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banner -dangers of the fisheries - dangers to the vessels

The characteristics of the fishing schooner and its management will be discussed hereafter. We shall here consider the dangers to which these vessels and their crews are exposed.

The dangers to which these vessels are liable may be considered under nine heads:


Dangers of the Cod Fishery of George's Bank.-- Judging from the record of disasters, the George's fishery is probably the most dangerous one in the world. On this ground over one hundred Gloucester vessels are constantly employed, winter and summer. In summer a few New London vessels resort there, principally for halibut, and it is also visited by a fleet of mackerel catchers. The peculiar dangers of this fishery are encountered chiefly in the winter. It is the custom for the vessels in winter to anchor close to one another upon some portion of the Banks. The favorite locality is in the immediate vicinity and to the eastward of extensive shoals, on which there is from 2 to 12 fathoms of water, and where the waves break in rough weather. There are few instances where vessels which have been lost in this locality have left any record of the nature of the disaster which befell them there is therefore doubt as to how most of the losses have occurred, but the theory is generally accepted that the vessels drifted into shallow water and foundered. There have been a few cases in which vessels have righted with loss of masts after being rolled over by the waves, and the crews have survived to tell the tale. Most of the losses have been during heavy easterly gales, when the vessels may have been forced into shallow water. The proximity in which the vessels are anchored greatly enhances the danger to which they are exposed, for if one of them goes adrift it may become necessary for many of those to leeward to cut their cables and also go adrift. Sometimes nearly the whole fleet has been thus set adrift at once. Of course, if they can retain their hold upon the bottom they are in comparatively littler danger.

The theory is held by many fishermen that loss is often occasioned by a drifting vessel coming into collision with one at anchor, an accident which is most surely attended with fatal results to both. There is only one instance on record where a vessel thus drifting into contact with another escaped destruction, and in this case the vessel which she struck immediately sunk. This theory receives strong support from the fact that there have been so many hundreds of narrow escapes from collision between vessels thus drifting about. In the columns of the Cape Ann Advertiser and in the Gloucester "Fisherman's Memorial and Record Book" may be found recorded numerous instances of this kind. These gales are generally accompanied by dense snow and often also by with extreme cold which renders it quite impossible for the men to look to windward and to see a drifting vessel in time to cut the cable and escape collision. It is the common custom for the entire crews at such times to remain on deck, prepared for any emergency, and if it is possible to see the drifting vessel in time they may succeed in getting clear. Since there is no insurance on cables, there is great reluctance to cut them as long as there is a possible chance of escape from collision in any other way. Then, too, the men feel that if they can hold fast to their anchorage they are safer than they would be if adrift and running the risk of going on the shoals or colliding with other vessels. For these reason they often refrain from cutting the cables until it is too late, in hopes that the drifting vessel will clear them. Numerous instances are told of cables having been cut only when the approaching vessel was on the top of a wave and the one at anchor was in the hollow of the sea directly under it. At such times a moment's delay would be fatal. There are doubtless many instances of careless negligence in failing to keep a proper watch and in not having the appliances at hand for cutting the cable. Very often the ropes are stiffened with ice and the sails so heavy with snow that it is impossible to raise them in time to avoid disaster, even though there may be time to cut the cable. Perhaps, however, the principal cause of disaster is the reckless daring of the fishermen, who persist in remaining at anchor in close proximity to other vessels even when they see the gale is coming, and, by removing their anchorage a short distance, they might greatly lessen the risks of disaster. They are led to remain in the same position, and to take resulting risks, both from the fear of losing an opportunity of securing a fare of fish, and from a dislike to the appearance of timidity. In spite of all the dangers, and the fact that so many vessels of the George's fleet are yearly wrecked, there are many skippers in the service who have never sustained even a serious loss of property. An old Gloucester skipper told us that for 24 years he had fished on George's and had never lost even a cable. He attributed his good fortune to the fact that in the pleasantest weather he never "turned in" at night without seeing that everything on deck was ready for the most unexpected emergency. The skippers who can boast such a record as this are men usually renowned for prudence, skill, and intelligence. In many instances the greatest care is rendered ineffectual by the recklessness of the others.

Dangers Encountered by the Bank Fleets.-- Vessels fishing on Le Have Bank, the Grand Bank, and other banks of this region, are exposed to dangers scarcely less to be dreaded than those which have just been described. On account of the greater depth of the water the likelihood of foundering upon the shoals is less, except in the vicinity of Virgin Rocks and Sable Island. The vessels do not congregate in fleets to such an extent as upon George's, and the peril from collision is therefore less imminent. Although, when the number of vessels engaged is taken into account, the losses in the Bank fishery have not been so numerous as on George's, still there have been several seasons when the losses have been large, as in December, 1876, when twelve sail and one hundred men were lost on Le Have, the Western Bank, and Banquereau; and again in the fall of 1879, when the loss was little less sever. Another element of danger from collision is met with in the Bank fisheries, for in the summer and fall the fishing fleet is located directly in the track of the ocean steamers plying from Europe to the United States. There are few, if any, recorded instances of the destruction of vessels in this manner, but losses have occurred in summer when the weather was pleasant and when the only plausible theory to account for their loss was that they had been run down by passing steamers.

