Land & Sea 1981: Swept up in the rescue of a sinking longliner

What a coincidence! One camera onboard a sinking longliner, another on the icebreaker searching for her in Arctic pack ice.

Camera crews capture the drama onboard the icebreaker Grenfell and the Annie Cordell

An aerial shot of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Grenfell, which was a state-of-the-art vessel in the early 1980s. (Land & Sea 1981)

This archival episode of Land & Sea from 1981 starts on the bridge of the new Canadian Coast Guard ship Grenfell, where drama is about to unfold.

Herb Davis interviews Captain Phil Grandy as they break through thick pack ice along Newfoundland's northeast coast.

Although its primary role is search and rescue, the Grenfell's responsibilities are varied: the icebreaker is called upon to assist in transatlantic shipping, open up harbours choked with ice and assist fishermen with damaged vessels.

The landsmen of the longliner fleet could sometimes spend weeks away from their home port in heavy ice conditions pursuing seals.

Longliner fishermen pull up to the Grenfell for support in the dangerous ice conditions. (Land & Sea 1981)

A small, nimble vessel, the Grenfell was winning praise from northeast coast fishermen.

Steaming from Twillingate, the episode features beautiful shots of the pack ice off Newfoundland's coast shot form the deck of the vessel as well as from a helicopter.

While the Land & Sea crew expected a routine tour of Notre Dame Bay, they find themselves swept up in an at-sea rescue when the Grenfell receives a mayday call from the longliner Annie Cordell.
Captain Grady of the Grenfell takes the mayday call from the crew of the Annie Cordell. (Land & Sea 1981)

The Annie Cordell's captain sounds remarkably calm for someone on a ship that is hove to in the Arctic ice taking on water.

Also on board the Annie Cordell, was a film crew from Memorial University — they were able to capture the tense situation as the attempts to repair the large hole in the hull with a saw and an axe fail.

When the captain finally makes the mayday call to the Grenfell, the Land & Sea crew shows how the new radio direction finder is used to locate the longliner.

Once the Grenfell has a bearing on the fishing boat, they set off to rescue the men onboard. Three pumps are working through the night on the Annie Cordell and worry is evident on the crew's faces as they wait for the Grenfell to find them.

Crew members aboard the Annie Cordell are worried as the longliner takes on water. (MUN Extension 1981)

As the Grenfell's captain searches for the sinking longliner he talks of the eerie experience of searching for a fisherman only to come upon an empty open boat.

Luckily, sometime after midnight, they are able to find the Annie Cordell and all hands onboard are incredibly relieved to see the Coast Guard.

The Grenfell captain inspects the damage, sets up another more powerful pump and orders the Annie Cordell to be winched up behind the icebreaker for the steam home.

The longliner Annie Cordell is rescued and winched to the back of the Coast Guard icebreaker. (Land & Sea 1981)

About the Author

Angela Antle

Host, Atlantic Voice

Angela is a producer who works from St. John's and is the host of Atlantic Voice, a Sunday morning documentary program on CBC Radio.