Daily Event for February 8, 2014

Forty years ago today was the last time the fishing factory ship Gaul was ever seen above the waves. About 1115 a.m. on February 8, 1974 the ship was seen on radar by other ships fighting a force 10 gale. After other trawlers had been hit by three huge waves Gaul vanished from the radar forever. All thirty-six men were lost in the freezing Barents Sea north of the North Cape, Norway. This was a tragic loss and the biggest loss of life experienced in a fishing ship for a long time, but the loss of the ship was just the beginning of the story.

It would take several months to write the complete story of the Gaul and the aftermath, due to the constraints of time I have only a couple of hours to research and write this article. After the loss of the ship rumors began to fly. The most prevalent was that Gaul was a spy ship. During the Cold War it was common to use so-called trawlers as surveillance ships, all major nations did this. Whether private trawlers were used on a regular basis is not clear to me. For the most part we will not know exactly what they were up to until we are very old folks, if ever.

I don't know exactly how the rumor was started, but it was propagated by the usual suspects, the conspiracy theorists. While it is true that there were mistakes made after the ship went missing, those who forwarded such rumors were blind to the facts at hand. These conspiracy theories are to say the least exhausting. You can find such a theory on any high profile event, you can also find someone making money on that event. If you look close enough at any event you are able to find inconsistencies, but these are usually human error, or a lie to cover someone's behind. But someone with a good imagination and vocabulary to match is usually able to convince people, especially desperate people, that there are dark forces at work.

In the case of the Gaul there were eyewitnesses to the conditions of the sea, the time the ship was last seen and heard from and when she went missing. The seas were terribly bad, the waves 35' or more and Gaul was swallowed by the sea. That is the story of what happened. After the wreck was found in 1997 I guess those who believed that Gaul had been captured by the Soviets were finally silenced. A survey of the wreck showed open hatches and other openings where water could be allowed in to the factory area causing instability. It is clear that Gaul went down fast, so fast that no distress signal was sent.

No matter what I write here those who believe that it was not just the storm that sank the Gaul will never be convinced. Many family members have been amongst those who believe that Gaul was a spy ship and was sunk by the Soviets, maybe even by a submarine. Nothing I write here will ever convince them that this is not the case. Of course in their grief they can be easily swayed into thinking that something other than an accident was responsible for the loss of their loved ones and who can blame them. Nobody wants to think that a simple accident or carelessness caused the death of their father, brother or son.

However one must remember that ships are made of steel and if enough water gets inside they sink. They have been sinking for thousands of years and they will continue to sink as long as they go to sea. And when it comes to conspiracy writers, like a magician they use slight of hand to divert your attention from the main subject. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

To address the open hatches that were found in the wreck. One might suspect careless crewmen, but knowing that they were in such a fierce storm it seems unlikely that the ship would not have been closed up tight as a drum. It may be possible that the hatches were forced open by the air trapped in the ship when she sank. Air inside a ship becomes compressed when water enters a compartment and there would be more than enough pressure to force a weak hatch open. For instance when Titanic sank a forward hatch on the forecastle was blown off the ship and it now rests some distance from the wreck. In a sunken submarine many men escaped by flooding a compartment and using the compressed air to force open the escape hatch. I must admit that I have not seen any footage or photos of the wreck and I don't know how extensively the hatches were inspected.

I think it is clear that Gaul was lost to one of the most powerful and unforgiving forces in the world, the sea. She was taken by the sea which has taken much larger ships then her, and sadly it will happen again in the future. On this anniversary we remember the men who were lost and the families they left behind.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Remembrance
In memory of those who lost their lives in
FV Gaul
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Atkinson, Raymond
Factory Hand
Bowles, Ronald
2nd Engineer
Briggs, Clifford
Meal Plant Operator
Broom, Sidney
2nd Officer
Chisholm, John M.
Junior Officer
Chisholm, Robert
Spare Hand
Clark, Paul E.
Spare Hand
Collier, Stanley T.
Factory Charge Hand
Doone, John
Radio Operator
Dudding, John
Spare Hand
Gardner, James
4th Engineer
Grundy, Eric
Factory Hand
Hackett, Timothy
Trainee Engineer
Heywood, John
Factory Hand
Jones, William E.
Factory Hand
Magee, Terence
Factory Manager
McLellan, James C.
Factory Hand
Naullis, Colin E.
Spare Hand
Nellist, Peter
Nilsson, Raymond C.
Factory Charge Hand
North, William T. "Bill"
Factory Charge Hand
O'Brien, James W.
Spare Hand
O'Brien, John R.
Chief Engineer
Petersen, Neil
Riley, J. Frederick
Spare Hand
Sheppard, Thomas
Factory Hand
Smith, Clarence
Meal Plant Operator
Spurgeon, Maurice E.
Straker, Karl J.
Assistant Cook
Tracey, Thomas W.
Spare Hand
Wales, James V.
3rd Engineer
Wheater, David A.
2nd Cook
Wilson, Harold W. F.
Spare Hand
Wood, Harry S.
Factory Hand
Woodhouse, James W.
Meal Plant Operator
Worner, Albert
Factory Hand

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