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Cape Ray Beach played a significant role in marine history

With white sand beaches and shimmering water, the Cape Ray Beach, part of JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, looks like it could be a scene from a tropical resort, but it has a rich history here in Newfoundland- PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY JOAN CHAISSON
With white sand beaches and shimmering water, the Cape Ray Beach, part of JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, looks like it could be a scene from a tropical resort, but it has a rich history here in Newfoundland- PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY JOAN CHAISSON - Contributed

History on the beach

CHANNEL-PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. —

By Joan Chaisson
Special to the Gulf News

Newfoundland is home to plenty of hidden gems – and the beaches around Port aux Basques fall into that category.

There are six beaches that spread from Grand Bay West in Port aux Basques to Cape Ray.

The Cape Ray Beach has now become part of J T Cheeseman Provincial Park, which is about 10 kilometres east of Port aux Basques, and has a very interesting history.

According to Joe Jeans, originally from Cape Ray, this beach was where the Cabot Strait Passenger Boat, known simply as “Cabot,” went ashore during the winter in the mid-1950s. His dad, Jim Jeans, and Stan Osmond, both of whom worked on the snowplow with Canadian National Railway, travelled to the area to rescue passengers and crew. Other volunteers from the nearby settlements came to help them throw ropes to the lifeboats and they pulled the lifeboats to shore. 

This accident was very confusing to the townsfolk, Jeans says, since they could not understand how the captain missed Shag Island to come ashore.

Connections severed

This beach is also known as the location of the first submarine transcontinental cable attempt, which would have linked the European continent with the western world in instant communication. The plan had been to connect Cape Ray, on the Newfoundland coast, and Cape North, on the Cape Breton shore, in 1855. The distance between these points is 55.5 nautical miles, as given by the English Admiralty. The length of the cable was 74 statute miles - a little over 14 per cent more than the exact distance between these points to account for the unevenness of the ocean floor.

There were three sailing vessels involved in this endeavour. On Aug. 22, 1855, the machinery and supplies were all on the barge, Sarah Bryant, which was towed by the steamer Adger to the Cape Ray Cove. By the following night, the end of the cable was landed, by means of boats, which was done with great difficulty, due to fog and heavy sea swell.

Over the next couple of days, the wind became much stronger, and a collision between the vessels ensued, cutting the connecting heavy rope. The Bryant still held on to the telegraph cable over her stern, while the Adger and another vessel, The Victoria, tried, but due to lack of strength, could not connect to the Bryant, which had lost its anchor and was drifting towards shore. 

The Adger tried to help but due to the hazardous rocks, it was too dangerous to venture near her. For her own safety, the Bryant was compelled to cut the telegraph cable attached to her stern, causing her to swing around upon the rocks. Once the cable was cut, the other two vessels were able to take her in tow, saving all those aboard with the loss of just two miles of cable.

Crews of the vessels continued to try to lay the rest of the cable but after sailing out into the gulf, the current was found to be very strong, causing the coils to kink as they were passed up from the hold of the ship. The winds, at hurricane strength, kept breaking the cable and even after splicing, the wire was found entirely useless. 

Finally, due to the frightening pitching and surging in the heavy sea, an order was made to cut away from the 40.5 miles of laid cable. With this cutting, it also severed the high hopes and joyous anticipations of all concerned.

It was reported in The Illustrated London Newspaper, Oct. 20, 1855 that “no other company has ever had to contend against such natural obstacles, or to labour against greater difficulties.”

This beach, today, is viewed by many visitors from all over the world. It has seen its problems again in the last few years where the sand has been swept out to sea through hurricanes. However, through the natural process, this sand returns for all to enjoy.

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