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Down Memory Lane - The Blue Wave tragedy


The ice-laden Grand Bank side trawler Blue Wave capsized and sank 57 years ago today, on Feb. 9, 1959, carrying its 16-man crew to a watery grave.

Allan Stoodley Photography
Vickie Walters was only eight months old when she lost her father, Capt. Charles Walters, skipper of the Blue Wave, a Bonavista Cold Storage trawler based out of Grand Bank. The vessel sank on Feb. 9, 1959. She was asked to carry the Blue Wave plaque during the Parade of Lost Ships, an event held as part of Grand Bank’s Come Home Year celebrations in 1997.

Although nearly six decades have passed, the loss and the pain still resonate with the families affected.

The 130-foot vessel, owned by Bonavista Cold Storage Co. and under the command of Capt. Charles Walters, had left the fishing grounds partly loaded and was returning home.

About 65 miles southeast of Cape St. Mary’s, the Blue Wave ran smack into a savage Atlantic gale.

Coupled with sub-zero temperatures, the 60 mile an hour winds whipped up 25-foot waves and caused heavy ice to form and build up on the ship’s hull and superstructure.

The Blue Wave, even in fair weather, had been known to go over on its beam’s end – completely on one side in the sea.

When that happened the engine would have to be immediately stopped to allow the vessel to right itself. However, when you add a furious North Atlantic winter storm, coupled with a buildup of tonnes of ice, it proved to be disastrous. 

 

TAKING ON ICE

Early on the morning of Monday, Feb. 9, Walters, 34, was talking to Capt. Bill Vardy of the Burgeo trawler Triton and told him the Blue Wave was taking on ice. He told Vardy that the ship was crippling along and would have to slow down or stop so that his men could get out on deck and beat some of it off.

Fifteen minutes later, however, at 4 p.m., Walters sent out an SOS and told the Triton to speed towards the Blue Wave. As had happened before, the vessel was on its beam’s end.

The Triton immediately steered to the position that Walters gave, but because of the blinding snowstorm and gale-force winds, nothing was sighted.

Boats and planes searched the area day and night but found no sign of the Blue Wave.

Then, early Tuesday morning an aircraft spotted what appeared to be an overturned lifeboat or dory.

Back in Grand Bank, where 12 of the men were from, and Fortune, home to four more, everyone feared the worst. Families and friends were desperately clinging to hope for the ship and its men. All hope vanished on Wednesday.

Another Bonavista Cold Storage trawler, Fortune Star, recovered a bottom-up dory, a hatch cover and a flag staff from the ill-fated boat.  Another of the company’s fleet, the Luckimee, picked up a lifeboat and another dory.

 

AFTERMATH

The towns of Grand Bank and Fortune went into mourning. For three days, all social activities were cancelled. Businesses, dwellings and ships flew flags at half-mast. Memorial services were held in all churches.

Within days the Grand Bank-Fortune Lions Club started a fundraising project to try to provide some income to the 15 widows and 39 dependent children left behind. Deep-sea fishermen at that time were not covered under the provisions of the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

Within a year, some $94,500 was raised through the Blue Wave Disaster Fund. Initially, each widow was given $500 from the fund. Then the balance left in the account was paid out in the form of a monthly annuity to the widows and dependent children.

Walters was an experienced skipper who had taken command of the schooner Ariel when he was only 18 years old. He took over as captain of the Blue Wave in April 1958.

Herbert Price was the vessel’s mate. Engineers were Arthur Kearley, Otto Dodge and Garfield Prior. John Walters was the cook and John Hillier was the bosun. The other crewmembers were Reginald Baker, Abe J. Barnes, John S. Barnes, Samuel Dodge, Philip Fizzard, George T. Miller, Michael Price, James Fizzard and Roy Baker.

The Fortune seamen were John Walters, Samuel Dodge, Michael Price and George T. Miller.

The Blue Wave had onboard a father and son team - Reginald Baker and his 21-year-old son Roy, who was single.

‘WE LOST SO MUCH’

Of the sixteen men who were lost, the captain left behind the largest family – his wife Clara and seven young children, ranging in ages from 11-year-old Pauline down to eight-month-old Vickie.

Judy, who was then 10 years old, remembers her dad with great affection. He was noted for his musical talent and would always take his accordion along on the vessel with him.

“The accordion was a new red one Mom gave Dad for Christmas 1958 and he had it on the Blue Wave with him. When he was at sea, Mom would turn on the shortwave radio and Dad would play it so we could hear, usually after supper,” she recalled.

“I can still remember that saltwater smell off of Dad when he would come in off a trip. When he arrived home, if it was at night he would get us older ones up out of bed and play music and dance.”  

In Judy’s words, “We lost so much.”

In 1997, Grand Bank held a Come Home Year celebration and one of the events was a Parade of Lost Ships to remember those seamen who never returned.

The youngest of the Walters’ children, Vickie, was asked to carry the Blue Wave plaque. She described it as “such an emotional day for me. I was crying for a father I never knew.”

 

Allan Stoodley lives in Grand Bank.

He was working at the Bonavista Cold Storage fish plant in 1959 when the

 Blue Wave was lost and reported on the tragedy for the Evening Telegram. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.

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