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The Kyle and A Storm
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The S.S. Kyle Hits Stormy Seas

One man washed overboard, another injured


Had you read the Twillingate Sun and Northern Weekly Advertiser on February 8, ca. 1922, you would have seen a little piece in the notices that read as follows:

Feb 8th: S.S. Kyle is due at Port aux Basques this afternoon after terrible battle with waves and ice since Sunday. Second mate, Robert CARTER was washed overboard and drowned and seaman Frederick BLACKMORE had leg injured while cutting ice off rail. The schr. Workman was run down by S.S. Maryland off Portugal on her way with load of fish.
Source: http://www.rootsweb.com/~cannf/nd_news42.htm

S.S. Kyle
The S.S. Kyle arriving from Newcastle, England in 1913

Operating the coastal boats was no picnic - their crews worked on them at the risk of their lives. Weather was the most obvious threat to a coastal boat's safety. In times of war there were other risks as well. The dedication and hard work of the coastal boat employees is a lasting testament to the importance of the coastal boats in the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Newspaper pieces like the one from February 8, 1922, were fairly common. People needed (or just wanted) to know when the coastal boats were going to arrive at the various ports of call. The newspaper notices section usually included several coastal boat announcements - and they all had that "business as usual" tone about them - even when announcing the death of one crew member and the serious injury of another! Transpose this story into today's airline industry, and imagine the public response...

Losing a crew member while chopping ice was not the only noteworthy event in the Kyle's colourful past. In another February (this time in 1942), the Pollux and the Truxton, two American Navy ships, had grounded at Chambers Cove. The Kyle was waiting out the storm in St. Lawrence, but upon hearing of the accident set out into the bad weather to help. When nothing could be done, the Kyle headed back to St. Lawrence, picked up ropes and other equipment, and returned to the site of the accident. Later that month, the U.S. Navy responded by letter saying, among other things, "This spirit of cooperation and self-sacrifice in the face of danger is in keeping with the highest traditions of seafaring men. Please transmit to the master of the KYLE ... the sincere appreciation of the survivors of the grounded ships for his prompt and willing offers of aid." More than two hundred Americans lost their lives in that disaster.

Port Signal Light
A Port Signal Light

The S.S. Kyle even played a role in aviation history. On September 6, 1927, shortly after the second successful transatlantic flight, James Hill, Lloyd Bertaud, and Philip Payne climbed into their plane, Old Glory. They were to fly from Maine to Rome, but trouble hit off the coast of Newfoundland and the plane went down. Ships in the area were unable to find it, so the flight's sponsor hired the S.S. Kyle to continue the search. On September 12, the Kyle had found the remains of the plane, but no evidence of the plane's crew. The remains were returned to New York, and pieces were sold as souvenirs.

Rough weather plagued the Kyle to the very end. In 1967, while moored in Harbour Grace after a tousle with an iceberg, a storm rose up. In the high winds the ship broke its moorings, drifted, and ran aground at Riverhead. It remains to this day in its final resting-place, a life-sized reminder of Newfoundland's coastal boat glory days, when people risked their lives - and sometimes lost them - providing a most important service in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Kyle Today
The Kyle today aground in Riverhead, Harbour Grace,
Image courtesy of Grace Thompson

Ship Statistics

The S.S. Kyle was part of the Reid Newfoundland's "Alphabet Fleet," so named because each ship in the fleet was named alphabetically after places in Scotland (Robert Reid's homeland).

Gross tons:

220 feet
1913 for Reid Newfoundland Co.
Swan, Hunter and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, England
1959 to Shaw Steamships of Halifax (renamed the ship Arctic Eagle)
1961 to Earle Brothers of Carbonear (given back its original name)
1967 at Harbour Grace

Information sources:

Information contained in this backgrounder was taken from exhibits at the museum, as well as the following resources:

Connors, William. 2002. By the Next Boat. St. John's: Johnson Family Foundation.

Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume Three. 1991. St. John's: Harry Cuff Publications Ltd.

Mogus, Mary Ann. "James DeWitt Hill: Scottdale's Aviation Pioneer." Accessed February 4, 2005 from http://www.airmailpioneers.org/Pilots/JamesHill.htm

Newfoundland GenWeb, http://www.rootsweb.com/~cannf/nd_news42.htm.

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