Vessels of the Gloucester halibut fleet are accustomed to lie at anchor in winter in water from 100 to 200 fathoms deep, and are consequently much more likely to go adrift than the George's men, which are anchored in water varying in depth from 25 to 35 fathoms. When once adrift, they are obliged to "lie to" in heavy weather, and are exposed to much greater danger than when at anchor. The greatest danger to the drifting vessel is its liability to drift into shallow water and to bring up suddenly by the anchor taking a fresh hold upon the bottom. This often causes them to ship heavy seas or to be knocked down- that is, to be turned over flat on their side so that the masts touch the water. The schooner David. A. Story, in December, 1880, got adrift in this manner, and one of her crew reports that in his opinion the anchor caught, and that she shipped a sea which knocked her down, causing her cable to part. Fortunately none of her crew were lost, but the man on watch had his leg broken, the vessel's deck was swept, her foresail split to pieces, fore boom and gaff broken, and 400 fathoms of cable lost. A similar accident occurred to the schooner Andrew Leighton, of Gloucester, December 10, 1876. While adrift she was knocked down by a sea so that, according to the statement of her crew, her mast-heads lay in the water. Fortunately, however, she righted, and ultimately succeeded in reaching home in safety. This vessel was lost in October, 1879, and it may be met her fate in this manner.

Vessels lying at anchor on the Grand Bank under riding-sail alone are sometimes knocked over by tornadoes. An instance of this kind occurred on the 29th of August, 1876, when the schooner Walter F. Falt, of Gloucester, was blown over. The crew was lost, and the vessel was afterward seen floating upon her side. In the fall of 1875 the schooner Epes Tarr, of Gloucester, anchored on the eastern part of the Grand Bank, was knocked down and dismasted.

The frequent loss of the rudders of fishing vessels, while at anchor on the Banks, is another danger to which they are liable. Many instances of this kind have occurred. In most cases the fishermen have succeeded in rigging a temporary steering apparatus, by which they ave been enabled to reach the home port in safety. Some vessels have been lost through the rudder-braces getting loose, and the consequent wrenching of the rudder-head starting a leak which caused the abandonment of the vessel. An instance of this kind occurred on the Grand Bank in the spring of 1879, when the schooner Edwin C. Dolliver, of Gloucester, sprung a leak and sunk. Her crew was taken off and brought home by the schooner Thresher, of the same port. In addition to the danger of being knocked over, there is that of shipping a sea while at anchor, which is sometimes attended with serious results, both to the vessels and the men.

Heavy seas are so often shipped that numerous instances might be cited, but one or two will suffice. In the early part of 1877 the schooner John S. Presson, of Gloucester, while riding out a heavy northwest gale on the western part of the Grand Bank, shipped a sea which swept her decks and injured her about the stern to such an extent that, after the gale abated, she was obliged to put into Halifax for repairs. In January, 1879, the schooner Howard, while at anchor in the deep water on the southern edge of Le Have Ridgers, shipped a heavy sea which swept her decks, smashing several of the dories and starting the house on deck, causing her to leak considerably.

Dangers to Whaling Vessels.-- Whaling vessels are not exposed to so great danger as the merchant vessels passing over the same portions of the ocean. The whalers, while on the cruising grounds, are under short sail and keep a careful lookout, especially at night, when, if there be anything unusual or unexpected, demanding speedy work, all hands can be called, and only a few moments are then required to shorten sail and make everything snug. In thick weather, however, especially on the Arctic grounds, there is greater danger on account of ice and of collision with other vessels.

Dangers to Sealing Vessels.-- The fur-seal fishery is carried on in the Antarctic Ocean, where the vessels are at all times exposed to sudden changes of wind, and frequently to heavy gales, which unexpectedly overtake them on a lee-shore and sometimes cause their loss.

The schooners used in the seal fisheries are liable to some of the disasters to which the Gloucester fishing vessels are subjected, except those accidents caused by carrying too heavy press of sail, for in this respect the seal fishermen exercise more prudence. Sealing schooners are compelled to keep comparatively near land, following up the boats sent ashore to take the seals, and are exposed to the dangers of being blown ashore or driven on rocks. In landing boats, sent from the sealing schooners ashore to bring back the seal-skins, there is great danger of being swamped, or upset, and injured by the heavy surf. About four years ago a boat's crew of twelve men was lost in this manner. A successful landing is, of course, attained only by carefully watching for an interval between the breakers, allowing sufficient time for the boat to be ran upon the shore.

In the sea-elephant fishery vessels are lost by being driven ashore, or on the rocks, from their anchorage, there being no protection, in the way of good harbors, from the violence of on-shore gales.

The bottom of the bays of Heard's Island, in the Southern Indian Ocean, which is the principal resort for sea-elephants, is hard, slaty rock, and therefore extremely poor ground for anchorage. On this account, as well as from the fact that the harbors afford indifferent shelter, several vessels have been lost in that locality, having been driven ashore, though having out anchors disproportionately large compared with the size of the vessels.

The vessels used in this fishery are exactly like whaling vessels, and the boats belonging to the vessels are the same as those used in both sealing and whaling, than which no boats are better fitted for landing in the surf.

