The north Atlantic in winter is a formidable place that has taken its toll on many ships and many lives. In winter, the ocean takes on a wilder, freer form in terms of strength, form and colour.
A visit to a local beach gave me inspiration for a sketch which then turned into a painting. The sketch was started on a piece of gessoed terraskin paper that I hadn't meant to use, but was at hand at the moment. I hadn't sanded the surface so the resulting lines almost make it look like it was raining. However, as a sketch it worked to keep the scene fresh in my head.
The watercolour is a crop of this same wave. The light was fading that day, nearing twilight and increasing the depth of colour in the water, turning it inky in the shadows. The foam sprayed upward with the force of the wave hitting the shore and being carried by the wind. It made me think of those lost at sea and how cold and impossible it would have seemed to be caught in that, making me glad I was standing on the shore.
There is a tangible reminder of the reality of such a situation on the province's north coast at Martin's Cove, where the skeleton of the SS Ethie still remains washed up on the beach and the legend of Hero, the phantom dog.
In 1919, the Reid Company steamer, Ethie, was transporting cargo and passengers up and down the West Coast of Newfoundland between Bonne Bay and Battle Harbour, Labrador. She left Cow Head fully laden at 8:00 p.m. on December 10, heading for Bonne Bay. Shortly afterwards, she ran into one of the worst blizzards ever recorded in that area. The crew slaved all night to keep the engines stoked, heading northwest away from rocky coastline, but at daybreak they had made no progress at all and fuel was low. The decks were swept clean of cargo, the life boats damaged or lost, and a thick rind of ice covered everything from deck to mast top, including livestock lashed to the deck. All seemed doomed. But Walter Young, the purser, knew of one spot where they might manage to beach. Captain Edward English made the courageous decision to steer for the sandy cove tucked behind Martin’s Point. Around noon, he thrust the ship on to the sharp-ridged reef, known as The Whaleback, at its entrance. A surging wave carried the ship up and over the reef and jammed it on the rocks; but a hundred yards of raging sea still boiled between ship and shore.