Sea Dogs & Skippers
Along the eastern shores of North America, savage storms have thrust sturdy ships and small boats upon the cliffs and shores of the continent. From these events have come true stories of bravery by skippers and their sea dogs—the crews.
Here are sixteen tales of salty heroism and tragedy by fourteen writers whose lives have been shaped by their experiences and knowledge of the North Atlantic Ocean.
It was a calm, bright morning at Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland on June 1, 1940. The sounds of people moving around could be heard everywhere, mixed with the loud echoes made by the dominant roosters, letting everyone know that they were kings of this slumbering town. If you listened carefully you could...Read More
Sea Dogs and Skippers
by Garry Cranford
It was a calm, bright morning at Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland on June 1, 1940. The sounds of people moving around could be heard everywhere, mixed with the loud echoes made by the dominant roosters, letting everyone know that they were kings of this slumbering town. If you listened carefully you could hear the odd cockle made by the families’ hens. So it was as the young twenty-four-year-old Frank Sheppard strutted briskly along the dusty road, whistling as he went, with a few things on his mind but carefree nonetheless. Frank was spending a few days with his girlfriend Ella Hicks. He was so much in love with her that she was on his mind night and day, and for this reason he just had to come and spend a week with her.
Frank was from Indian Islands, another small town in Notre Dame Bay, a few miles north of Musgrave Harbour, and after being home for awhile following a stint at the seal hunt, he had decided to visit his girlfriend. Before he left Indian Islands, Frank had instructed the local postmistress to address his mail to Musgrave Harbour. Now he was headed down the dusty road to the post office, as he had been doing every morning for the past week.
A small man, Frank Sheppard was born on the south side of Indian Islands in the year 1916. He had spent his younger years fishing with his father, and at the age of nine he had been fishing onboard a schooner anchored under the towering cliffs of Belle Isle at the mouth of the Strait of Belle Isle. At the age of eighteen, Frank decided to leave home. In March of that year, Frank Sheppard had sailed out of St. John’s harbour, heading for the icefields and the great seal hunt on board the SS Beothic with the renowned sealing captain Sid Hill, all flags and banners flying and horns blowing.
Excitement was at its height for this young sailor. Today, sitting comfortably in his home at Deer Lake, Newfoundland, he tells it this way. “I was young and hardy and carefree. I didn’t even care if I had only half enough clothes on then. It seemed like I didn’t even feel the cold. I suppose when you’re young, you’re tough. We would jump out on the running ice, most of the time just slob, so if you fell in, someone would pull you out and then you would go on again. The ship would go for miles before you caught up with her. To think about it now, it was awful. It’s amazing that there weren’t more men drowned or squat to death between the ice and the ship.”
When the hunt was over Frank would come home for a few days and go on the freighting boats or go into the lumberwoods. He didn’t care very much about fishing and stayed away from it.
Frank arrived at the post office and walked up to the serving wicket, noticing that the postal worker was busy sending or receiving a wireless message. This man also served the incoming mail and sent the outgoing mail by whatever means it was going. He held up his hand to Frank, indicating that he knew he was there, and Frank waited patiently until the gentleman finished his telegraph work. In about ten minutes the postman took off the headphones and came over to where Frank was standing.
“Good morning, Frank,” he said with a grin. “This morning I got the letter you’ve been waiting for.”
Frank’s heart jumped. Maybe, just maybe, he thought.
Frank had filled in all the necessary papers to go into the navy while in St. John’s. He had passed his medical and was told to go on about his normal working day. If he went home he was to make sure that he let the naval authorities know where he could be contacted. Every morning, without fail, he checked the mail.
The postman handed him the letter. It was addressed to Frank Sheppard in care of Miss Ella Hicks, Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland. Across it was written important. Frank didn’t look at anything else on the envelope; he saw his name and the word important and that was it. The postman looked at Frank as much as to say “Well, open it, Frank. I want to see what’s in it, too.”
The job of opening the letter would go to Ella, because Frank had promised her that when he got his letter from the navy she would be the first one to know about it. “I’m not going to open the letter until I get to where Ella is,” he told the postmaster.
