Cold Caught: Stuck sealers pushed across Bonavista Bay by pack ice

Cold Caught: Stuck sealers pushed across Bonavista Bay by pack ice

After days stuck in pack ice in Bonavista Bay, Sandy Stokes and the crew of the C.C. Venture freed themselves with some clever thinking.

With only a few hundred meters to go before they would drift into Gull Island, near Bonavista, the crew "concocted" a plan to tie the boat onto a large ice pan, hoping it would continue its course away from the land mass.

"We figured our best chance was to get some rope to that pan that we could see that was actually moving outside the island, just to see if it would tow us out any," Stokes said Wednesday.

"And it did, it worked perfectly."

After getting itself stuck in ice in Bonavista Bay, and drifting from Gooseberry Island, near Saint Brendan's to Bonavista, the C.C. Venture finally freed itself on April 25 — five days after their sealing trip began.

"We drifted over 22 miles in the days we were stuck in ice," said Stokes. "The ice moved us. We couldn't see the ice moving, it was so tight."

From Valleyfield, with ice

Stokes and three others left from Valleyfield on April 20, intending to head to Baccalieu Island off the Avalon Peninsula to hunt seals.

They went south, towards Terra Nova National Park, and made it only a few miles before they got themselves stuck temporarily in ice near Greenspond — and then fully into the ice field near Gooseberry Island.

The second day, the Canadian Coast Guard came to help break them out of the ice. However, the boat only made 2 miles of progress, when the icebreaker was reassigned to help another ship.

"We figured it would be the next day the Coast Guard would come back, but the Coast Guard kept getting more emergency calls … [it] didn't get a chance ever to get back to us."

The boat was soon surrounded by ice again, with the four crew along for the ride.

Just 'boring'

Stokes said that throughout the journey he wasn't particularly worried, just mostly bored.

He said the ice was very compact, so there wasn't much concern what would happen if his crew had to jump ship.

"We didn't feel any immediate danger whatsoever," he said. "If the boat did have to capsize or anything, all we would have to do is step out onto the ice."

Stokes said the crew passed their days looking for whatever seals they could see, even though they never ventured out to hunt any.

"Just something to remind us what we were doing, you know what I mean. We weren't just in this dire situation on the water, we were trying to make a living."

"When we'd get real bored, we'd probably play some cards or do some card tricks," he added. "We occupied ourselves."

Stokes said the group did have a few close calls, like when they almost ran aground on Gull Island.

Another time, a large ice pan broke off from the force of the Coast Guard ship and came underneath their own vessel.

"Everybody gets nervous, but you got to kind of hold your cool and just try to figure out a way to get around it," he said.

The crew finished their trip in Catalina, never reaching Baccalieu Island, and never hunting a seal. 

"Now we're tied on and the ice is kind of a little bit tight," Stokes said Wednesday. "I don't think we'll get out for a while."