Driving rain and shrieking winds lashed this despairing fishing village yesterday as shock at the sinking of a 65-foot shrimp boat and deaths of the brothers who skippered it began giving way to grief.
Ryan's Commander, a $1.7-million longliner named for and by David and Joseph Ryan, rolled in hurricane conditions and sank near Cape Bonavista on Sunday night after the six-member crew abandoned ship for a life raft and a dramatic rescue attempt fell apart when the helicopter's hoist seized up.
"They were steaming along and hit a wave and she just collapsed," said long-time friend and fellow fisherman Ralph Aylward. "Everyone is in mourning. Everyone."
David Ryan, 47, and Joseph Ryan, 42, died in the accident. Joseph's body has not yet been recovered. Jamie Aylward and Ronald Furlong, both 22 and also from St. Brendan's, were thrown up on the rocky, rugged beach after being tossed from the raft, as was Richard Brown, 40, of nearby Sandringham. Mr. Brown's uncle, Don Brown, 56, was pulled up by helicopter before the aerial rescue was deemed too risky for the stormy conditions.
About 180 people live in the tiny community, named for the Irish explorer and set at the northeasterly tip of Cottel's Island, the only inhabited island in Bonavista Bay. To say people are close would cut near insult; everyone, related or not, is in spirit family.
When the town learned the news on Sunday night, most were attending mass at St. Gabriel's. The coast guard tracked down the high school principal, who went to the small red brick church to find family members.
Perhaps worst of all, said Elvis Felthem, a long-time friend of the dead men, is that at first, the families were told that all six men were alive and well and safe in their raft.
"Twenty minutes later, the phone rang again and they were told it was false information," Mr. Felthem said. "They heard that the two Ryan boys were missing. Can you imagine?"
The men were trying to beat a storm back to St. Brendan's from Bay de Verde, where they had dropped off a shrimp catch shortly after noon. It is a six-hour trip and they were not far from home when a rogue wave swamped them.
"They were 20 minutes from seeing the lights of St. Brendan's when it happened," Mr. Felthem said. "Maybe it was too rough to be out. But that boat should have been able to handle it. It doesn't make sense, what happened."
Linda Ryan, David and Joseph's sister, received the news her brothers were dead at 3 a.m. Monday. She was visiting her son in Alberta.
"There is nothing to say," she said. "They were my brothers. It hasn't sunk in. I don't know how we're going to get through this. Last year, I lost my husband to a heart attack. It hasn't even been a year."
It is so much heartache for a lifetime, but the whole town bears the Ryan family's sorrow. Ron Bridgeman said St. Brendan's has been through similar tragedies and will get through this one, too. In the late 1970s, two local men -- both Furlongs -- drowned on a bird-hunting trip. A few years ago, another boating accident claimed several lives.
"It never really sinks in," Mr. Bridgeman said. "You just go on. But the family is in bad, bad shape."
David Ryan leaves his wife, Marilyn, and a son, David Jr., 17. Joseph was married to Marilyn's sister, Yvonne, and leaves two children, Stephen, 17, and Jennifer, 13. Their parents, Joseph and Celia, live across the street.
Late yesterday afternoon, Ronald Furlong boarded the ferry to St. Brendan's, along with Linda Ryan. They embraced and sobbed quietly, briefly, as the ferry pitched in the rough sea. The weather, everyone said, was 10 times worse yesterday than the storm that took the Ryans' boat.
The tall, husky fisherman was still in the same wrinkled khaki pants, friends said, that he was wearing on Sunday night. He looked exhausted, with two days' growth of stubble beneath tear-stained cheeks. He shuffled onto the ferry wearing blue bathroom slippers. His shoes were lost in the sea. Earlier in the day, after he was released from hospital in Gander, Mr. Furlong and Don Brown told CBC-TV that they were in the life raft for about two hours when a Cormorant helicopter arrived from search and rescue in Gander. A technician was lowered from the chopper on a tether. Mr. Brown was pulled up and flown to hospital for treatment of hypothermia and later released.
After Mr. Furlong and the four others were tossed from the raft 100 metres from shore, Mr. Furlong clambered up a cliff, climbing 20 metres above the water. He stayed there, friends said later, for more than three hours. Rescuers managed to pull the other men up the cliff but did not see Mr. Furlong until about 1 a.m. local time.
"I'll never forget the feeling when buddy came down and put me in a harness and we got up," he told CBC-TV. "When I got to the top the feeling . . . just to be alive."
Rescuers recovered David Ryan's body near Spillar's Cove, where the raft capsized. Rough seas and gale conditions prevented a search for Joseph Ryan's body from continuing yesterday. Mounties said the search for Joseph Ryan's body would be resumed when the weather improves.
"Joseph's wife can't even think about it," Mr. Bridgeman said as he sat in his pickup truck in lashing rain watching the storm's fury. "She said she was listening to the wind at night and imagining his body banging against the rocks. It's awful."
The family, said Ellen Croke, David and Joseph's aunt, does not want to decide on a funeral until Joseph's body is found. Joseph Ryan was fanatical about the new longliner he and his brother launched just four months ago. Their wives frequently fished with their husbands, especially during crab season. They fished spring, summer and fall, and spent winters fixing their gear. Until about nine years ago, the couples fished in two small speedboats, but they decided to get one big boat to share. Marilyn, David's wife, worried constantly about her husband when he used to fish from smaller boats.
"But ever since he got the bigger boat she didn't worry about him at all," Mr. Felthem said. "Geez, I guess it didn't make any difference at all did it?"
Seven years of bad luck
The number of Atlantic storms - such as the one that claimed a fishing boat in Bonavista Bay on Monday - has been above normal levels for the last seven years.