Video by Óli Lindenskov and Hjaltur Poulsen
Captain Fancy looks out from the pilot house of the Kiviuq I
Kiviuq crew (Left to Right), Hjaltur Poulsen, Jens Joensen, Cecil Bannister, Óli Lindskov, Capt David Fancy, Flemming Ipsen, Norman Papinean, Hans Petersen, Mrs. Hans Peterson and child.
Nat talks about the Kiviuq's call back.
Rick calls the captain of Kiviuq a hero.
Kiviuq's radar screen shows only massive clutter from the ice field where the Sheila Yeates was trapped.
Location of the Sheila Yeates calling Mayday.
Latitude 59°10.6’ North, Longitude 43°39.0 West.
The Kiviuq was just 12 miles south when the call was made.
Mike Metzmaker talks about their rescue
The commercial fishing vessel Kiviuq 1 had finished fueling in Godthab, Greenland after a successful shrimping run off the coast of Labrador in the Davis Strait. Most of the 20 factory workers had disembarked, leaving a core crew of eight men on board. Captain David Fancy was looking forward to getting home to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. His international crew included two Canadians, one Greenlander, one Paraguayan and three Faroese (Faroe Islanders). Their names read like a Herman Melville novel. They had all signed on for a two-month stint and were ready to get back to land. The ship would have headed for Newfoundland, but Fancy had been notified via satellite phone to take the vessel to Hirtshals, Denmark for a refit. The ship was being sold to a Danish firm so Fancy set the steel-hulled, 184-foot vessel on a course south along the Greenland coast before heading due east across the Labrador Sea.
The night watch on the Kiviuq was a lonely one. The wheelhouse was situated high above the dark grey ocean with a 360-degree view of the dark grey horizon. Not much to see tonight but there was always the threat of icebergs and sea ice to help keep the crew alert. Captain Fancy filled his coffee cup, when the ship’s radio crackled with static and he heard the call:
“Mayday. Mayday. This is the Sheila Yeates calling any vessel. This is the Sheila Yeates calling any vessel...we are in need of rescue...”
Fancy made some quick calculations between the Kiviuq’s position and the Sheila Yeates’ coordinates as he considered a rescue. One of the Kiviuq crew was also a company representative for the ship’s new owners. He advised Fancy against any rescue attempt. It was far too dangerous to rescue a boat from sea ice. But the first mate encouraged the Captain. “It’s a Mayday. We can’t ignore it.” Captain Fancy re-scanned the Sheila Yeates coordinates. Then he radioed:
“Sheila Yeates, this is the Kiviuq 1 calling. We are 12 miles south of you. We know where you are. We can be at the ice line in two and a half hours.”
Nat took the radio and asked, “Kiviuq 1 what kind of a vessel are you?” Captain Fancy responded, “We are an ice-breaking shrimper out of St. Johns, Newfoundland.”
“We knew we had hit pay dirt,” said Nat. From the depths of despair, to complete elation, the crew breathed a collective sigh of relief. “We knew we were going to be saved,” said Mike. By now Geoff and the remaining crew were all awake for the celebration. On the Kiviuq 1, all crew were alerted as well to assist with the search for the Sheila Yeates. From that moment on both captains stayed in radio contact as the long rescue effort began.
The decision by Captain Fancy to rescue the Sheila Yeates was a brave one, made out of compassion for men whose lives were in danger at sea, but it was in direct opposition to the advice and wishes of the new owners.
If the Kiviuq had returned to Newfoundland as in past trips, it would have never heard the Mayday. Setting a course to Denmark had brought them within VHF range of the Sheila Yeates for a brief time. The fishing vessel’s cruising speed was approximately 12 knots. If the Sheila Yeates crew had waited 30 minutes longer to send their Mayday, the Kiviuq would have been out of radio range.
As daylight increased, the Kiviuq made good time to the ice edge but there was heavy fog over the sea ice and the swell at the edge of the sea ice was still a dangerous three meters. Captain Fancy had to find a safer entry to the sea ice that would not damage his ship. Meanwhile, he called Greenland Command to confirm that they could send no assistance.
There was so much clutter on the Kiviuq’s radar that it was hard to make out a sailboat among the ice chunks and bergy bits. Only their SATNAV showed the Sheila Yeates as a small dot on their chart. It was dangerous going as the Kiviuq gave wide berth to the larger, deeper blue growlers , the “harder” more dangerous East Greenland “glacial” ice. Even a steel hull could be damaged by Greenland ice.
Meanwhile, because the visibility was so poor, both vessels shared their positions via SATNAV and blew their foghorns to help locate one another. The Sheila Yeates crew sent up flares. But the flares disappeared in the fog and the sound of the foghorns was muffled. After several hours and two attempts, Captain Fancy could not find an open lead through the sea ice to reach the Sheila Yeates. He radioed hesitantly; “It’s not looking good, eh Geoff.”
While it was important to find the sailboat, Fancy was becoming less sure that he would be able to make it out of the ice once he made it in. The Kiviuq traveled over a mile to the west to find calmer water and an open lead into the ice flow. Using their bow thruster to clear a path, the Kiviuq’s steel hull and powerful engine began to make progress. It was now early morning. While approximately 12 miles away from the Sheila Yeates, it took Fancy nearly six and a half hours to reach the sea ice and then negotiate a path through the ice to the Sheila Yeates.
On board the Sheila Yeates, the crew had expected a quick rescue. As the hours stretched on, their worry intensified. The life rafts remained on deck but they weren’t really a viable option. At last the Kiviuq’s foghorn could be heard in the distance even though the dense fog masked any view of the ship. The foghorn was getting louder. Then the Sheila Yeates’ crew spotted a bright orange circle in the sky, the size of a soccer ball. “It was the best light you could ever see in all your life,” said Mike. “We knew we were going to be okay.”
It was the Kiviuq’s masthead searchlight. Slowly the ghost outline of the Kiviuq came into view. Cheers could be heard from the crew of both ships as they finally viewed each other faintly through the fog on that icebound morning of July 14. There wasn’t a dry eye among rescued or rescuers alike. This was a moment they would all remember for the rest of their lives.
When finally the two ships met amid the dense fog and undulating ice, a delicate dance began between the 50-foot sailboat and the 184-foot, 1024-ton trawler. The challenge confronting both captains, was how best to maneuver the Sheila Yeates through the ice to open ocean without damaging her or the Kiviuq. It would prove to be an enduring test of seamanship on the part of both crews, but in particular, a feat of dexterity for the Kiviuq.
Video by Óli Lindenskov and Hjaltur Poulsen
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