Ocean of Storms, Sea of Disaster: North Atlantic Shipwrecks of the Strange and Curious


226 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 1-895900-74-3
DDC 910.9163'4





Edited by Lesley Choyce
Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur is the author of The Rise of French New Brunswick and
H.H. Stevens, 1878–1973 and co-author of Silver Harvest. His latest
book is Horse-Drawn Carriages and Sleighs: Elegant Vehicles from New
England and New Brunswick.


At first glance I thought reading this book would be like reading the
daily obituaries, and the initial 20 or so of the 60 stories, arranged
in chronological order from 1846 to 1947, seemed to affirm my
expectations. It was unrelieved gloom, with vessels of all sizes filled
with passengers going down in the middle of fierce, usually midwinter,
gales. Hardly one lifeboat in 20 was ever safely launched, and even
though some passengers were plucked from the freezing waters by passing
vessels, the vast majority didn’t survive. The lack of drawings of the
specific ships involved is offset by vivid pictures of similar events
described in the widely read Illustrated London News. An exception is a
photograph Parsons took of a marble plaque at Prospect, Nova Scotia,
dedicated to the loss of the S.S. Atlantic, a luxury liner that hit a
reef during its maiden voyage on April 1, 1973.

Parsons is a seasoned storyteller. His skill is best illustrated in
“Rumrunner Turned Pirate,” a story about how the RCMP seized the
motor vessel Kromhout in December 1933 off Louisbourg, Cape Breton.
Despite the mountainous seas, the police were able to put a prize crew
aboard the rumrunner to keep an eye on Captain Ross Mason, who had
barricaded himself and his crew in his cabin. Late the first night, one
RCMP felt a gun against his back and found Mason and another of his
crew, also armed. “You know this is piracy” the police officer
warned. “Piracy be damned,” said Mason. “This is my ship and I’m
not going to let any ... police take it away from me.” The police
surrendered; the rumrunners cut the towing hawser and safely made it to
the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, where they were arrested
and handed over to Canadian authorities for a well-publicized trial in
Halifax. Mason, the only one charged, maintained that the hawser line
had snapped. He got three years and said until his death in 1981 that he
could never understand how a court could convict him of stealing his own
ship. This story is worth the price of the book. The others, which
mostly end in tragedy, convey the perils of sea travel faced by our
ancestors in the days of sail and early steamships.


“Ocean of Storms, Sea of Disaster: North Atlantic Shipwrecks of the Strange and Curious,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16637.