For the third time in 33 years I became a castaway on June 28, 2000, off Three Fathom Harbor on the Eastern Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia after losing a harrowing 10 hour long struggle of man against the sea. The sea claimed my vessel but more importantly, the three of us aboard escaped its grip without a scratch. Here is the full story.

We left San Juan April 15 on a seven month voyage which would take us to NYC, Halifax, Ireland, Norway and back to San Juan. We sailed through the Bahamas and up the East Coast to Maine, stopping every day or two to visit good friends who live on the Eastern seaboard. With Bob Scott and grandson Dan aboard we left Castine, Maine for Nova Scotia, where we found the friendliest of people everywhere we stopped. Bob and Dan returned home and my new crew, Dick MacEwen, who crewed with me on the Hong Kong to Manila race in 1968 and had also joined us on this trip on the leg from NJ to Connecticut, and Bill Beavers, a veteran ocean sailor who has raced his sailboat to Jamaica, Bahamas, and Key West, arrived in Halifax June 27. After a tour of Halifax and a light supper we retired.

At five a.m., with the risen sun cutting away the morning haze, I picked up our dock lines, started the engine and motored towards the mouth of the harbor. Though I had suggested to my crew that they remain bunked down, they dressed and came on deck an hour or so later. As we motored out of the harbor, Dick fixed coffee in our little Cuban pot and later I passed the helm to Bill with the request that he stay in 25 feet of water. I remained on deck for a while as we motored past a long shelf that extends several miles south of the last island in the harbor. When we reached the outer buoy we changed course to East, always with the proviso that we stay in 25 feet of water or more. Satisfied, I went below and fixed pancakes for the crew, which they devoured. The sea was dead calm. When a light breeze began to whisper, we raised the main and continued to motor along at about 6 knots. The sun shone and the shoreline was clearly in view with visibility at about 7 miles. I brought the log up to date, fiddled with my papers, checked the GPS. St. Johns, Newfoundland, was 450 miles distant at 070. Back on deck, I noted the depth at 35 feet and announced that I would take a short nap.

I do not know how long I slept when I was awakened by two thumps. I raced on deck to find the helm dead ahead and the engine racing in forward. I pushed Bill Beavers out of the way, cut the throttle, put the engine in neutral, glanced at the depth finder then hollered at Bill, “Why weren’t you watching the depth?” He came right back with, “Yes, look, it reads 55 feet>” It read 5.5 feet. He’d fallen asleep and allowed the wheel, which under power pulls to port, to turn us into shore.
I looked around to get my bearings and immediately put the engine back in forward and with full throttle spun the wheel around. "New Chance" quickly responded and came around to the Southwest. One-foot swells lifted us but not enough to escape the bottoms' grip. I ran the engine at full speed for a long time, possibly 30 minutes or more. The boat refused to move. At one time I requested Bill Beavers hang outboard from the shrouds with hopes of increasing the heel, with negative result. We were hard aground.

On Channel 16 I issued a PANPAN-MAYDAY call that was answered immediately by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Dick called out our GPS coordinates, which I gave to the RCMP. I requested assistance in the form of a tow. We struggled for another hour with the helm and the power in hopes we could find a way out. The boat refused to budge. The tide continued to ebb.

We noted on the horizon a small inflatable that soon came along side. Aboard was Hein, a neighbor of the area who had been called by the CG. I asked him to help take our anchor out to deep water. While Bill and Dick rigged the anchor with chain and 250 feet of line, Hein and I took to the dingy, loaded the gear aboard, headed into deeper water, and set the anchor. Back on board we ran the anchor rode around the genoa winch and cranked it taught. The boat responded and swung into the swell. A Royal Navy helicopter hovered overhead and asked if we are all well and if we wanted to abandon ship. We radioed back that we were well and still hoped to save the boat. The Coast Guard cutter Sambro arrived. We requested they send a line in for a tow. They responded with a negative and gave us a number of a professional salvage company in Halifax. Hein called them on his cell phone and after several calls back and forth we agreed to their $3500 proposal for assistance.

Meanwhile the anchor broke loose and the boat again turned broadside into the waves. We winched the line tight and the anchor held for a short time then dragged anew because, as we discovered later, the bottom consists of 5 to 7 inch diameter polished rocks piled high on each other. The anchor had no place to grab. The incoming tide pushed "New Chance" ever closer to shore. The boat suddenly filled with water, gushing in around the mast step. The keel had broken loose from the hull and a gapping hole allowed each wave to surge into the cabin. Hein shoved pillows into the open spaces. I jumped into the water to assess the damage then together we raced to his home for a heavy plastic sheet, which we rigged to long lines. I donned a semi wet suit and jumped into the water to fit the sheet over the gaping hole. Two-foot waves propelled by the incoming tide washed over me as I struggled to get the sheet into the proper position. After a dozen tries we lashed it secure.

Back on board, soaked to the bone, we again stuffed bedding into the hole in hopes of stemming the tide. Almost two hours passed before the salvage people arrived, three men in a small rubber boat. Two younger men came alongside and requested we abandon shop. I refused and requested to know their game plan, what equipment they had with them. I received no response. I told them we needed pumps, material to stop the water from coming in and a long anchor line either to a cutter or to set a heavy anchor in deep water. They had arrived with none of the above.
Slowly "New Chance", now at the mercy of the incoming tide and broadside to the waves, ground over the rocky bottom. At some point the last of the keel bolts broke loose, the keel dropped off, and the boat heeled over at a ninety-degree angle. Bill and Dick abandoned ship and swam the 200 or so feet to shore. I hung on to the starboard cockpit coaming for another hour, unable to give up my home, my hobby, my faithful friend. With darkness approaching, and nothing more to be done, I swam to shore and into the arms of many of the area residents who in the days to come would help salvage most valuables from "New Chance". I hugged Heins' boxer puppy to suck its heat into my body and stop my wild shivering.

Over the next four days this dozen or so newly made extraordinary friends housed us, fed and succored us and helped transport our belongings to safety over more than a mile of virtually impenetrable rocky shoreline. My heart pained as chain saws ripped out winches and other gear. Once the mast was removed, the next high tide turned the boat back to its upright position. Debris littered the shore. At low tide we filled buckets with tools and spares regurgitated by New Chance.

Everyone in Nova Scotia has been so good to us but the neighbors of Three Fathom Harbor and those of Aldemarle Marina in Halifax are tops. Hein who came to the rescue and his wife Valeria still sweep the beach daily looking for more of our personal belongings. Jimmy Flynn with daughter Angie and Brian drove ATV's carting all the salvaged material to high ground. And our saving angels, Bill and Paulette Hamilton, took us in, bedded and fed us during four days, who gladly allowed us to fill their home with our soggy sandy possessions, then ran dozens of loads of wash until it was dry and clean, then allowed us to trample their newly emerging grass to dry the sails…. Many others, John Owen, Lyle Brown and Dave Gaetz spent hours salvaging and others helped feed us and wash clothing. Nowhere else in the world have I found this depth of hospitality than in Nova Scotia.

Bill Butler
July 7, 2000