The S. S. Kyle
By Libby Earle DePiero
There once was a little girl who never knew her father. She would say to her mother, “Where is my father?” Would you give me a little brother?" And her mother would say, “But you have Gramp and a father. You’re better off than the other little girls for you have two fathers. You have Gramp (Edward Dawe) and your father, Guy."
“ But I don’t know Guy,” said the little girl.
So, one day the mother took the little girl to meet her real father. The little girl was only four, but she was always asking for him. The mom and daughter drove a long way. They drove through Bay Roberts, where the mom pointed out the house she had grown up in. Then they drove and drove some more until they got to Carbonear. There, the mom told the little girl, “This is where your father lives.”
Now, the little girl is grown, and she still remembers that sunny day, and when this tall, tall dark shadow stood in the doorway. He was taller than the door. The little girl was shy, like little girls are. Was this her father?
She remembered one more thing. The red Popeye mugs up on the shelf with the eyes that rolled around when one lifted the mugs. And, the dark shadow looking down at her, so many years before.
That’s all she got, that little girl.
One night when the little girl was 12, Guy went away forever. The little girl was to finally meet him on Saturday, but he died the Wednesday before. The little girl remembers that night, because of the dream she had. It’s funny about dreams. Most of them one forgets the next morning, but this dream the little girl will remember always.
Then the grandfather asked the little girl, “Would you like to go to his funeral? I loved Guy. I will bring you.” The little girl said no. Maybe listening to the other adults around her, said, “No, I don’t want to see my father in his coffin.” The little girl made a terrible mistake. Why didn’t she say yes?
It was the biggest funeral Carbonear had ever seen, even to this day.
One day in 2007, when the little girl, all grown up, returned to Carbonear with her husband. She drove past the S.S. Kyle to show her husband the boat her father had left there. So when they approached, her husband said, “that’s not the Kyle.” “It is so,” she retorted. Her husband exclaimed, “That’s not a boat. That’s a ship!”
The S.S. Kyle spoke to the grown-up girl that day. And she heard.
Now, the daughter of our "greatest navigator" comes home every year to “Swim the Kyle.”
“Why?” the people ask me.
Why do I Swim the Kyle?
Because I feel her in my bones. I see her in my mind’s eye as I sit here, many miles away. When I was first taken out to her, the very first time, Stafford Baker took my husband and I out. We drew close to her hull, and I laid my palms against the steel. My body shook with the force as “I’m BACK!” echoed clearly though my mind.
Hanging was a real rickety ladder which my husband climbed first to see if it would hold. Then it was my turn. Up I went. We stayed and looked and walked all around her. It was a wondrous time, that first time, as the seaman’s ghost enveloped me, guiding us along.
I could still see her once glorious beauty shining through her tired rooms. When we climbed down my husband went first. Then, it was my turn. As I was stepping into the boat I felt the last rung slip and give a little. When we looked up, the last rung of the ladder had been torn from the wood but not until I had one foot in the boat. She took care of me. And, she calls to me.
I know when I save the Kyle my father will come back to me, unless he is already aboard. With him will come all the great captains of Newfoundland. Men like Capt. Ben Tavernor, who died along with his two sons when a German U-boat torpoedoed the S.S. Caribou down during the Second Word War. All the brave captains of Newfoundland will have a place to be. All our children and children’s children will remember these brave men; will know Newfoundland’s history.
It will be a monument to all of them, for the world to see.
And, all the others too. Amelia will be there. Didn’t she take off from the nearby Harbour Grace airfield for the first female trans-Atlantic solo flight? Old Glory and her pilot and crew will be there too, for didn’t the Kyle find her, after 52 ships tried and failed? Only our Kyle could do it.
The wives and families of all our strong men will be there, too, especially all who waited for their men to come home. Many did, but many more didn’t. All of them will be there. I’ll be there too.
So she swims, for the little girl now growing old, knows. She feels the pull. Don’t let her go.
— Libby Earle DePiero writes from West Haven, Connecticut, and is the daughter of Capt. Guy Earle of Carbonear and Betty Dawe Earle of Bay Roberts. She will undertake her fourth "Swim the Kyle" at 2 p.m. on Sept. 14, one of several events planned to marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the S. S. Kyle, which has been grounded in Riverhead, Harbour Grace since 1966. She can be reached by email at the following: firstname.lastname@example.org