The cliffs and shoals surrounding Grates Cove are formidable to mariners with the technology of today. Imagine how horrific these landmarks were in gales of wind and driving snows decades ago. Schooners were the main mode of travel for passengers and for the transport of cargo. In order to travel from St. John’s to other parts of the Northeast Coast of Newfoundland, these sailing ships had to pass by Grates Cove.
There have been many near misses and shipwrecks with no loss of life along this stretch of coastline. But one shipwreck was the final destination for six men in December, 1944. The schooner, Mollie, left St. John’s on December 20 bound for its homeport of Carmanvulle, under command of Ross Chaulk, who was just 26 years old. The four members of the crew on the ship were James Ellsworth, age 25, John Goodyear, age 61 and his two sons, Reginald, age 32 and Charles, age 28. There was one passenger on the Mollie – Otto Hicks, from Dooling’s Cove, who was a widower with a young child.
The seas were calm and the winds fair when the Mollie set sail for home with its load of winter provisions. However, the weather turned as the schooner sailed through Baccalieu Tickle with a strong wind from the northeast. As anyone familiar with the waters of this strait can tell you, a strong northeastern wind whips up the waves making it difficult to sail, especially in a sailing ship.
The people of Grates Cove could only watch in terror as the schooner was dashed upon the rocks of the Oil Gulch. Although it was one o’clock in the day, the fishermen of the cove could do little but watch and pray for the souls of those onboard. When the seas calmed down, the crews put out their boats, which had been hauled up for the winter and set out to hopefully bring the people safely to shore.
Provisions floated about in the sea – food for the families to last them through the winter, as well as articles of clothing. Sadly, there were no survivors and the Mollie had been dashed to pieces in the smaller cove just outside of Martin’s Island Point.
The thirteen crews from Grates Cove worked feverishly to bring the dead ashore. They found three men at first and then another two. The body of the sixth man was not recovered until the following day. The bodies were brought to the Orange Lodge and prepared for burial. In addition to this task, the people of Grates Cove fitted the men with new clothing and provided the caskets.
The six fatalities were then transported to Old Perlican where they were loaded aboard the Northern Ranger. This ship took them home to Carmanville for the funerals and burial.
One lady, Joyce Stanford, who was about 12 years old at the time, witnessed the bodies laid out in the Orange Lodge, said that she will never forget that sight. She said that she found it difficult to enter this building for some time after without seeing the image in her mind.
A cross marks the cove where the shipwreck of the Mollie occurred. There is no trail to the location, but visitors to the area can get a glimpse of what the landscape is like and even with the erosion that has taken place through the decades, it is still a formidable sight.