Dangers to Vessels Fishing Along the Coast.-- The principal dangers to which the mackerel vessels are exposed are heavy and sudden gales, by which they are taken unawares and driven upon a lee-shore. They generally fish near the coast, and are therefore specially liable to this danger. They are, however, excellent sailers, and, except under extraordinary circumstances, can make a harbor, or gain an offing before the gale is too heavy. The chief disasters to the mackerel fleet have occurred in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in the vicinity of the Magdalen Islands, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island. The north shore of the latter island has been the scene of many disasters. This is a peculiarly undesirable spot for vessels in a gale. There is a long stretch of coast, crescentic in shape, without available harbors in a gale, while at either end of the crescent are long sand-bars, the whole forming a pocket out of which it is very difficult for a vessel to beat its way. In the "Yankee gale" of 1851 a great many vessels were cast ashore along this whole coast. Losses have occurred since then, the severest ones in 1873, when many vessels and lives were lost in that vicinity. Disasters have been frequent at the Magdalens, resulting in loss of property and lives. As many as twenty-four sail of vessels were driven ashore at Pleasant Bay, on Amherst Island, one of the Magdalens, in 1873. Cheticamp, a one-sided harbor or anchoring place on the north side of Cape Breton Island, has also become somewhat noted for the losses that have occurred to the mackerel fleet in that locality. These have been chiefly during the prevalence of southeast gales, which blow with almost irresistible fury from the highlands forming the southern side of the harbor. In this region most of the harbors have a bar at the entrance, and are consequently most difficult of access at the very time when most needed. The water, too, is shallow, and in heavy gales the seas are sharp and exceedingly dangerous, making it very difficult for a vessel to work off from a lee-shore. To add to the danger, there is a current usually setting in the same direction as the wind. When the winds blow over the highlands of the island they are squally and baffling. A gale in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is, perhaps, more dreaded by fishermen than one on any other part of the coast, as it can rarely occur without bringing them in close proximity to a lee-shore.

Gloucester has suffered less in proportion to the size of its fleet in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence than have Provincetown, Wellfleet, and the various ports of Maine. Cape Cod lost largely in the gale of 1851, but not so much in that of 1873. One reason for the fewer wrecks among the Gloucester vessels was the fact that they are better prepared with anchors and cables than any other vessels in the world. Great loss of life has resulted from these disasters, though the drifting of a vessel upon the shore is not always attended with fatal consequences. In many cases the shores are sandy, and the crews are enabled to land in safety before the vessel goes to pieces. In some instances the vessels are forced ashore by putting on a great amount of sail, so that the men can land dry-footed when the tide ebbs. It is frequently the case that vessels are launched again, after the gale has abated, without suffering any serious injury. When this is not possible, the fish are landed and sent home, and the fittings and stores, and even the hull itself, sold at auctions for the benefit of the owners. The American vessels are so strongly and well built that even after they have been sunk they are sometimes sold at auction as they lie under water, and afterward raised and refitted for active service.

The best chance for safety, in cases where it is seen that a vessel must go ashore, is to run them bow first upon the land, especially where the beach is sloping. When this is done, all sail that the vessel is capable of carrying is spread.


Fishing vessels making passages at any season of the year are subject to the same dangers as other sea-going crafts. In summer the dangers are comparatively few, for the winds are usually moderate, and in warm weather the crew is in better condition to handle the vessel properly and to meet any exigencies that may aries. Tremendous hurricanes, however, sometimes occur in August and September, and at times there are gales even during the other summer months. Two of the most remarkable hurricanes in recent years were those of September 8, 1869, and August 24, 1873, both of which caused a great amount of destruction to life and property in the fishing fleet. At the time of the hurricane of 1873 several vessels were on the passage home from the grand Bank. They were deeply laden with fish. Some vessels were lost and many met with serious damage and narrowly escaped destruction. Mention of a few instances of this kind will perhaps suffice. The schooner B. D. Hawkins, of Gloucester, was caught in a hurricane in the vicinity of Sable Island. At first she was hove to under a two-reefed foresail, which was later reduced to a three-reefed. After lying in this manner for some hours, she began to drift toward the northwest bar of Sable Island and was soon in shoal water. It became necessary to take in sail and to anchor, but the wind blew with such violence that the anchor would not hold and the vessel drifted into only 11 or 12 fathoms of water. As she would certainly be lost unless something were done to check her onward course, the spars were cut away and let go "by the board," and, with considerable difficulty, were cleared from the wreck. With the masts gone, she presented a much smaller surface to the wind, and as the current set to windward the anchor held, and she rode out the gale. After the gale, jury-masts were rigged and the vessel worked toward the land. She was finally towed to Port Hawkesbury, in the Strait of Canso, to be repaired.

The schooner Sarah P. Ayre, of Gloucester, which was also on her passage home from the Grand Bank, encountered the hurricane in the vicinity of the eastern part of Banquereau. The wind blew with such violence that it was soon impossible to keep sail on the vessel. She was kept nearly head to the sea by the aid of a "drag" rigged to the anchor, which was paid out more than 100 fathoms. After drifting for a few hours the anchor caught bottom on the shoal part of Banquereau in from 16 to 20 fathoms of water, and where the sea ran so high and sharp that for a time it was thought that the vessel would founder. The crew, however, with difficulty succeeded in cutting the cable. The vessel then drove under bare poles before the gale, broadside to the sea and wind. By throwing out oil the force of the waves was so reduced that she met with little loss. It is supposed that the schooner Henry Clay, of Gloucester, another of the Grand bank fleet returning home, was lost in this same hurricane.

Although the fishermen are exposed to more or less dangers in the summer season, these are greatly increased in the winter months, when heavy gales are very frequent, and the perils made greater by extreme cold. The rigging and sails are then coated with ice and snow and it is almost impossible to either set or shorten sail.

