Nova Scotia

'He just kept the place alive': Port Hood fire chief mourns colleague's death

Hugh Watts, 39, and Glen MacDonald, 58, died Saturday when the fishing boat they were on capsized off the coast of Colindale, N.S.

Hugh Watts, 39, and Glen MacDonald, 58, died Saturday in a fishing accident in nearby Colindale

The fishing boat involved in a fatal accident on Saturday fished out of Murphy's Pond Harbour in Port Hood. The accident happened about 1.6 kilometres north along the shore of western Cape Breton Island. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The fire chief of the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department says the death of a local fisherman Saturday is a big loss for the fire department and the community.

Fire Chief D.F. Beaton said Hugh Watts, 39, was a close friend with a great sense of humour.

"Hugh was a very good firefighter. We just loved to see him come through the door because we were always in for a good evening. He'd tell jokes, stories, he just kept the place alive when he was here," Beaton said.

Watts and Glen MacDonald, 58, died Saturday when the fishing boat they were on capsized off the coast of Colindale, N.S., early Saturday morning. Watts' stepson was also on board the vessel, but the 18-year-old managed to safely make it back to shore.

Beaton said Watts was a fisherman his entire life and followed in the footsteps of his father.

"Once he could walk, he was in the boat," Beaton said.

Watts fished for lobster in the spring, tuna in the summer and scallops in the fall, said Beaton.

Beaton said he knew MacDonald, who was a customer of Beaton's Port Hood service station.

"He always stopped at the garage and he was a handy little mechanic," Beaton said.

'Just a super fella'

MacDonald's friend Melvin Watts echoed that sentiment. He said MacDonald "could do anything mechanically."

MacDonald was often found down at the wharf helping anyone who needed a hand.

"Any troubles, that's the man right there. Just a super, super fella and he loved doing it," Melvin Watts said.

Accident happened close to shore

The nine-metre fishing boat capsized less than 100 metres from shore.

"I've been here all my life, close to 60 years, it's the first time I ever remember hearing something like this, so close," Beaton said.

Gary Watts, a distant relative, beached his boat in an attempt to rescue the fishermen.

His boat was hauled up on land on Sunday to repair a fuel leak and a bent propeller.

'I'm going in'

"It was rough where he capsized and I said 'I don't care, I'm going in,'" Gary Watts said.

"I gunned her in there and my first mate started giving CPR and right after that the first responders came."

Watts said that stretch of water is known for a strong undertow and the waves can also be tricky.

Lobster fisherman Gary Watts was down at Murphy’s Pond wharf on Sunday, where his boat was hauled up for repairs. It sprung a fuel leak and bent a propeller during an attempt to rescue the three fishermen whose boat crashed into rocks on Saturday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Many responded when they heard one of their own was in distress.

"I would say it was just a ... freak accident," Gary Watts said.

"It can be nice and calm, but you get a couple of rollers coming in and it can flip you over. If you don't keep your eye on the sea, it can come right in on you."

Gary Watts said the weather Saturday was fine for fishing and all the other boats were out. There was a 25-knot northwest wind, but it was "very fishable," he said.

"There was no reason to stay in. I wish there was," he said.

With files from Tom Ayers