Nancy B

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Nancy B (aka Nancy Lee) (# ) (-1946), fishing vessel swamped in heavy seas on March 3, 1946 between Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. The three aboard escaped in a skiff, which also swamped. Vessel operator, fisherman Roy Brown, died in the incident, as did crewman John Barta. Roy’s wife, Bernice, was the sole survivor. She swam to Frenchy’s Cove by clinging to an empty gas can, and was picked up off the beach two weeks later by the Coast Guard. She survived on rations left in a hut on the island by the navy.

In the News~

March 18, 1946 [VDN]: “Mrs. Bernice Brown was shipwrecked, lost her husband and brother-in-law, and was marooned for 14 days on lonely, barren Anacapa Island. This is her heroic story: ‘For years we made our living from the ocean, but I never want to see it again... We, my husband and I, had been fishing the Nancy B for three years. She was owned by Bert Lackman, a friend of ours. We fished the year round in season — the mackerel runs, the albacore and in the winter we fished lobster traps. Two weeks ago Saturday John and Roy and I left Santa Monica bound for the waters near Santa Cruz Island. It was just a little rough when we weighed out to sea but soon it became so bad that we had to reduce to half speed... We were between Santa Cruz and Anacapa islands, I don’t know what happened, but I guess it was the way the gale was blowing. The wind seemed to come at us from all directions. I hate to say how tall the waves were because I don’t think anybody would believe me. They were 50 feet high I thought. Suddenly we took a sea over the stern and it flooded our motor... We all got in the small boat and started away from the Nancy B. We got about 40 feet away and it seemed like a whole sea poured into the skiff... I was alone...”

March 18, 1946 [LAT]: “After being marooned 14 days on uninhabited Anacapa Island, Mrs. Bernice Brown of Van Nuys was rescued by the Coast Guard yesterday, and told a harrowing tale of a small boat wreck which presumably resulted in the death of her husband and a man friend. Mrs. Brown, who is still exhausted, told of how she, her 42-year-old husband Roy, both of 17430 Van Owen St., Van Nuys, and John Barta, 38, of 662 W. First St., Long Beach, sailed northwest from Santa Monica on the night of March 2 in the 50-foot fishing boat Nancy Lee. ‘It was a pleasure trip,’ she said. But the next day the trio ran into a heavy storm. The heavy rollers lashed the boat around like a feather in a wind tunnel until one of the waves flooded the engine room. With all power off the ill-fated passengers of the Nancy Lee were at the mercy of a ruthless sea. ‘We cast off in a small skiff,’ she said. My husband held the painter while Johnny and I got in. Another wave washed my husband overboard. He swam to the skiff. He got hold of it but the skiff capsized. When I came up,’ she continued, ‘I managed to swim to the fishing boat which was now swamped, and got on the bow. A huge wave washed me away as though I were a fly. When I came up again, Roy and Johnny were gone.’ The 43-year-old woman never saw her two companions again. Tossed from the tops of the white-capped waves to the depths of the troughs, strangling with seawater, trying in every way to keep alive, she suddenly saw two floating gas drums. She managed to flounder to one of them and held on from that afternoon until almost nightfall, although the sharp edges cut her hands to the bone. She could not guide the barrel so she just hung on helplessly and hopelessly in her desperate attempt to live. As night was beginning to fall, the great seas had washed her close to a rock. She called on what strength she had and managed to reach it. She dragged herself to safety and lay there exhausted and only semiconscious until morning, which was March 4. That morning the sea had calmed and, although in agony from her cuts and bruises, she managed to swim 300 yards to Anacapa Island. There she might well have expected to starve to death. The island is uninhabited and without food or water. She had told her daughter they would not return to Santa Monica until March 11 or 12. That meant eight more days of no food, no water, no shelter. But fate, as it has been in the water, was with Mrs. Brown on land. She found a hut, evidently once used by the Navy, which contained precious emergency rations, barrels of rainwater, a stove, blankets and a battery radio set. She collapsed for the rest of the day in front of these man-made answers to the threat of death. Until Friday, March 8, the woman was barely able to move enough to feed herself, but on that day she was able to stagger to the beach where she built a signal fire which she kept burning every day until she was saved. On the radio she was able to listen to programs and keep track of the days. She counted them off one by one as her wounds healed, amazing without infection, and the terrible soreness left her body. Meanwhile, the daughter went to Santa Monica on March 11 and 12 but did not become alarmed until yesterday that her parents were overdue because, she said, she thought they might have been forced into some cove by stormy weather, hence delayed. As the days passed, Mrs. Brown suffered, in addition to her physical agony, the mental agony of seeing several boats pass without noticing her fire. How long would the rations last? Then, yesterday, Mrs. Trader notified the Coast Guard and a crash boat investigated Anacapa, where Mrs. Brown was found. Mrs. Brown had recovered so completely it was unnecessary to hospitalize her and she was taken directly to her home by Coast Guard officers after she was landed at Port Hueneme. Athough there seemed little possibility of finding the two men alive, the Coast Guard kept two boats and a patrol plane searching the Anacapa area looking for the men or their bodies. The Nancy Lee was owned by Bert Lackman, who operates a fleet of fishing boats out of Santa Monica.”