Danger of Being "Tripped."-- A vessel may be knocked down or tripped, either while running before the wind or lying to in a gale. The comparative shallowness of the American fishing schooners renders them particularly liable to this class of disasters. Some branches of the fisheries, especially those for fresh halibut or haddock, render it imperative that the passage home should be made with the utmost dispatch, in order that cargoes may arrive in good condition and therefore bring the highest prices. Great risks are taken by these fishermen in running their vessels during gales, frequently in the trough of the sea. This is extremely hazardous and likely to result in the vessel being "tripped," or knocked on her beam ends. In February, 1876, the schooner Howard, while returning from the Grand Bank with a trip of fresh halibut, was running in a strong northeast gale. She was knocked on her beam ends twice in one day. At first she was running with a two-reefed mainsail, and when she tripped she went over so far that the men who were sleeping below were thrown from the weather into the leeward bunks and everything movable was upset. Fortunately, she righted with slight damage. Notwithstanding this narrow escape, the demands of the business were such that instead of the vessel being hove to, the sail was shortened and she continued to run safely until just before night, when another sea took her on the quarter and threw her down so low that the sails again lay in the water, the whole after part of the vessel was submerged, and the water ran over the forward companion-way, partially filling the forecastle. For a short time it was thought that she could not regain her upright position, but M. Pew, employed in the haddock fishery, was thrown on her beam ends, partially filling the cabin and forecastle, and throwing the cabin stove, full of hot coals, into the captain's bunk. The fire was extinguished before any damage was done. She fortunately righted again without any serious disaster. These occurrences are dangerous in the extreme, and fishermen who escape with their lives may be accounted fortunate.

"The schooner Sarah C. Pyle, Capt. Richard Warren, was struck by a cross sea and capsized January 30, 1870. The crew found safety by clinging to the sides of the vessel, until one of their number was able to cut away the main shrouds with a pocket-knife, when the vessel righted, nearly full of water. The foremast was cut away and a jury mast rigged with the foreboom, and such progress as was possible was made in a westerly direction. For eight days the men were obliged to cook their food in sea water, their water casks having been lost, and to melt ice to furnish drink. At the end of that time they encountered a vessel and were furnished with water and other necessaries. Five of the crew were transferred to the vessel, but the skipper and four men remained on the wreck, determined to get it into port. In this condition they encountered a terrific gale, of three days' duration, and were blown off seawards at a distance of 245 miles. Even then they remained undaunted by danger and firm in their intention of rescuing the property under their charge, and declined an offer to be taken off. The wreck was towed into a New Jersey port February 13, two weeks after the disaster- a fortnight crowded with great hardship and danger to the men so faithful to duty."* [*Gloucester and its Fisheries, p. 65.]

Spars and Sails Carried Away.-- The danger of losing masts and rigging has already been considered. Spars and sails are, however, often carried away under other circumstances. Accidents of this sort are liable to occur at all times, though naturally much more so in the winter season. Perhaps no class of sea-faring men take greater risks than fishermen in carrying a heavy press of sail. In branches of the fisheries where it is extremely desirable to make rapid passages this propensity is carried to an extreme, and, as a result, the sails are sometimes blown away or masts are broken, and, perhaps, other dangers are incurred. Perhaps the most common way in which vessels are dismasted is by carrying a press of sail against a head sea. Another cause of accident is that of jibing fore and aft sails suddenly from one side to the other when there is a strong wind. This generally results in breaking the booms or the mast. The temptation to make a speedy passage is so strong that risks will be taken, although the ultimate results of such reckless daring may be a loss rather than a gain.

Running Under, or Capsizing.-- The tendency to carry a heavy press of sail may result in greater loss than that of spars and sails. The vessel may run under while going before the wind or capsize when sailing by the wind or with the wind abeam. As there have been numerous and oft-repeated hair-breadth escapes from such disasters, it is probable that much property and many lives have been thus lost. Such disasters are perhaps sometimes unavoidable, because of sudden and unexpected squalls, especially in the night, although many of them are the result of gross recklessness. Not only does the master imperil his own life but also the lives of his crew. So fearless and ardent are the fishermen that the better judgment of the skipper is frequently overcome by the solicitations of the crew, and in the hope of outstripping some rival vessel sail is carried in unreasonable excess. This is often the case when a vessel has just left port. The crew are then, perhaps, under the influence of spiritous liquors, which renders them more regardless of danger than common, and unable to properly perform their duty. Several vessels have been lost, presumably soon after leaving port, and their loss is ascribed t o such causes. Of the many instances related by the fishermen of narrow escapes either from carrying sail or being struck by sudden squalls, we will mention the following: In the fall of 1877 the schooner Wachusett was running for the Grand Bank in company with the schooner Howard. With a strong northwest breeze the vessels left Gloucester together, and the following night, when about a hundred miles form Cape Ann, the wind increased. The Howard shortened sail, but the Wachusett, attempting to carry all she had spread for some time longer, was struck by a heavy puff and driven under so that her forecastle was partly filled with water. The men on watch at once lowered the mainsail part way down, which relieved the vessel and a disaster was averted. In March, 1878, the schooner Marion, while returning from the Grand Bank, was running in a southeast rain-storm under three lower sails. It was night and intensely dark. The wind blew strong and was increasing fast. All hands were called to shorten sail. Before it could be done a squall struck the vessel and buried her lee side completely under water and came near sinking her. The blackness of night made it difficult to shorten sail, but the sails were lowered with the least possible delay and fortunately in time to avoid any serious disaster.

