Tales from Our Ocean Heritage

By Robert Parsons

Shipwrecks have been a fact of life and death as long as men have sailed the oceans. The marine disasters that have occurred around Newfoundland’s shores since John Cabot’s time have been many; just how many may never be known. Recently, the late historian Keith Matthews and Captain Joe Prim estimated 10,000 to 15,000 vessels have been lost on or near Newfoundland and Labrador. Professor Thomas Nemec has focused on one area, the southern end of the Avalon Peninsula, and documented more than three hundred shipwrecks in that location. White’s Newfoundland shipwreck map shows scores of ship losses which happened prior to 1903.

Yet, the sea is still in our blood. There is scarcely a Newfoundlander today who can not trace his or her roots to a schooner owner, captain, seaman or bank fisherman. Newfoundland schooners and our forefathers who sailed them laid down the designs of settlement and the protocols of island trade that gave our rock-girt Newfoundland its present culture.

This book takes us around the island clockwise beginning on the west coast and ending near Cape Ray, and covers a period roughly of one hundred years. Each story (of around 130 ships) within these covers is true; however, all are subject to the vagaries of human memory and fallibility of newspaper reporters.

Robert Parsons’ sea stories now number in the hundreds and have been published in five books as well as in local and national newspapers and magazines. Here’s what he has to say about Survive the Savage Sea:

The adage ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ certainly applies to the adventures and misadventures of Newfoundland seamen and their ships: piracy, fire, mutiny, disappearances, unexplained explosions, rammings, rum running, pursuit and capture by the American coast guard, collisions with icebergs. Some schooners were struck by lightning, shelled by enemy submarines, crushed by Arctic ice, swallowed up by “August Gales” or other violent windstorms, and hundreds were stranded on rocky shores.

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