MV Abegweit (The PEI Island ferry)


As we are about to celebrate 20 years of the Strait Crossing Bridge,  it seemed like the appropriate time to repeat a story I related on my blog back in 2013. The worse ferry crossing of my life, at one point I thought the ship would founder. Nevertheless, we did eventually arrive safely on PEI after a 24 hours ordeal.  Please read my story below and be thankful we now have a bridge!!!

My story took place in late December 1979. I was working in the Moncton area on Friday morning, the weather forecast was not good. By 10am the first flakes of snow began falling and I decided it was time to head for the ferry and home before the the storm arrived. I did not want to be stuck in a Moncton motel over the weekend. Once I was out on the highway I relaxed knowing the next ferry sailed at noon, allowing me two hours to cover the approximate 90 Klms to the terminal. One hour was plenty of time in good weather and so far the snow was light. However by 10.30 am the snow was falling thick and fast and the wind was whipping up drifts and white outs. I was down to driving at a snail pace but fortunately managed to reached the terminal with about five minutes to spare. I immediately joined the line of vehicles loading. Once parked on the lower car deck I made my way up to the cafeteria for lunch. The ship was just moving out into the strait as I headed for a table with a plate of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee. I never got to enjoy my meal, the ship was suddenly rolling wildly and my food like everyone else went flying off the table and across the room. The crossing was extremely rough and the cafeteria closed down. I made myself as comfortable as possible in the upper lounge for the one hour trip. I could see nothing outside the windows but a blinding blizzard. The storm had reached its full fury. The crossing as best I can remember took about two hours. As we neared the PEI side I could see brief glimpses of land and was looking forward to unloading and getting home. That was when all hell broke out. In order to enter the harbour the ship had to turn broadside across the wind. We were hit by a huge wave that roll the ship almost onto its side. I had been at sea many times in rough weather and knew how to brace myself. It occurred to me this old ferry wasn’t as seaworthy as a naval warship and could easily take on water. Especially in the lower car deck so we were probably in more danger than I first thought. My attention was abruptly returned to the moment, the poor women sitting next to me and carrying a small baby was screaming in terror. Chairs flew across the lounge, people were tumbling and falling on the decks, a fire extinguisher broke loose from its bulkhead fitting. It careened across the lounge and bounced off the other side spraying on anyone in range. By this time I was holding the baby and trying to reassure the mother. I had managed to wedge us between a stanchion and the bench we were sitting on. The captain must have realized we were never going to make it into the harbour and brought the ship back into the wind. We steadied up considerably and the rolling decreased. People were picking themselves up, dusting off their clothing ,picking up chairs and trying to calm down. I had returned the baby to her mother (think it was a girl) and had managed to reassure her we were going to be okay. The poor woman was in tears as she thanked me for talking care of her baby. I said I’d remain with her in case she need more help. The Abegweit was now plowing slowly up the strait hoping for the weather to abate a little. In the lounge things had settled down and a few people were chatting about the near capsize. I actually got a smile from the mother I was helping as she began to feel more relaxed.
The calm didn’t last long, a stupid women member of the crew burst into the lounge saying “Oh my God, the ship might catch fire, a tractor trailer had turned over and crushed two cars beside it. Gasoline was washing around the lower car deck. The captain had ordered all electric and heat be turned off until the gas was foamed and safe. The crew member’s outburst had set off the young mother again now she was in a panic and I once more attempted to calm her down. We finally learned a Tractor Trailer loaded with concrete blocks had almost overturned, the cables holding the concrete snapped and the blocks came off the flatbed crushing two cars, but fortunately no one was hurt. Once the weight of the concrete was gone the truck fell back onto its wheels. I knew my car was okay I had been near the end of the line and was parked at the stern well away from the truck. The storm raged all day leaving us stuck plowing up and down the strait ,cold and hungry. At midnight we landed back at the New Brunswick terminal. The place was packed, cars had been arriving most of the day and the parking area was full. The terminal waiting area was crowded and of course the canteen was closed. All I’d eaten since breakfast was a muffin and coffee, I was famished. We spent the long night cold, tired and hungry sitting on metal folding chairs. At six am they announced we were reloading, the weather had moderated. The crossing while much less dramatic than the last attempt,  still took three hours. I finally rolled off the ferry at 9am and headed for home. So what do you think??? do I like the new bridge????
God Bless and keep reading

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About irishroverpei

Author of "Lily & Me", "The Royal Navy & Me" and Chapter XXl Armageddon. Writer, blogger and RN Submariner, antique automobile enthusiast.
This entry was posted in family, HM Submarines, HMS Cockade, hms ganges, The Royal Navy & Me, vehicles, veterans and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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