COX'S COVE — John Barnes of Cox's Cove was awoken from a fine night's sleep to a fisherman's nightmare Sunday morning.
It was just after 3:30 a.m., when he said a fellow Cox's Cove man, Mitch Park, came around Brake's Cove barefoot, cold and worn down. Barnes was sleeping inside his cabin, the same as David Park was doing just across from him in his cabin.
Neither had a hint of the ordeal Mitch and his friend Justin Park had been through since approximately 9:30 p.m. the previous evening.
According to Barnes, the two Parks were jigging for cod, a traditional recreation this time of year for many people from the small fishing community on the end of the north shore of the Bay of Islands. He was told their boat capsized, sending them into the icy waters.
It was a three or four hour swim to get to shore from where they went in, said Barnes. Mitch would later tell him he walked from Middle Arm Point to the nearest help in Brake's Cove. Justin became too tired to continue the walk, said Barnes, taking shelter in a place known as Cut Water.
The details of the ordeal were all unknown to Barnes and David Park though when they were awoken by the weary Mitch in the wee morning hours of Sunday.
"The fella that came there wasn't it good shape," Barnes said. "He had no socks on or anything, I guess they tore all off his feet from climbing the rocks trying to get in around."
He said the trek around the point to Brake's Cove is not an easy one, with slates of jagged rock and insurpassable points that one would have to swim around.
"He was more than tough to get the distance that he said he came from," Barnes said.
Mitch was taken into Barnes' cabin and cared for by the wives of Barnes and David Park. They got him some warm clothes and warmed him up by the fire, while the two men set off in boat to try to find Justin.
"I didn't know what to look for when we went," he said. "I was scared that he was going to lie down and go to sleep or something, and we would have passed him. He would have froze that night, because it was cold."
They took a large flashlight with them to shine on the shoreline, hoping for a glimpse of him. They would drive the boat so far before turning off the motor, calling out, and listening. This process repeated itself a number of times until eventually they heard him cry out.
Justin was in pretty bad shape when the two men found him, according to Barnes.
"He was froze," he said. "He had given up. He crawled in under the edge of the rocks to keep away from the wind. I'm telling you, he was a happy fellow by the time we got to him."
They had taken some coats to help warm him up, and took him back to the cabin in Brake's Cove and wrapped him in sleeping bags. Despite urging them to go to hospital for precaution, he said they took the two men home in Cox's Cove after they were assured they were OK.
"I say they are more than lucky, to swim from where they swam, and young Mitch to walk the distance he walked," said Barnes.
A fisherman himself, Barnes said the recreational food fishery is a dangerous way for people to feed their families. He said they should open a winter fishery, rather than have a limited window where people are almost forced out in small boats and sometimes bad weather.
He realizes this situation could have been worse.
"I was more than happy to find him," he said. "We didn't know what to expect when we did get him."
Mitch and Justin could not be reached for comment Monday.