The narrow escapes described were in the case of vessels running free from the wind. There is also great danger in carrying a heavy press of sail while sailing by the wind or with the wind abeam. It is not uncommon for some of the more headstrong of the fishing skippers to carry so much sail on their vessels that the lee rail is completely under water most of the time. A few vessels may be able to stand being driven in this manner with comparative safety, but with the majority of them it is highly dangerous, and liable to result not only in the loss of the vessel by capsizing and filling, but also in the loss of the lives of the crew. Many of the instances are related by the fishermen of narrow escapes from serious disasters while sailing by the under too much canvas, and a few instances of loss of vessels, with more or less lives, are on the record where they have been capsized in this manner. The schooner Angie S. Friend, engaged in the haddock fishery, while beating up Boston harbor in a strong northwest wind, was capsized, and having filled, sank to the bottom. Part of the crew succeeded in getting into one of the dories; they were without oars, but fortunately drifter ashore. The rest of the men, with the exception of one, who was drowned, climbed to the masthead, which remained above water, and clung there through the night. They were rescued the following morning in an almost senseless condition. The schooner Henrietta Greenleaf, of Gloucester, while making her first passage to the Grand Bank in the spring of 1876, was struck by a squall in the night and knocked on her beam ends, and quickly filled with water. Four of the crew were drowned in the cabin and forecastle. The rest escaped in two dories, but being without oars they drifted helplessly about. They suffered greatly from exposure to the cold and flying spray. The dories soon separated from each other. One of them was picked up by another fishing vessel, though not until one of the men had died from exposure. The other dory, with five men, was never heard from.

The fury with which these squalls sometimes strike can scarcely be comprehended by those who have not witnessed them. The schooner Abby Dodge, which was making a passage to the Grand Bank in December, 1868, was struck by a tornado with such force that, although she was at the time lying to under a two-reefed foresail, she was knocked nearly on her beam ends, and only by the prompt lowering of the sail was the vessel saved.

Running on Shoals or Rocks.-- while making passages to and from the fishing grounds, vessels are liable to strike on shoals or outlying ledges. In that part of the Western Atlantic most frequented by New England vessels there are many of these dangerous places, either in the track to the grounds or on the banks themselves. The most remarkable of these shoals, and possibly those which have been the cause of more losses to the fishing fleet than any other, are those of George's Bank. These are but little out of the course of the vessels frequenting George's in winter. A small error in the compass may bring a vessel unexpected on these shoals. The more prudent fishermen guard against this danger by the careful use of the sounding-lead. It is difficult to tell how extensive these losses have been. Many vessels have had narrow escapes, but the lost ones leave no survivors to tell the tale.

The shoal of Cashe's Ledge is a source of special danger, as it lies almost directly in the vessel's track, both in going to and coming from most of the fishing grounds. Although this ledge is not shoal enough for a vessel to strike under ordinary circumstances, it nevertheless breaks in heavy weather and is therefore extremely dangerous to be encountered at such times. There is no mark, no buoy nor light-ship, to distinguish the shoal places, and it is not easy to tell when the vessel is approaching them. It cannot be wondered at that several disasters have occurred in that vicinity.

The schooner Rattler, while returning form Newfoundland to Gloucester with a trip of frozen herring, on the 17th of January, 1867, passed over this shoal, where she encountered heavy seas which threw her on her beam ends and dismasted her. It was supposed that the schooner John W. Low was lost in there in the same gale.

There is a shoal on the northern part of Brown's Bank on which there is said to be not more than 9 to 14 fathoms of water. This shoal, though not to be dreaded so much as George's or Cashe's Shoals, is, nevertheless, a danger to be carefully avoided. It is in the direct track of the fishing fleets on their way to and from the various banks. Several instances are related in which vessels have met with perilous adventures in that locality and only narrowly escaped destruction.

The long sand-bars that extend out from either end of Sable Island, for a distance of 10 to 12 miles, are very dangerous to vessels on the passage to and from the Grand Bank and other eastern banks. For a great portion of the year this island is enveloped in dense fogs, and the currents in the vicinity being very irregular, it is extremely difficult for the mariner to tell his exact position.

There are outlying rocks and ledges off the coast of Nova Scotia which are in the track of vessels going to and from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the eastern banks. Many serious disasters have occurred on these ledges and rocks and there are several instances of narrow escapes from destruction.

Dangers to Whalers.-- The principal dangers thus far mentioned have been those encountered by vessels in the cod, mackerel, and halibut fisheries from New England. We have yet to consider the dangers to the whaling and sealing fleets. These vessels are, of course, liable to many of the same perils as the fishing craft, especially to heavy gales and squalls. On the passage the cruising grounds the whaling vessels do not carry so much sail as merchant or fishing vessels, time not being to them of such vast importance. Dangers, common to other vessels, are less likely to happen to whalers. From the start of a voyage, men are continually aloft on the watch for whales, and are likely to see approaching danger more quickly than in the case of a merchant ship, where only one man is on the lookout, and he, as a rule, not expecting any immediate danger. Whalemen are generally well trained and ready for duty at a moment's notice. Only one-half of the crew, comprising one watch, is on deck at a time, but in case of danger or the approach of whales, all can be quickly summoned. As a rule, the half of a whaling crew includes more men than the entire crew of a merchant vessel of the same size.

Instances of whaling vessels being blown over of waves breaking over them, thereby causing damage, are not common. Such disasters sometimes, however, occur to vessels in the Arctic or Antarctic Oceans, where they are exposed to severe gales.


