Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the Miss Ally... the final chapter

Search confirms no bodies in capsized boat

February 24, 2013 - 1:42pm By The Canadian Press

HMCS Glace Bay, on site for the search of the Miss Ally, with the Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic) using the remote operated vehicle to inspect the capsized vessel. (Contributed)

About 500 people gathered at a church in southwest Nova Scotia today to grieve the loss of five young fishermen from the community.

Pastor Phil Williams spoke at the Calvary United Baptist church in Woods Harbour and urged the residents of the small fishing village to support one another.

Families of the men aboard the Miss Ally when it capsized last Sunday sat in several rows at the front of the church, hugging each other and crying as church members sang and prayed.

RCMP say a remote underwater vehicle has confirmed that no bodies are aboard the 13-metre overturned boat, which was found about 240 kilometres southeast of Halifax on Saturday.

The Mounties say the HMCS Glace Bay conducted an assessment today with a remotely operated vehicle and corroborated reports from divers on a private fishing vessel that no bodies are in the Miss Ally.

They say the assessment also confirmed that no wheelhouse or sleeping quarters are attached to the vessel’s hull.

The RCMP say their air, water and ground search activities will conclude today.


Nickerson ‘was a good captain’

February 25, 2013 - 9:06pm By AARON BESWICK Truro Bureau

Local fisherman Sandy Stoddard speaks with reporters outside of the Calvary United Baptist Church in Woods Harbour on Sunday. Many residents of the small fishing village attended a special service dedicated to five local fishermen who were lost at sea after their boat capsized last week. (CP)

There’s a game of chess every captain fishing a small boat in the North Atlantic in the winter plays with the sea.

You wait till the weather’s good, then you go and fish hard and get back to the wharf before the weather sets in again.

And it’s not a game, really, because the stakes are so high.

It’s just fishing.

If you win, you make a good living for yourself, your family, your crew and their families.

And that’s a wonderful thing to do.

“And when you’re a young captain, the youngest aboard the boat, and you have the respect of these older men — that you’re a good captain and have the ability to catch fish — it’s a powerful thing,” said Sandy Stoddard, 57, of Woods Harbour, who’s been a fishing captain since he was 19.

“It was the same for (Miss Ally captain Katlin Nickerson). He was a good captain and the youngest aboard his boat. He wasn’t reckless and it wasn’t inexperience that led to his decisions. The only difference between Katlin and me is that I made it home and he didn’t.”

Stoddard was fishing halibut from his boat, the Logan and Morgan, in the Gully, about 210 kilometres northeast of the Miss Ally during the days leading up to the horrible blow that stole five young men from Woods Harbour.

With halibut catching a fair price and a hard winter having disrupted fishing, both boats were out trying to get their quotas. Stoddard said the Miss Ally had 12,000 pounds of halibut quota to catch south of Yarmouth in Fishing Area 4X. It was a catch the 14-metre boat could have easily carried without settling too far down in the water.

The boats set their trawls — long lines bearing about 90 hooks that hang between two buoys. The baited hooks are set to hang low in the deep waters to catch the bottom-feeding halibut that have two eyes on the same side of their heads.

Both Stoddard and Nickerson, 21, were watching over their weather equipment two low pressure systems forming in the south.

On Feb. 16, Stoddard said he called Nickerson to say he was hauling his gear and heading to Petit-de-Grat, Cape Breton, aiming to get back to the wharf and land his catch before the storm hit.

“Katlin intended to head in too, but he lost his inverter.”

The inverter converts electricity produced by the big diesel engine driving a fishing boat to a form that can be used by its lights and some other electronics. Without lights, the crew of the Miss Ally couldn’t find their gear in the dark.

So they waited until morning.

All the while, the low pressure systems combined far to the south, strengthening their haul of wind as they barrelled toward the Miss Ally.

“He had 24 tubs left in the water, and that would have taken them six to eight hours to get out,” Stoddard said.

“They’d have started at the crack of daylight. I talked to him Sunday afternoon and he was on his way in.”

The Miss Ally steamed north toward Sambro, but the storm came upon it, blasting the boat from the southwest before the wind turned and came from the northwest at hurricane force. The coast guard reported wave heights of up to 10 metres, blowing snow and zero visibility.

Stoddard was aboard his boat at the wharf in Petit-de-Grat on the evening of Feb. 17 when he heard the distress call on his radio.

At about 11 p.m., the Miss Ally’s emergency beacon went off. A United States Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft was first on the scene. Its crew reported seeing a life-raft but was forced to head home by the extreme weather after dropping a marker nearby.

Two Canadian Coast Guard boats, the Sir William Alexander and the Earl Grey, fought their way toward the Miss Ally’s last known position but only found its overturned hull.

“People will sit and speculate on what happened, but the truth of the fact is that they were caught in a terrible storm,” Stoddard said Monday.

“People need to know that Katlin did nothing more than any one of us other captains have done in our lifetimes. He wasn’t being reckless and he wasn’t being brazen. He was getting his gear out of the water and the storm came up a bit faster than he thought.”

On Monday, as Woods Harbour planned a memorial service for the five young fishermen whose bodies haven’t been found, Stoddard asked a favour. He said that those who don’t fish should respect the decisions made by those who do and try to appreciate that sometimes there’s no one to blame.

“You have to go fish when you can fish. This is our profession, we know what we’re doing.

“If you take how many trips actually sail off these wharves year after year, I guarantee you there’s a lot less accidents on the ocean than on the highway.

“Katlin was a good captain, and I had a lot of respect for him.”



There really is nothing to add to this sad and final chapter. No doubt the TSB will conduct their investigation and draw whatever conclusions and lessons they must from this. The irreversible fact is that these five young lads are gone. For whatever reasons. But the wee boats will continue leaving the docks, in Wood's Harbour and countless other little ports around the Atlantic Provinces. For such is the life of men who draw their living from the sea. Remember that when you balk at the price of your favorite seafood, at the local market. These men get so little in return compared to the middle-men and the final sellers of this product. 'Tis scandalous indeed...

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