Today the Sir Wilfred Grenfell was freed and went back to work, helping to rescue the fishermen or to free stranded ships in the pack, in the tradition of the good doctor. 99 years ago Dr. Grenfell also continued his mission of mercy after being rescued. By some strange quirk of fate, another ship named after a famous rescuer, the CCGS Ann Harvey, became stuck today and to my knowledge is still in difficulties. This Newfoundland hero, from Iles aux Morts, together with her father, her 12 year old brother, and their Newfoundland Dog Hairy Man, helped to save about 160 people from the ship Despatch in 1828. As expressed for the Grenfell yesterday, I hope the Harvey is freed soon, and that she lives up to the legacy of her namesake. She’s a much more capable ship than the Grenfell in the ice, and is vital for the current rescue efforts. She also can carry two helicopters at a time.
I was working on the marine weather forecast for Newfoundland again today, and currently conditions don’t look good. The ice pack is solid against the coast, and while ice pressure is slowly easing, there is little sign of a good westerly wind to push the field offshore until Sunday; a low approaching from the Labrador Sea will give strong to gale force westerlies, but only for a day or so. But the field is so solid that it might take days of good west to southwesterlies to really break up the field and open up safe leads that the fishing boats can penetrate to reach the shore. There are two other problems associated with Sunday. First, those boats in the clear east of the ice pack may have to go around the field to the south if it moves significantly offshore; for boats up by St. Anthony this may involve steaming south to the East Coast in order to get west of the field and then have clear sailing for home. Second, those boats in the field who have been damaged and are being held up by the ice may start sinking or exhibit other problems when the pressure eases and they are able to float freely.
At his point, according to some of the news, the situation is as follows. There are about 100 ships in trouble, with between 400-600 crew. There are at least three CCG ships involved in rescue operations; the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the Ann Harvey, and the icebreaker Henry Larsen. The Grenfell is weakest in the ice, with the Harvey and the Larsen being fairly good. In addition CCG helicopters are transorting food and supplies to those vessels with the greatest need, and rescuing those willing to leave their boats. There are also SAR Cormorant helicopters standing by to help in case of urgent emergencies. In addition to the problems mentioned above, many boats of the sealing fleet have been at sea for up to 12 days already; they are running out of fuel, water, and food. To my knowledge at least one vessel is a derelict, more than a dozen are heavily damaged, and crewmembers have been rescued from at least 10 longliners. When the ice loosens enough to let the damaged boats float freely, the Coast Guard and Search and Rescue may have to move very fast to prevent a disaster. A lot will depend on how level-headed and realistic the fisherman will be; with so few rescuers and so many longliners a lapse in judgment would be a bad idea.
I’ll be working again tomorrow and next week. My best guess is that Sunday’s storm may only help a little, and that the best bet is a major low pressure system forecast to approach from Labrador for Tuesday and Wednesday, which may give enough southwest winds to open things up. There may also be a weaker system on Friday and Saturday next week to help. However, extended forecasts like this are highly uncertain.
If people don’t panic, are willing to sacrifice their ships if necessary, and to help each other as sealers have always done on the ice, they may come through okay.
Yesterday I said my hopes go out to those on the ice; today it will be my hopes and prayers.