The dangers incurred in approaching and leaving the shores are perhaps more to be dreaded than any others, and great skill, coolness, and prudence are requisite to avoid disaster. This is especially the case in the fisheries of New England, because nearly all of the larger and most frequented fishing grounds lie in an easterly direction from the coast. Easterly winds, which are fair for making passages toward the land, are generally accompanied with thick weather. This is especially the case in winter, when severe snow-storms often overtake the fishermen when but a few miles from land on a lee shore. The density of the snow often renders it impossible to discern objects far enough off to clear them, and it is at the utmost hazard that the fishermen undertake to make a harbor. They often approach so near the land before the weather becomes thick that it is as dangerous to attempt to keep off shore as it is to approach it. Fishermen are induced to take the latter risk for the reason that if they do succeed in making harbor they will escape being exposed to the storm on a lee shore, and may also obtain a higher price for their fish. Probably no other class of sea-faring men take such great risks in running for the land, but such is the fishermen's knowledge of the coast and their skill in handling their vessels that, although there are many hair-breadth escapes, there are comparatively few disasters resulting from this cause. The following are given as a few of the many instances of this character that have occurred to our fishing fleet:

On the 26th of February, 1863, the schooner Mary E. Hiltz was lost off Marblehead during a violent snow-storm while on her homeward passage from Newfoundland, and one of her crew was drowned.

During a gala on the 10th of January, 1878, the schooner Little Kate went ashore near Duxbury, and her entire crew of thirteen men were drowned.

In February, 1878, the schooner Eastern Queen, of Gloucester, while returning from George's Bank, ran into Massachusetts Bay in the night. The wind was blowing strong from the northeast, and the vessel was running under a press of sail when the lookout suddenly descried land ahead. He instantly shouted to the man at the wheel. The helm was put down and the vessel brought to the wind, but before this had been fairly accomplished she struck on a ledge. Not withstanding the imminent peril in which they were placed, they succeeded in getting the sheets trimmed by the wind, and this careened the vessel so much that after striking two or three times she jumped over the sunken ledge. Although she had struck heavily she still remained tight and was worked off the lee shore, arriving in Gloucester the following day in safety.

Vessels leaving the land, bound to the fishing grounds, though starting with a favorable wind, may meet with violent easterly gales before obtaining sufficient sea-room. These gales are generally accompanied with snow, and the vessels being on a lee shore it is sometimes difficult to escape disaster. The class of vessels under consideration are better provided with cables and anchors than any other sea-going craft, and are thus enabled to ride out a gale safely on a lee shore, in which no vessel carrying canvas could successfully work to windward. This is, doubtless, one of the reasons why the loss of vessels from being driven ashore in gales is comparatively small. Although gales are less frequent in the spring and summer seasons, the prevalence of dense fogs exposes the fishermen and all seamen to considerable dangers when approaching the land, and many disasters, some of them serious in character, have happened from this cause. Such dangers are not unlike those already discussed, except that they are not usually accompanied by such high winds, and, occurring during the water part of the year, are not so sure to be disastrous.


Collisions on the Fishing Grounds.-- The danger of collision is to be dreaded. Many losses have resulted from accidents of this kind, and lives, as well as property, have been sacrificed. Collisions are especially liable in localities where great numbers of vessels are passing and repassing, as in the vicinity of Long Island, Sound, or off Sandy Hook, New York, on Nantucket Shoals, off Cape Cod, or near Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

Fishing vessels are perhaps more liable to collision than any other vessels, because of their tendency to gather in large fleets, where fish- and especially mackerel- are found abundant. Such is the ardor of pursuit that the loss of booms and other light spars is considered of small importance, and the risk of losing them is often incurred in hopes of obtaining some advantage in the fishery.

Another fruitful season of collision is when a fleet of several hundred sail makes the attempt to enter the same harbor at one time. They crowd in such numbers at the harbor's entrance that it is next to impossible for them all to escape some damage. The injuries thus sustained are generally of minor importance, such as carrying away booms or bowsprits. Some of the serious losses by collision are the following:

On September 26, 1869, the schooner Isaac Walton, of Gloucester, while returning from George's Bank, came into collision with the schooner William Babson, and received such injuries that she sank shortly afterward. The crew were saved.

On March 17, 1864, the schooner Triumph, of the same port, while bound to New York, was run down and sunk by the steamer Western Metropolis. The capital and three of her crew ere saved by a boat from the steamer, but two of the crew were drowned.

On January 17, 1873, the schooner Franklin A. was run down by the schooner E. B. Phillips, off Falkland Island, Long Island Sound. The E. B. Phillips struck the Franklin A. amidships, carrying away both masts and cutting through the hull, causing the latter to sink almost immediately. The captain and the mate were knocked overboard by the shock of the colliding vessels, but were rescued, narrowly escaping a watery grave.

On May 31, 1865, the schooner Northern Chief, returning to Gloucester from the Western Bank, was run down and sunk off Cape Sable by the English steamer Bosphorus. The schooner had a crew of eleven men; five of them were in the cabin, and, rushing on deck, succeeded in scrambling up the rigging and boarding the steamer just as the schooner was going down. The rest of the men were drowned. This disaster was attributed to carelessness on the part of those keeping watch on board the steamer.

On May 2, 1853, the schooner Ocean Nymph, of Gloucester, was run down by the ship Sarah Jane off Cape Cod, but the crew were saved.

Many other instances might be related where vessels and lives have been lost from collision, and many more in which the vessels were badly injured.