March 18, 1946 [MDN]: “Los Angeles. March 18. Woman marooned 14 days on island. Physically and mentally exhausted, Mrs. Bernice Brown of Van Nuys, Cal., was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday from bleak, uninhabited Anacapa Island, where she was marooned for 14 days after the wreck of a 50-foot fishing boat. Her husband, 42-year-old Roy Brown, and their friend, John Barta, 38, who sailed with them out of Santa Monica harbor on March 2 on a pleasure trip, are believed to have been drowned in the mountainous waves that sank their boat, the Nancy Lee. Mrs. Brown, 43, managed to survive by hanging on for hours to a floating gasoline drum, ‘We ran into a heavy storm March 3,’ Mrs. Brown told her rescuers. ‘Our little boat was whipped around like a feather in a windstorm. Then a huge wave flooded the engine room, and with our power off, we had no chance. ‘We case off a small skiff. Barta and I had climbed in when my husband was washed overboard. He managed to swim to the skiff, but it capsized as he reached it. When I came up I managed to swim to the fishing boat, which was now swamped, and got on the bow. But I was washed away as though I was a fly. When I came up again, both my husband and Barta were gone. I didn’t see them again.’ Tossed from the tops of giant combers to the depths of the troughs, Mrs. Brown was strangling with seawater when she floundered to a gas drum. She hung on for hours until, at nightfall, she saw a big rock. With her strength almost gone, she still managed to swim to it and lay there exhausted until the next morning, when she struggled 300 yards to Anacapa Island, 13 miles off Point Hueneme. On Anacapa she might well have expected to starve, for it is not populated and there is no means of existence. Nevertheless, she found a hut once used by the navy, which contained precious emergency rations, barrels of rainwater, blankets and a battery radio set. In front of these surprising discoveries Mrs. Brown collapsed, and for three days she was barely able to move enough to feed herself. She had been badly cut and bruised in the wreck of the boat. Staggering to the beach, she built a signal fire on March 8, and she kept it lighted until she was rescued. On the radio she was able to keep track of the days. Her daughter, Mrs. Maxine Trader, did not become alarmed at the absence of her parents, since they had told her they expected to return March 12. Even after that date Mrs. Trader believed they might have put into some cove because of stormy weather. Yesterday Mrs. Trader notified the Coast Guard and a crash boat sent to Anacapa Island found Mrs. Brown and brought her to her daughter’s home. Two boats and a patrol plane searched a wide area in a fruitless hope of finding the bodies of her husband and Barta, both of whom were fishermen.”

March 19, 1946 [LAT]: “While resting comfortably at her home following her rescue from bleak Anacapa Island, where she was marooned for 14 days, Mrs. Bernice Brown of 17430 Van Owen Street, Van Nuys, yesterday learned that wreckage of the fishing boat Nancy Lee, which was swamped last March 3 with Mrs. Brown aboard, has been found on the north shore of Anacapa Island by the Coast Guard. No trace was found, however, of Roy Brown, 42, the survivor’s husband, or John Barta, 38, of 662 W. First St., Long Beach, who also were aboard the storm-tossed vessel.”

March 19, 1946 [LBP]: “Coast Guardsmen continued their searche of the rocky shore around Anacapa Island today in hopes of finding John Barta, Long Beach, and Roy Brown, Van Nuys, commercial fishermen and brothers-in-law, missing since a storm at sea March 3. Wreckage of their fishing schooner was found late yesterday on the borth shore of the island, not far from where Mrs. Brown lived for two weeks after swimming to the rocky chores. She was rescued Sunday by the Coast Guard. Condition of the boat gave hopes that the men may have reached shore somewhere. Although it had been badly buffeted by the high winds that the boat was still partially afloat. Mrs. Brown related a story of peril in which she clung to an oil can until her hands were badly lacerated and finally made her way to shore. She had donned a life preserver when she saw the fishing boat was about to capsize and a little later, she, her husband and Barta were washed overboard. Her husband was swept from her sight and she saw Barta’s hand disappear beneath the raging sea. Mrs. Barta was aiding the Coast Guard in the search for the men of their bodies, but Mrs. Brown said she never wanted to see the ocean again.”