Captain Joe Barbour documented his harrowing 1930 adventure at sea. He published the story in 1932 in his book, Forty-Eight Days Adrift. It has since been revived and reprinted and is now popular a very Newfoundland book (available in our Poop Deck Craft and Gift Shop or on Amazon). In 1979, CBC interviewed the then XX year old Captain Barbour about that adventure. A transcript of that interview is provided below.
We were tied up alongside Tommy Hallert’s wharf… that was the 14th of November I believe. On the 27th we were ready to sail, but it was blowing up a storm, and on the 29th, ten ships got out of port. I was up town at the time. I never intended to go out, but when I got back to the Neptune, the last of the ten was just going through the Narrows. So I went up and got the tug and asked them if they’d tow me out.
So the tug towed us for a half hour out of St. John’s and we cut the lines about four miles out. Two hours after that the snow came on.
The storm came and we sailed past Baccalieu, although we didn’t know it at the time, and the next morning we went down our home way, Newtown.
We were about 25 miles off the land, and there was ice on her deck, about 25 to 30 tons of ice. We could see the land. So then we said we’d go down around Fogo, and then the next day I thought the wind would come up and we’d come home, so by the next evening we were off Fogo by this time she had about 60 ton of ice on her. We lost everything on deck including a 100 gallon cask of water, but we had another 100 gallons below, thank God.
Now the next day we couldn’t get the sails up for ice, and she was really rolling. We thought she was going to roll over with the ice, so we said the only thing to do was to haul up hard and go out into warmer waters, and that’s what we did.
Then when the ice melted we’d race back and forth trying to get back to St. John’s. We did that for days. We’d decided we’d keep trying for St. John’s as long as we could, and failing that we would try for England.
After about 25 days we saw a big ship coming towards us. It was in really rough water. The ship was the S.S. Cedric.
They sent down a note on a rope, and the note told us we were 750 miles from St. John’s.
After 30 days we knew we couldn’t get home. We were about a thousand miles from land, we thought, so we steered away for England and we didn’t really know where England was. We had no navigation aboard, we had one compass. We had lost one when the seas washed the wheelhouse overboard. The wheel went at the same time and we had to rig two blocks to steer with, two men on a block.
Eventually, we fixed something up to steer with, but the old wheel was all broken up.
There was never a time that we gave up hope, but there was a time when we gave up hope on Mrs. Humphries though. We thought she was dead twice. I called her husband “Uncle Peter” on deck and said your wife will soon be gone… and he agreed.
“What are we going to do?”
“We got no minister aboard for a burial service. I guess boy we’ll have to throw her body overboard.”
“No,” he said, “Jobbie, we can’t do that, I’ll have to go with her if you throws her overboard.”
So we had it planned that when she died we’d wrap her in a canvas and tie her to the hatches. She was a really sick woman, and no wonder! About 5 or 6 days before we spotted land, the seas were 60 feet high, and we only had one sail part the way up. We all had our places to grab onto when the big sea came… just grab and hang on for dear life… and the big sea came and it took her… and I couldn’t see a thing on deck. She was 6 or 7 feet under water. Not a thing could be seen, only the top of her, spars… and by and by the rails came up… and then the deck came free, but I clung to the riggin’ afraid another wave was coming, but the next sea didn’t come. We were alright. Was there any wonder Mrs. Humphries was in bad shape!
So we went on and on, and one night we spotted a light and from an old map that we found aboard of England, we thought we had come on the lighthouse at Scearvour. Then according to the map there was supposed to be another one 60 miles away at Plymouth, so we decided to make for that one.
Not too far away, we saw another light and the next thing we saw a steamer coming right toward us, she came out about 30 feet from us and just kept on going. We had signs made up telling of our problem… but they just ignored us and kept on going as if we weren’t there.
About 8 or 10 miles further we spotted land with high hills that tapered right down to the sea in one spot, so we thought we’d steer for that land. We had land all around us then… and we kept sounding her until we got to 20 fathoms… and we dropped anchor… we were about 3000 feet from land… at about 3 o’clock in the morning.
Then about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we spotted a steamer coming out of a cave.
The captain figured there might be something wrong so he dropped his lifeboat and sent three men aboard. We told them our story of our 48 day voyage, they couldn’t believe it.
Everything was broken up on deck and the sails were three parts gone, so they went back and told their captain. They took us in tow, and towed us the 13 miles to Tobermory, Scotland. We sent a telegram that night to our families in Newtown: “have landed, all aboard alive and well.”
I stayed in Europe for a month after that. We spent about $17,000 on her, repairing and refitting her and putting an engine in her. Then we brought over a deepseas captain to take her back to Newfoundland.
We sold her to a Newfoundland firm in 1935, and with a load of fish heading for Spain… she sank shortly after she was sold.
I came ashore in 1935. I miss the sea sometimes, but I never miss the rough seas.