Collisions sometimes occur through gross recklessness, or perhaps purposely in a spirit of retaliation or spite.

Among the vessels engaged in the mackerel fishery, when jigging was the method of capture employed, there was a sharp competition not only between the Provincial and American fleets, but to a still greater extent between vessels from different ports along the American coast, and sometimes among those who were close neighbors at home.

When mackerel were plenty in any one locality, large fleets congregated there, lying to in close proximity. At such times each was anxious to secure as great a share of fish as possible, and in the attempt to do this the rights of other vessels were considered of secondary importance. One practice, that of "lee-bowing," as it is called, was often a cause of ill feeling. To "lee-bow" a vessel is to heave to directly under her lee, thus tolling away the fish which are playing alongside, having been attracted by the bait which has already been thrown overboard. The skippers of the vessels thus deprived of fish to which they had the first right, often seek a rather savage revenge. By dint of skillful seamanship they carry away a boom or a boat of their rival without receiving any injury themselves. Such injuries may sometimes be repaired at once, though they may cause the loss of much valuable time spent in port. When from two hundred to four hundred sail of vessels are closely packed together it is not uncommon for many accidents to happen even when they are unintentional, especially when there is a fresh breeze blowing. It is then not unusual for a number of vessels to meet with such minor disasters as the carrying away of mainbooms or bowsprits, and even more serious damage may be inflicted.

One of the many instances of this kind took place off the northern shores of Cape Breton in the fall of 1867. A fleet numbering between two and three hundred sail had collected in the vicinity of Cheticamp, and, as it was late in the fall and the mackerel were moving rapidly on their way from the fishing grounds, it was evident that another chance of catching them during that season was unlikely to present itself. The mackerel bit freely, but would stay only for a short time alongside of the vessels. For this reason the vessels were under way most of the time. The wind blew fresh and the crews were eager to improve this last opportunity for that season. A great many of them were reckless in the extreme. A number of the vessels had their sails torn, their spars carried away, and many were run down and cut nearly to the water's edge. The disabled vessels were obliged to cease fishing and haul out of the fleet for repairs. The loss of the opportunity to fish seemed to be the lesser evil, for they were on a rock bound coast and far from any good harbor. With a sudden change of wind they would have been exposed to the dangers of a lee shore, which, in their disabled condition, would probably have resulted in the loss of the vessel.


To a person unacquainted with a seamen's life it might seem probable that the vessels in harbor would be free from danger, but this is not always the case. There have been instances of great loss of property, and even of life, in the case of vessels in harbor at the time of the disaster. These losses are sometimes due to the insecurity of the harbors during gales. More especially is this the case if there is a large fleet of fishing vessels at anchor together with coasting vessels, which are not so well provided with cables and anchors. Sometimes a vessel of the latter class will strike adrift, and, in coming in contact with others, will be the means of driving them ashore. Many losses of this kind have occurred in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, where several of the places resorted to by fishermen for shelter are simply "one-sided" harbors, affording protection to the vessels when the wind is in certain directions and are open to other winds. Mention has already been made of losses at Pleasant Bay and Cheticamp, which are two shelters of this class, where many serious disasters have occurred.

On September 8, 1869, a severe hurricane occurred on the New England coast, in which several Gloucester vessels were lost in shelters of this insecure kind. Serious disasters have also taken place at Souris, Prince Edward Island. Many losses have also occurred in harbors thought to be secure. Among these may be mentioned several disasters that have occurred at Port Hood, Cape Breton, Malpeque or Richmond Harbor, Prince Edward Island, and many other harbors along our coast and that of Nova Scotia. Instances of losses occurring in harbors of this kind might be multiplied, but this is probably not necessary, since those interested in the subject can find numerous disasters of this kind recorded in newspapers printed in the large fishing ports.


Dangers to Fishing Vessels.-- The danger from collision with ice is one to which the vessels engaged in the Grand Bank, Newfoundland, Cape North, Labrador, and Greenland fisheries are particularly liable.

In the latter part of winter and in early spring large masses of field ice, as well as many icebergs, drift far south, covering a large extent of the eastern fishing grounds, including Flemish Cap, Grand Bank, Saint Peter's Bank, and Banquereau, and ice has in some seasons extended so far to the westward as to drive the vessels from parts of Western Bank. There are periods of a few years in succession when the fishermen are troubled but little by the floating ice, but there is more or less danger each spring on the Banks, and still more danger while making passages to and from them.

For several weeks in the springs of 1875 and 1876 the whole of Banquereau and Green Bank, part of the Western Bank, and the greater part of the Grand Bank, were covered with immense fields of drifting ice. Many vessels were driven from the fishing grounds and obliged to lay by, waiting for the ice to recede. Several of them were in collision with the ice or it drove foul of them when they were at anchor. Some vessels received considerable damage, their planking being so badly chafed as to necessitate repairs. It is not positively known that any vessels engaged in the Grand Bank fishery met with very serious damage by collision with ice during those seasons, but it is supposed that the loss of the James L. Shute and Janet Middleton, in the spring of 1876, was caused in this manner. This seems more probable as the ice, for some weeks about the time they were on their passage to the Grand Bank, was drifted from 73 to 100 miles south of the latitude of Sable Island, and was, therefore, directly in their course. Much of this ice was very heavy, and a collision with it, especially when a vessel was running at great speed, would result in almost certain destruction. Many narrow escapes from disaster occurred to the halibut fleet while on the passage home, but as most of the fishermen were aware of the presence of the ice they generally managed to escape without any serious loss.

