Loss of the Marguerite B. Tanner

based on Interview with Steven Soper, July 16, 2015

by Lester Green

Article on Marguerite Tanner

(click on photo to enlarge)

Steve was born on November 27, 1926 at Little Harbour, Trinity Bay. He was the son of Cleopas and Median (Price) Soper and spent his childhood in House Cove, Trinity Bay. He remembers growing up and fishing with his father and by the time he was 13 or 14 years old he was fishing the waters of Southwest Arm area. They would catch codfish on tubs of trawl. They would also use hook and lines that were baited with, squid, caplin, or clams.

β€œIn them days, you couldn’t sell fresh cod but you would split and salt them in the stage. Then when the weather was good, you would dry the fish on flakes. We worked at anything to survive in those days.

I spent three of my teenage years on the Labrador working in the plant that was owned by Johnny Barfitt of Long Beach.

In 1956, I was on the Marguerite Tanner as first mate under Captain Ralph Smith of Hodge’s Cove. The schooner was a 145-ton Lunenburg Banker, sister ship to the famous Nova Scotia Bluenose. The schooner was built by Smith and Rhuland of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, for Wallace E. Knock. The schooner was a two mast boat with a bowspit and used to catch fish on the Banks of Nova Scotia. In the initial years, she was driven by sail power but by the time she was purchased by Ralph Mercer in Clarenville to add to his fleet of ships for coasting (freighting) on the Newfoundland coast, the vessel main source of power had become diesel with one sail used as a rider. She was considered to be the Queen of Mercer’s and Green’s fleet of four schooners.

I was on the Marguerite Tanner on its last voyage. We were carrying salt bulk codfish from Harbour Grace/Carbonear to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We arrived in Harbour Grace in early September and the boat was loaded over the next couple of days. When the weather was suitable we set sail for Lunenburg. The route we took was first going to St. John’s and then on to Lunenburg. The trip was going smoothly and everything was fine until we struck a storm near St. Pierre/Miquleon. We didn’t have any trouble at first but when she started to leak, we couldn’t keep the water from coming in. It finally got up to the motors and we had to shut one down. We headed for St. Pierre and got within 15 miles when the second motor went. The order was given by the skipper that we had to abandon the ship. We managed to launch the two dories and all of us got aboard and tied the dories together with the loglines, so we wouldn’t drift apart and lose each other. All we could do now was watch as she slipped below the water. There was nothing we could do but watch. We lost everything but escaped with our lives. Now all we could do was not panic and use our time to row towards St. Pierre. The next morning with daylight we was surprised to see a boat coming towards us. A skipper on St. Pierre saw the Marguerite Tanner’s lights and it looked like it was suddenly gone. We couldn’t call anyone because the ship-to-shore had given out and we were all thankful that someone had seen us. The skipper who had seen our lights disappear told people in St. Pierre and a boat came to search and found us in the two dories with six of us aboard.

There was Captain Ralph Smith, Hodge’s Cove; Herb St. Clair, Gin Cove was the engineer on her; Max Frampton, who was living in St. John’s but was from Gin Cove; Nathan Seward from Hodge’s Cove; me, Steve Soper, first mate; and a guy from Harbour Grace but I don’t remember his name; and the cook, was from Grand Bank but I can’t call him by name now.

Some people say that we rowed ashore to St. Pierre but that’s not true, I knows because I was there. Before we got chance, a boat from St. Pierre found us. The first thing they done when they approached us was to throw us a bottle of rum, which was quickly opened and drank by us. They took us to St. Pierre and we stayed at the Cafe de France for three days before we got home. You heard of the Cafe St. France in that song by Simani – The Wreck of the Marion. Cafe de France is gone now, I heard it burnt.

We got the ferry from St. Pierre to Grand Bank. From Grand Bank to Clarenville and then down here by taxi. The people down here heard by then on the radio what had happen to the Marguerite Tanner and that we was safe. They were really glad when I was finally got home in House Cove.”

Steve insisted this account is fairly accurate but he remembers that they didn’t row ashore to St. Pierre but was picked up right after they watched the Margaret Tanner slip below the surface.

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