It was after this incident that William Verber, a long time expatriate resident of the Island, became a minister.His son came to visit with his new bride and two of her three children from a previous marriage. A boy aged nine and his sister, twelve. I think this was the summer of 1985, but as time passes, dates blurr.In the twenty or so years I’d known the Verbers I don’t think I ever had met this man, though he was close to my own age, until that day on the wharf when he lowered a skiff they’d trailed up from Rhode Island into the water. It was an outboard affair, a takeoff on a Boston Whaler design, but less sturdy and devoid of the flotation feature of the craft it copied. I noticed it had a hand-winch crowding the space in front of the center seat, and because of that it had no oars aboard.As we chatted oddly he told me he was going to take the kids out for a run, back of the island, and maybe do some dives for scallop. I proceeded to warn him of the dangers of the rip off the West shore where Green Island and Gull Rock extended into the Atlantic as one big shoal, the shape of a snapping turtles tail. This could only be traversed from half-full tide on. On the ebb-tide, at any stage, the lay of the shoal created such rollers and turbulence as to make it impossibly treacherous. But he was cocky in protestation of knowledge about the sea – perhaps off the coast of Rhode Island.At about six o’clock that evening I spied the skiff off the Southern Bar making its way to the aforementioned area, and I had a funny feeling. As the summer sun quits late in the Maritimes, the fact that this trio had not returned by 9 p.m. drew no great alarm, but at ten o’clock I began making calls, although not to the Verber residence, about my concern for this craft. In fifteen minutes there were several of us at the Coast Guard Station, urging the cutter captain, (the 102 is based on Brier Island), to begin a search. It took me shaming him out of his reluctance by quickly calling up the village ground search party and heading out for the West shore and Whipple’s Point, knowing full well that if they capsized anywhere on the shore side of the rip, we’d be the ones finding them. The cutter was forced to go out after half the fishermen put to their boats. I harbored some anger toward Neal Peters for many years after his showing reluctance in this incident, even though the two of us had been rescued at sea together ten years before.
At 11 all coordinated radio contact between boats, cutter and shore crews echoed the news that Stephen Welch had found the skiff and was bringing it in. There were no occupants. A hole the size of a dinner plate had been punched through the starboard bow and the motor, though empty now of gas, had been set in high rev. The message was clear from the skiff’s position and damage; this man had sought to run across the rip as it coursed over the shoals, thinking the shallow draw of his craft would escape the teeth of barely submerged rocks extending up from the shoal. All evidence pointed to the fact that the boat crested in the rapids of the ebbing tide, so that its prop came clear of the water just long enough to skew the craft sideways, then down it went caterwauling into a basalt tooth, catapulting all aboard into the sea.The rip runs around the island at an astonishing 12 knots, which means that if you fall overboard, you are 12 miles away into the Atlantic on the ebb, up into Fundy on the full. It was a race against time now, for the water barely reaches 50 degrees fahrenheit even in summer. Time had already elapsed that would have us hope anyone was still alive. The Orion Sub Patrol plane arrived from CFB Greenwood and commenced dropping huge phosphorous flares over the sight. As each flare slowly parachuted it fell seaward, the silhouettes of perhaps fifty craft, from Cape Islanders, to Seiners, and finally U.S. Navy Frigate extended off into the black horizon.The girl was found first: wet, pristine in countenance, and dead. Then the little boy, an hour later, approximately 2:00 a.m., dead as well, a huge hematoma and gash extending through his right eye to behind his temple. The next day, a Sikorskey Buffalo out of Gander Newfoundland spied the body of the father, who despite his wet suit was drifting about eight feet under water in the coursing rip on the full tide as it passed along the North shore of Long Island. The chopper lowered to the sea surface and reversed its rotors to draw the body up. A frogman was dispatched into the water to harness him up. There were no injuries to the body save the fact that it took nearly twelve hours to thaw.It was the ultimate tragedy. Jettisoned from the boat, he sought to swim through the rip to shore, surely to be caught in it. Buoyant in his wet suit he had watched his children die as he drifted helplessly away from them. The next day I was on the wharf, and the widow, zombie like, trudged out to me to ask me if I was Greg Hannan, to which I answered affirmatively. She proceeded to thank me for my help in the monotone of a mother’s shock. Then I drew her into my arms and held her for a long time, till she collapsed there in sobs.This is one of three pieces I did, related to this incident, in order to assuage my own grief, which lasted for a considerable time.
REQUIEM (Wipple’s Point) 1988acrylic on found wood21 ½” x 36”Private collection