For Those in Peril | JIM FURLONG

The Atlantic may be quiet in Lark Harbour today. The sun may be shining and the waters calm, but people will never look at the ocean in the same way again. A terrible accident killed two men when they were thrown into the water when their open boat overturned. They were part of a group working with lobster traps. It is a tragic story that will take its place with others in a long litany of accidents that have always been part of our often-grim history in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Atlantic is often without forgiveness and there isn’t a community in Newfoundland that doesn’t know the feeling of deep and tragic loss. Making a living in the fishery in its many forms is a tough and often dark business. The tragedy at Lark Harbour was part of a lobster fishery but it could just as well been part of the cod fishery or the caplin fishery or the herring fishery or the seal hunt or a score of other harvests every one of them dangerous and often deadly because they are pursued on the Atlantic.

It is part of an awful truth that is exposed to us on a regular basis when tragedy strikes. We can pretend and talk of smiling waters and gentle breezes and good times but that is not how the business of fishing works. You can’t just fish in the sunshine. The history of making a living here from the sea is a story of tragedy and of endurance.

One of the most striking elements in the Lark Harbour story is that even as arrangements were being made for funerals and the details of what had happened were being put together, area fishermen still had to prepare their boats and go to sea the next day. As hard as it sounds it is just way things are. It goes on. The community came together in shared grief and people there will do what they can to ease the burden of those left behind. They will provide comfort and prayers, but fishermen also must cast off their lines and head away from the wharf again without the certain knowledge that they are coming back.

I spent some time on the Southern Shore of the Avalon in my youth and yesterday I started looking at the various communities and the disasters that became part of them over the years. It started with Petty Harbour and the song about The Petty Harbour Bait Skiff that we all know. I started counting “Up the Shore” but I stopped quickly because every community experienced tragedy down through the years. The list of communities stared in Petty Harbour and ran up the shore through Ferryland and Trepassey and beyond.

How many of our stories or songs or poems begin with the title “The Loss of the ….” . I could start listing vessels that sunk or sometimes simply vanished, but I would still be here at nightfall writing down names of vessels lost or wrecked on an Atlantic Ocean salty with tears.

I leave you with a famous verse from the mid-nineteenth century English hymn of William Whiting. It is a prayer, a hope, and a plea that has become the anthem of those who make their living on the ocean.

“Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm does bind the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.”  

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]