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Canso man’s wallet lost at sea, turns up 4 years later

Capt. John Baker of Canso lost his wallet when his dragger, The Gentle Lady, went down in 2013. The wallet was recently brought up in the drag of the same boat that rescued them that night.
Capt. John Baker of Canso lost his wallet when his dragger, The Gentle Lady, went down in 2013. The wallet was recently brought up in the drag of the same boat that rescued them that night.

Capt. John Baker got a call from a friend a few nights ago saying that his wallet had been found.

In the silence that filled the following moments Baker’s mind raced back to the night he lost his wallet.

It was Dec. 22, 2013, and Baker was 135 kilometres off Canso.

He had a full load of sea cucumbers aboard the Gentle Lady and was fighting a losing battle.

The load kept shifting as the 65-footer heaved and twisted with the swell.

“We cleared her off three times but the last time I knew we were doomed,” said Baker on Tuesday.

The boat listed hard to port and water rushed in.

Baker called a mayday into the VHF but got no response.

The four-man crew donned their survival suits, jumped in the water and swam for their life-raft.

Baker didn’t spare a thought for the wallet he’d left on the small desk near a half-open window in the wheelhouse.

They cut the rope tying the raft to the Gentle Lady and paddled away to watch her slowly sink.

What they didn’t know then was that the Gentle Lady’s antenna had been smashed and no one had heard their mayday call.

Captain John Baker will be getting his wallet back, big deal you say, well, it went down with the dragger Gentle Lady in 35 fathoms of ocean, 135 miles off Canso, Nova Scotia in 2013.

Night closed around them as they rose and fell — four beating hearts on the North Atlantic in December.

“I had a feeling somebody’s coming to get us, I said, ‘Don’t worry about it, boys’,” remembered Baker.

“My crew were excellent, were calm.”

While he had his concerns about not getting a response to his mayday call, Baker knew the Gentle Lady’s emergency position indicating radio beacon would have gone off as the boat foundered. Six-and-a-half hours later they were praying for dawn when they saw the lights of the Ocean Concord.

The Clearwater Seafoods-owned clam dragger had come looking for them — dispatched by the coast guard in response to their EPIRB signal.

Baker only thought about his wallet when, safe on shore, he had to get a new driver’s licence and MSI card.

“I didn’t care about the wallet,” said Baker.

It took him a year to get his nerves straightened away and “stop being afraid of the ocean.”

On Oct. 11 of this year Maura Swimm got a call from her sister-in-law. Her husband’s brother, Kevin Swimm, current captain of the Ocean Concorde, had found something in his drag two weeks ago.

The Ocean Concorde was dragging for clams on Banquereau Bank, in the vicinity of where it had rescued the Gentle Lady’s crew four years ago.

“They called me because they knew I’m from Canso and they wondered if I knew a John Baker,” said Swimm.

Maura Swimm now lives in northern New Brunswick but called home to Canso looking for John Baker — whom she vaguely remembered from her youth.

“It’s almost like this ship had unfinished business,” said Swimm.

“The Ocean Concorde had rescued those men from those sea and it’s like it went back for something it had left behind.”

To add to the tale, Swimm said the aging Ocean Concord is on its final voyage before being retired by Clearwater. While Clearwater wasn’t able to make the captain available for an interview by deadline, according to its website the boat is scheduled to land on Halloween in Mulgrave.

But what could be aboard an old wallet full of bank cards and government identifications that Baker has long since replaced?

“There’s a St. Christopher’s medal my mother gave me,” said Baker.

Virginia Baker died two years ago.

“I’ll be glad to have that back,” said Baker, 62, who now captains the Ms Jessie.

He plans on meeting the Ocean Concorde in Mulgrave when it lands. That is, if he’s not out to sea himself.

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