Valentine's Day may be a day when people's thoughts turn to love and romance, but here in Atlantic Canada it has another, very different association. Late on the night of February 14 and in the early hours of February 15, 1982, an event took place off the coast of Newfoundland that will forever trigger memories of tragedy and loss. The semi-submersible mobile oil rig Ocean Ranger, deployed to drill an exploratory well seeking subsea deposits, had a crew of 84 on board. At the time it was the largest semi-submersible rig to have been built.
Winters on the North Atlantic can be unpredictable, and violent storms can develop literally overnight as weather systems merge. Although we'll never know exactly what happened on that awful night, some things are clear: one of the rig's portlights was smashed; this would allow water to pour into the ballast control room. The rig eventually developed a serious list and was abandoned. Of the 84 crew on board, the bodies of only 22 were recovered.
Thirty years later, I still remember hearing the news broadcast on CBC Radio while driving through Doctor's Cove, NS, and the sense of disbelief over the subsequent few days as the extent of the disaster became known. Early on, there was a faint hope that some of the crew might be found alive; that hope faded quickly as the extent and force of the storm became apparent.
Newfoundland songwriter Ron Hynes penned the song "Atlantic Blue" about the tragedy:
What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea?
What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity?
How dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you.
How is one heart chosen to never lie at peace?
How many moments remain; is there not one of sweet release?
And who's the stranger at my door to haunt my dreams forever more?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you. as you.
I lie awake in the morning as the waves wash on the sand
I hold my hurt at bay; I hold the lives of his children in my hands.
And whose plea will receive no answer? Whose cry is lost upon the wind?
Whose the voice, so familiar, whispers my name as the night comes in?
And whose wish never fails to to find my vacant heart at Valentine's?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold as you.
© Ron Hynes
Wikipedia's entry on the Ocean Ranger can be found here.
The 84 men lost on that terrible night were:
Capt. Clarence Hauss
Paschal Joesph O'Neill
Benjamin Kent Thompson