In 1954, General Foods Birdseye Division was a big part of Rockland’s waterfront. In addition to a fish processing operation on Tillson Avenue, the company had a shipyard on Mechanic Street that maintained a fleet of nine fishing boats: The Crest, Calm, Drift, Ocean, Tide, Wave, Surf, Storm and Squall.

On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1954, the Surf went aground on the ledges of Devil’s Limb off Seal Island, to the west of Nova Scotia. The Surf was built in 1937 and was registered at 309 tons. Her length was 132 feet with a 25-foot beam, powered by a 750-horsepower diesel.

Captain Douglas Schwartz of Rockland was taking the trawler and his crew of 10 men to the Grand Banks, having left the day before at 4 p.m. It is believed the trawler’s compass was off. Men who have sailed the area observe the Surf was 15 to 20 miles off course when she ran aground. No one was injured.

Captain Spinney was about 30 miles from the wreck, bound for Rockland with the Bird’s Eye trawler Tide. It was decided the Tide, heavily laden with its catch, was not suited to the rescue effort.

A Canadian Coast Guard cutter and the tug Vera from Halifax took turns trying to dislodge the Surf from her predicament; they were only able to move the vessel a few feet.

Friday night, Oct. 15, at high water there was one last try. It failed. Folks back home in Rockland on Saturday morning, Oct. 16 worried that the trawler might lay on the rocks for a month, when higher tides returned.

Captain Schwartz had another idea. He mustered Canadian lobster fishermen to take his anchors offshore and set them to make a try at noon, Saturday, Oct. 16. With winches aboard taking strain on the anchors, set offshore and the ship’s own power plant running at full power, the attempt to take her off started at high water.

The effort continued as the tide began to drop. At the last possible moment, the heavy ship broke loose from the ledges and slid into deep water. The crew reported that within moments of breaking free, the ledges were whipped by white water and wind which would have pummeled the ship on the rocks.

It was determined that there was a leak in the hull near the engine room and the rudder supports were damaged. Captain Schwartz located a sand beach at Cromwell’s Cove and beached the Surf to assess the condition of the hull. The crew was able to make some repairs themselves.

Captain Leo Doucet with the Bird’s Eye Trawler Crest, inbound for Rockland, stood by Sunday until a tug was called from Pubnico and the Surf was pulled off Cromwell Cove’s beach. The Crest followed the Surf closely into Pubnico Harbor. So close, in fact, that their radios would not work properly.

The Surf left Pubnico Harbor for Rockland, 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, accompanied by the tug Vera. The Surf arrived Tuesday in Rockland, Oct. 19, under her own power.

From the Courier-Gazette archives.

From The Courier-Gazette archives.

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

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