This story was submitted by Vernon A.C. Mills, a cadet in post-war service aboard the ship. Thanks Vern!

Being the following incident has happened many years ago, I will try to be as accurate as possible. It would be best to keep in mind that at the time, I was only 15 years old, therefore everything seemed so critical and disastrous. In all honesty, I can’t remember if the winter of 1971–1972 was particularly bad or not, after that amount of time the best I can say is, “I’ve had a sleep since then” and winter is winter.

It was during the very early spring thaw that a fairly large log had floated downstream on the Talbot River through Port Stanley, Ontario and somehow managed to get jammed between the pier and port side of the ship. Due to the strong current of the river and high winds, the constant rocking and sway of the ship, a fairly large hole had been punched into the hull right at the water line on the port side slightly forward of amidships. I believe it was Lieutenant Harrington, who at the time was at his place of employment, had been notified that the Rhea was sitting low in the water and had a noticeable list.

Most of the regular crew, including myself, headed for Port Stanley as soon as we were notified. Although we should have been going to school and attending to our schoolwork, to us this was our ship and our pride and loyalty would never allow us to be in a classroom fretting about what was happening to the Rhea. Upon my arrival, I could see there was at least a 10-degree list to starboard and was curious how that could be, considering the damage was to the port side of the ship. My curiosity was soon answered, as it was explained to all of us that the officers got here much earlier and had managed to get the generators and bilge pumps running. Also, they had placed dozens of forty-five-gallon drums along the starboard side of the ship and filled them with water. All of that extra weight is what caused the 10-degree list to starboard, which of course also kept the hole in the port side above the waterline.

The next four days were filled with the kind of work that none of us had ever experienced before. Of course, there was also a lot of cleaning. Everything from emptying the tiller flats for cleaning, to using two man hand pumps to help clear out the water. I guess those pumps started to make men out of a bunch of scared kids. Both the officers’ quarters and the crew quarters had to be completely stripped and cleaned. The engine and generator room, the gyro room—there is no end to the list. Basically, everything below the main deck looked like it had been through another war, but somehow everything came together. Once again, we pronounced our ship ready to sail.

I remember, during one of the coffee breaks, Sub-Lieutenant Bruce Lumley mentioned that when he got the call, the Rhea was sinking. It was the first time he had driven all the way from London to Port Stanley in under 20 minutes. Considering the quality of the road back then, I thought that was a miracle. Being he was from my home Sea Cadet Corps, I had always thought he was a bit to gruff. It was at the end of that weekend he commented to me, “Mills maybe you do have potential after all.” That was the closest thing to a compliment I had ever gotten from him at anytime, so I finally learned he wasn’t so bad after all.

The hole, of course, could only be given temporary repairs. It wasn’t until late spring that we were able to take her to Erieau, Ontario, to a dry dock facility. Actually, the dry docks were made for the repairs on local fishing trawlers, with an average length of 50–80 feet. Therefore, were not able to bring her all the way inland from the water. So, over the course of the long weekend we were able to line the hull at the waterline with steel plates. Again, I have to think back hard, but I believe we used 4’x4’x1/4″ thick plates, pre-drilled so they could be bolted to the hull and then all the seams between each plate were welded. I remember a few of the guys ended up with flash burns, from exposure to the arc welding without proper goggles. With a couple quick coats of paint, she looked like new. Once again, it was another long, hard weekend but I’m sure everyone knew it was worth it.

I don’t know whether I should mention this or not, but during the late fall of 1971, a gas tanker ship named the Alfred Sitaki ran into the pier at Port Stanley, at which time there had been a fair amount of the gasoline spilled. (Nowadays, that would have been called an ‘ecological disaster’ and there would have been hell to pay.) Anyway, shortly afterward her cargo had been pumped off to another tanker and she was taken to Erieau harbour to be torn down and scrapped. So, during our short stay at Erieau, late one night a few of us decided we should pull a gunga din on the Alfred Sitaki, being it was going to be scrapped anyway. So, here we are, sneaking aboard this ship…some of the guys are grabbing heaving lines, fire hoses, or anything else useful that isn’t nailed down or locked up. Of course, because I always worked in the galley, that’s exactly where I headed, grabbing pots and pans and any cooking utensils that I thought would be useful. It wasn’t until I got back that I realized I had a problem. Some of these pots and pans were monstrous. “How the hell am I going to put them away without them being noticed as out of place without Lieutenant Galino, the Galley Officer getting suspicious?” I ended up working half the night in the galley rearranging the cupboards and cabinets to make everything fit. However, the next day when Lieutenant Galino couldn’t find anything, I had some explaining to do, but he just laughed and let it go. Hell, I was worried I was in serious s**t.

Well, there you have it Anthony. I think the only thing I’ve left out is the size of snowshoes us Canucks wear when we’re out chasing beaver. I have to admit, this has been fun.