The gentleman understood and with a grin said, “Okay.” He was thinking that if he were lucky enough to have a girl as good-looking as Ella, he would make sure that she was the first one to know everything about him, also.
Frank left the post office and headed quickly for the home of Hammond Hicks, who was Ella’s father. It didn’t take Frank long to reach his girlfriend’s house, his legs so light and full of energy. As he entered the door, Ella was mixing bread, with her hands full of fresh dough. She looked up as he entered, and her first glance told her that Frank had news. She could see it in his face.
“Have you been to the post office as quick as that, Frank?” she asked.
“You must have run, then,” Ella said
“No, I walked up,” he replied, “but it didn’t take me long to come back.”
“I’d say that you got your letter about the navy,” she said, cleaning the dough from her hands.
“Yes, Ella, I got the letter,” he said, as he took it out of his pocket. It was a white envelope with the address typed on it—very businesslike.
“I brought it over for you to open, Ella. I thought that you should be the first one to know about it.”
Frank now wore a concerned look, and in fact, this was serious business. To enlist in the British Navy in 1940, with World War II raging, was not a small decision for a young man to make, especially with the news almost every day of people dying as ships went t the bottom from enemy torpedoes. Frank was expecting this letter to be his call. He handed the letter to Ella. Sure enough, it was a letter from the navy. She hardly knew what to say.
He said, “Ella, my dear, it doesn’t matter what’s on that letter. I’ll still marry you.”
She knew he would. They were both in love and had planned to get married in the winter. She turned around and took a knife from the countertop and quickly cut the letter open. She was uneasy, kind of scared to read it, but then as she was about to unfold the letter her mother entered the door, her hands dirty from working in the garden.
“What’s going on, Frank? You look as white as a ghost,” she said.
“Frank got his letter at last.”
The older woman was very interested. “What does it say?”
“We haven’t read it yet,” said Ella.
Mrs. Hicks looked at them both, then said to her daughter, “Maybe they want him to go in the army. Last night the news said that they wanted five thousand men right away to go in the army. I heard it myself.”
“I won’t be going in any army,” said Frank. “I’m handy enough now to the army.”
Mrs. Hicks laughed. “You’ll go now wherever they send you, my son. Open the letter, Ella.”
“Oh, yes,” said Ella as she unfolded the typed letter. “Now listen,” she said. “To Mr. Frank Sheppard, Indian Islands, Newfoundland. Dear Frank.”
Ella scanned the letter for a moment, then she started to laugh. “Frank, this letter isn’t from the war office. It’s from Bowring Brothers Ltd., the same crowd that you go sealing with every spring.”
“You don’t mean it, Ella,” said Frank, kind of relieved and starting to grin. “You almost had me in the army, Mrs. Hicks,” he said, teasingly.
Mrs. Hicks was not amused. “You’ll be going, Frank, my son. They got your number.”
“Listen to this,” said Ella.
“What does it say?” Frank asked anxiously.
“It says for you to come to St. John’s as soon as possible and join the Beothic. Captain Penney will be in charge, and he will be sailing sometime in June, 1940.”
Frank started to laugh. He put his arms around her and said, “For a moment, Ella, I thought that I was going to have to say goodbye and go in the navy.”
Mrs. Hicks said, “Yes, so did I, Frank. I thought you were on your way, too.”
Frank looked at her and said, “You’re right about one thing, Mrs. Hicks. I’m on my way.”
“Where to, Frank?” she asked.
“To St. John’s to join the navy. The merchant navy!”
Mrs. Hicks could hardly talk. She loved Frank almost as much as her daughter, but now she would have to say goodbye. It would be hard to do, because Frank was such a happy-go-lucky guy. “When will you be coming back again, Frank?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll write Ella.”
Mrs. Hicks said nothing and turned and walked back to her vegetable garden.
From “Frank and the Beothic” by Earl B. Pilgrim
"The lives of these writers and their dogs which have been shaped by some of the savage storms along the eastern shores of North America make for fascinating reading." Dog News
"Delightful collection . . ." The Telegram