Bad luck does not choose where or when it will strike, nor does it choose who it will strike. It just happens that way. Unfortunately, Newfoundlanders have been the recipients of many misfortunes. Such was the case in December 1951, when seven Newfoundlanders from the south west coast met their final destiny onboard the fishing skiff M.V. Barbara & Ronnie.
The 46 foot Barbara & Ronnie was built in North Bay, La Poile, in 1944 by Edward and Ernest Farrell. She had a total of 50 horsepower with a 30 horsepower engine in the center and a 20 horsepower engine on the quarter. Her owner and operator was Walter Bond of Petites, Nfld.
In fall of 1951, Walter Bond and his five-member crew were "Fall Fishing" off the coast of Cape Breton. The practise of "Fall Fishing" was common for the Newfoundland fishing fleet. In general, they would leave home in mid-October and return in late December or early January - weather permitting. On December 17th, 1951 after fishing all Fall, the crew of the Barbara & Ronnie were ready to return back home. Shortly before midnight they departed Glace Bay, Nova Scotia for their hometown of Petites, Nfld.
As the crew of the Barbara & Ronnie were heading home, a storm was quickly approaching the region. This was likely unknown to the crew. The forecast issued at 17:00 hrs on December 18th, 1951, from the Gander weather office, was as follows: "At midnight winds increasing to easterly gales for the west coast and winds increasing to southeast gales for the western region of the south coast." At some point the Barbara and Ronnie had to cross paths with the storm on its way home.
Several other skiffs also departed Glace Bay, NS, around the same time as the Barbara & Ronnie. The M.V Bertha and Joan arrived in her homeport of Rose Blanche late on December 18th, before the storm intensified. The M.V Gerald L.C sought shelter further northward along the Cape Breton coast in South Bay. The M.V Delores Kaye and the M.V Rita and Alma (both from Harbour Le Cou) departed North Sydney, NS on the morning of December 18th, but returned to Dingwell, NS to wait for the storm to abate.
In late afternoon of December 18th, the Barbara & Ronnie was seen in the vicinity of Ingonish steaming northeasterly towards Newfoundland, by the fishing vessels Nora Pike, Kevin J. Mildred and Selina Hardy. From where she was last seen, she still had 75 miles to go to reach Newfoundland and 90 miles to reach Petites. With an average speed of 7-8 knots, this would have taken her approximately 10 to 12 hours. The winds were reported as being southeasterly and in gale force shortly before midnight. This would have meant that the Barbara & Ronnie would still have 20 miles or more to go when the boat was caught at the peak of the storm.
What happened to the Barbara & Ronnie will never be known. There were reports from a ferry departing Port Aux Basques, Nf, she was enroute to North Sydney, NS, of viewing a fishing vessel late on the night of the storm, near the Newfoundland coast. Many of the local fishermen think that the skiff sank close to the Newfoundland shore-close to home. Several days later a search was conducted but there was no wreckage, debris or bodies ever found. At the time of her disappearance she carried a crew of six, plus one passenger - all coming home for Christmas.
They are listed below:
Walter Bond - age 37
Russell Billard - age 22
Richard Gosse - age 18
Kenneth Courtney - age 27
Charlie Courtney - age 19
Thomas Bennett - age 33
Ward Mauger - age 24