyril as a customer from our marine store and kept thanking him as I sipped on a hot cup of tea.

How did you know we were in distress? I asked.
Your mother called me at home and said you were overdue and would I take a look. I went outside and saw your smudge light and figured you were broke down. said Capt. Garrison.

A few days later, they towed the boat into Sambro and hauled her up on the beach. The Mountie never came down to see about fixing her and she just rotted away. The next time Capt. Cyril was into the store I gave him a good pair of marine binoculars as a thank you gift. I think he still has the binoculars and I still thank him every time I see him.

Thank God for local knowledge and Mothers everywhere.

Angus Cross, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada