NEWBURYPORT — Nearly 200 fishermen and their families as well as the city’s religious and civic leaders came together on the waterfront boardwalk yesterday to mark the relocation of the Newburyport Fishermen’s Memorial, 20 years to the terrible day that Heather Lynne II capsized off Gloucester, killing the three men inside.
“The site was chosen here as one of reflection, to honor the memories of those taken from us,” Mayor Donna Holaday said. “There is something special here, a closeness in this sacred place.”
Originally dedicated in the year 2000, it was moved from where the new harbormaster headquarters is currently being constructed to the east end of the boardwalk. The stone memorial features three plaques. The first is dedicated to all Newburyport mariners who have lost their lives since 1655; the second to the crew of the Heather Lynn II that capsized on the morning of Sept. 5, 1996, after striking a tugboat’s towing cable 10 miles off Gloucester; and the third is dedicated to Sean Cone and Daniel Miller of the Lady Luck, which went missing off the Gulf of Maine on Jan. 31, 2007.
Capt. Jeffrey Hutchins and his two-man crew, Kevin Foster and John Michael Lowther, all perished that day in 1996. Foster was the oldest of the three men at 38, Hutchins was 30 and Lowther was 26 and all were friends of retired fisherman Bob Campbell.
“The city of Newburyport is rich in maritime history. Its people have been going to sea fishing for 400 years,” Campbell said. “This monument commemorates the lives and deaths of all local fishermen who have died doing what they love, fishing.”
The manager of the Tri-Coastal Fishing Co-Op in 1996, Campbell was awoken just after 5 a.m. that morning to hear the news of the accident.
“I came in to work and watched the news all day long as they played the news clips, knowing that there was plenty of help there and that things would be OK,” Campbell said. “Finally, on the TV, the clip came that said that none of the boys had survived.
“I was standing on the dock, just looking out, when the tow boat towed the Heather Lynne II by and it sent shivers down my spine. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see a tragedy like this. You always heard about it, but it was always somewhere else.”
Brushing back tears, Campbell said that he knew the “well-constructed” Heather Lynne II and her crew well and was glad to see that their names will not be forgotten.
“I am sad that their names had to be added, but I am happy that there was a place for them where people can come, remember the good times, remember them and hopefully this will be here for a long, long time,” Campbell said.
Educator and the author of “Dead Men Tapping: The End of the Heather Lynne II,” Kate Yeomans helped to organize yesterday’s relocation and was moved by the sizable crowd it attracted.
“We drew an incredible amount of people,” Yeomans said. “It just shows how the fishing community is important to the city of Newburyport. There are so many conversations in town about the waterfront, but they often revolve around buildings and the park. I think it is important to also remember that the waterfront is still very much a working waterfront. There are people who still continue to make their living from the sea.
“It is really important that those who have been lost at sea and those who are still here are still remembered as an integral part of this waterfront.”
The sister of Capt. Hutchins, Jenn Hutchins Krisko, thanked the city, Yeomans and Campbell for all of the hard work they put in to return the fishermen’s memorial to the waterfront.
“I am emotional, but I am very grateful,” Hutchins Krisko said. “My sons have a place to come and remember their uncle and pass it on to their families. Not only for their uncle but for the members of the crew. One of my sons definitely has the fishing blood in him and he was the real emotional one here today.
“I am just hoping that they can pass this on to their families and remember that this was a huge fishing community. They did risk their lives, but they loved what they did. I know that my brother loved what he was doing.”
Among the five men’s family members who laid wreaths in the Merrimack River in memory of their loved ones as a memorial bell sounded, Hutchins Krisko lamented a time gone by as “Amazing Grace” rang out from bagpipes and a private pleasure boat passed by, headed down river.
“When I was growing up in the ’70s, (the water) was just loaded with fishing boats,” Hutchins Krisko said. “Now you come down here and there are only a couple.”
Sponsored by the Newburyport Interfaith Clergy Association, many of the city’s religious leaders offered words and songs, including Rabbi Benjamin Resnick of Temple Ahavas Achim, Newburyport; the Rev. Doug Johnson, retired port chaplain and a United Church of Christ pastor, who blessed the memorial with water from the Jordan River; Dr. Ahmer Ibrahim of the Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland; and Salvation Army Newburyport Corps Commander Major Todd Hughes.
St. Paul’s Church rector, the Rev. Martha Hubbard, the granddaughter of an oil tanker captain, said that life itself sprang forth from the sea and Newburyport was “built on the backs of seafarers.”
“Times have changed our families and our community and we interact with the sea in very different ways than our ancestors did,” Hubbard said. “But today is an opportunity to affirm that we should never forget where we came from, who came before us here, even as many of us pursue different paths than they took.”