Stranded turr hunters plucked from a perilous situation
Graham Hancock and Tom Fillier of Bide Arm are back on shore and now able to laugh about their experience on the water.
After losing the gearbox in the engine of his 19-foot speedboat, Graham Hancock, along with Tom Fillier of Bide Arm, was stranded at sea in the midst of a storm. Three Randell brothers from Bide Arm boarded the 65-foot White Star I and executed a successful rescue mission. The two men say the brothers saved their lives. From left are Hancock and Fillier with brothers Kevin Randell, Keith Randell and Ralph Randell. — Photo by Adam Randell/The Northern Pen
That's thanks to the efforts of three brothers from the same community — Ralph, Kevin and Keith Randell.
Everyone appreciated the seriousness of the situation on Nov. 18, when Hancock and Fillier failed to return to home after a day of turr hunting.
On Nov. 17, Hancock left his 19-foot fibreglass speedboat in Conche, returning the following day to make his way back to Bide Arm and do some turring along the way.
The day was shaping up nicely when he and Fillier headed out at 11 a.m., but things quickly went awry.
Ninety minutes later and a couple of miles offshore, Hancock put the boat in reverse, but didn’t get a response — he had lost the gear box.
“It was good out, so there wasn’t much cause for concern,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be too long before someone found us because there were other people out turring.”
He tried texting, but there was no service.
Hancock and Fillier were adrift. The swells started getting bigger, driving them towards land.
There was some hope along the rugged coastline — Bioutiou, locally pronounced “Buddy Too,” three miles north of Englee had an accessible inlet and shelter.
They tried reaching it using the boat’s single paddle, but it soon cracked off and, as they drifted past the opening towards Conche, hopes of a warm cabin were dashed.
“We couldn’t do anything because the wind changed to fair on the land and it started to push us up into the rocks,” Hancock said. “We couldn’t even abandon the boat and try for shore because it was too rough.”
They implemented their last line of defense: throwing out a small grapple.
“We didn’t think it was going to hold, but it did,” Hancock said.
With darkness setting in, they could see the lights of Conche in the distance, so they decided to try and get the residents’ attention.
A spare life-jacket was set on fire and put afloat. Hancock’s lunch pail was cut down and filled with gas.
“We took a five-gallon can, cut the side out of it, set it adrift and caught that on fire, which was about 20 feet wide on the water when it burned down,” Fillier said.
It all burned unnoticed, so they fired off four boxes of shells.
“Every shell we had we shot off,” he said. “I had the 12 gauge hot.”
Hancock even got a light bulb from under the dash, wired it to a battery and cupped his hand over the bulb to signal distress.
“We done everything we could, we prayed and everything, trying to get someone’s attention,” he said. “After a while I put my life-jacket on and said, ‘This is it.’”
As the hours passed in worsening seas, Hancock felt like they were edging closer towards the cliffs.
They had to sit in the back of the boat because the lop was causing the bow to dip and water was coming in.
“I was scared, but I wouldn’t let Tom know, because if the grapple had let go it would have been over for us,” Hancock said.
As the two rode the waves, pondering their mortality, a rescue mission was getting underway back home.
Watching and waiting
Ralph Randell had been keeping an eye out for Hancock’s boat from his window throughout the day.
When darkness set in and it still wasn’t at the wharf, it started playing on his mind.
He was watching the news when his wife answered the phone: Hancock and Fillier hadn’t come home.
“And I knew right away what it was about. I said, ‘They’ve got trouble somewhere,’” Ralph recalled.
He was told the Canadian Coast Guard had been notified, but he couldn’t help but pace the floor.
He called the coast guard in St. Anthony and friends in Conche and Englee to see if they had spotted the hunters.
“They couldn’t do anything for us in St. Anthony so I had to call Halifax,” he said. “I asked for a case number and volunteered to go searching, because I didn’t want to wait too long.”
He called up his brothers, the crew of the White Star I, and by 7 p.m. the family enterprise let go from the wharf with three of five crewmembers aboard. Two of the brothers were unable to go.
The crew picked their way along the shoreline until they reached Englee, where the brothers agreed to extend the search.
“So we let down the stabilizers, because there was a big sea on, and agreed to search around Canada Bay and head toward Buddy Too,” Ralph recalled.
Heading north past Englee, Kevin — on watch at the head of the boat — saw a light flickering.
They debated whether or not it was coming from Conche, because the town’s lights were visible at the time.
“I went out again and I couldn’t stop looking at it, because it kept going in and out,” Kevin said. “I went back in and said, ‘It has to be a boat,’ so we steamed on down until we knew for sure it was them.”
But locating the stranded hunters was only half the battle. Their boat was nearly on the rocks.
Ralph, who was at the wheel of the 65-foot vessel, said they weren’t sure if they’d be able to get close enough for a rescue.
He made contact with the coast guard, suggesting a helicopter would be the best option.
“One was getting ready for dispatch, but it never showed up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hancock and Fillier were having a rough go, with the boat’s head dipping at times.
Action was required, so the Randell brothers rigged up a 60-inch float with a rope to tie to the stranded boat.
Kevin cast it out.
“It tangled up solid,” he said.
Another throw landed in the boat but the float bounced out.
“After the third or fourth time, they were able to grab the line.” Kevin said. “I told them to make sure the rope was tied on good. I didn’t say it to them, because I didn’t want to make them nervous, but I was thinking, this is the only shot they’ve got, because if that rope lets go we mightn’t be able to get to them again.
“We couldn’t circle around them because the room wasn’t there,” he explained. “So, once tied on, we had to back out off the land with them, get them out far enough where we could get in position to get them aboard our boat. We were about 15 minutes trying to get them into place.”
As the speedboat was being drawn closer, Kevin was timing waves.
“You know what it’s like when it’s rough. She was steady up and down, up and down, so I waited,” he said.
“Graham was sort of turned towards me, and the next time his boat came up I grabbed him right by the two shoulders, gave the yank and put him right up on the deck.”
Fillier was next to come aboard.
“When I got the time right I grabbed him by the shoulders and brought him to the rail. At this point the boat was gone from under his feet,” Kevin said.
“So Keith got him by the (seat) of the pants and gave the yank and the three of us come down on the deck.”
With the two safely aboard and the speedboat in tow, the White Star I steamed into Bide Arm, five hours after the search had begun.
Hancock and Fillier remember it as a scary situation that took them a couple of days to get over.
When Hancock saw the White Star I cutting through the water, he said it was the same as someone giving him a million bucks.
“Once I hit the deck I told Ralph if he was a woman I’d a kissed him. Perhaps I should’ve done it anyways,” he quipped.
“But there is no doubt they saved our lives. If they didn’t come out it (would’ve) been the end of us.”
“It would be a completely different story if they hadn’t shown up.
The Northern Pen