Vessels engaged in the Newfoundland herring fishery have been surrounded by field ice for weeks at a time,* while on the passage home, and many thrilling tales are told of such narrow escapes from disaster. Doubtless some of the losses of vessels engaged in this fishery have been the result of collisions with ice, although none of the crews of the missing schooners have been left to tell the story of such disaster.

The vessels engaged in the cod fishery about Cape North, north end of Cape Breton Island, sometimes meet with considerable difficulty from drifting field-ice and are often driven from the fishing ground. In one instance a vessel started her planking by collision with ice in that vicinity so that she sprung a leak, and only by great exertions was kept afloat until she reached a place of safety. More or less difficulty is also experienced by vessels engaged in the Magdalen herring fishery. hey encounter drifting ice on their passage to those islands in the spring, and, although we have no accounts of any serious disasters, the immunity from such may be ascribed to the extreme vigilance of the fishermen. Vessels fishing on the Flemish Cap are very much exposed to contact with icebergs even as late as July.

Perhaps no other vessels are so much exposed to danger from ice as the halibut fleet of New England. They meet with many drifting icebergs and, occasionally, with large masses of field-ice, on their route to the northern grounds. In the spring of 1880 several vessels which started for Greenland were obliged to give up the voyage and return to the Grand Bank on this account.

Ice, freezing in masses on the vessel's sails and rigging in extremely cold weather, is, perhaps, more to be dreaded than collision with floating ice.

In the winter season the temperature is often so low that every bit of flying spray congeals wherever it strikes, and the vessels soon become so loaded down that they are almost unmanageable. This is one of the commonest perils of the winter fisheries, and one that requires great fortitude and resolution to overcome. Any neglect to improve every opportunity of freeing the men must remain on deck, constantly employed in pounding the ice and always at the imminent risk of being swept overboard. Vessels sometimes arrive in fishing ports so badly "iced up" that it is impossible to lower the sails or to bring them to an anchor.

Dangers to Whaling Vessels.-- On the homeward passage the Arctic whaling vessels, in thick weather, are in constant danger from icebergs, especially about Hudson's Bay, Cumberland Gulf, and Davis Straits. There is less danger on the outward passage, as the "watch on deck" is more eagerly on the lookout. On the homeward voyage, however, when the approach of whales is not so much an object of interest, the lookout is not kept with such vigilance. The greatest precautions against collision with ice are taken from the time the vessels approach the region were they expect to find ice- about the latter part of June- through July, August, and the first part of September.

Vessels engaged in the whale fisheries of the Arctic Sea, north of Bering's Straits, are exposed to great danger from ice, and many of them have been lost, either by being driven on shore by the ice or crushed between masses of heavy pack-ice.

Since 1871 more than fifty whaling vessels have been lost in the Arctic, north of Bering's Straits. In 1871 thirty-four out of a fleet of thirty-nine vessels were crushed in the pack-ice. In 1876 twelve out of a fleet of twenty sail were lost under similar circumstances. The story of the great disaster of 1871 is told by Starbuck, in his History of the Whale Fishery. He says: "In the fall of 1871 came news of a terrible disaster to the Arctic fleet, rivaling in its extent the depredations of the rebel cruisers. Off Point Belcher thirty-four vessels lay crushed and mangled in the ice; in Honolulu were over twelve hundred seamen who, by this catastrophe, were shipwrecked.

* * * On the 2nd of September the brig Comet was caught by the heavy ice and completely crushed, her crew barely escaping to the other vessels. * * * Nothing but ice was visible offshore, the only clear water being where the fleet lay, and that narrowed to a strip from 200 years to half a mile in width, and extending from Point Belcher to 2 or 3 miles south of Wainwright Inlet. * * * On the 7th of September the bark Roman, while cutting in a whale, was caught between two immense floes of ice off Sea Horse Islands, whence she had helplessly drifted, and crushed to atoms, the officers and crew escaping over the ice, saving scarcely anything but their lives. The next day the bark Awashonks met a similar fate, and a third fugitive crew was distributed among the remaining ships." There appeared no chance of relief to the ice-bound vessels, and aftre consultation among the captains it was agreed to abandon their ships, and a day sey when they would take to boats in hopes of reaching other vessels which were outside the barrier. "The morning of the 14th day of September came, and a sad day it was to the crews of the ice-bound crafts. At noon the signals, flags at the mastheads, union down, were set, which told them the time had come when they must sever themselves from their vessels. As a stricken family feels when the devouring flames destroy the home which was their shelter, and with it the little souvenirs and priceless memorials which had been so carefully collected and so earnestly treasured, so feels the mariner when compelled to tear himself from the ship which seems to him at once parent, friend, and shelter." After two days' struggling with the ice and waves, the boats, heavily loaded with their freight of 1,200 whalemen, reached the more fortunate vessels and were kindly cared for by their fellows. Fortunately no lives were lost by this disaster, though the money loss was upwards of a million and a half of dollars. The loss by this disaster of 1876 was fifty men, and vessels and cargoes valued at $800,000. Further details of these and other disasters to the Arctic fleet are given in another section of this report, which discusses the history and methods of the whale fishery.


Fishing vessels are sometimes exposed to dangers from fire and lightning, which cause many mishaps, if not serious disasters. In June, 1864, a fire broke out in the forecastle of the schooner Sea Witch, at anchor on Cashe's Ledge. It was discovered by the men who were on deck dressing fish. They immediately rushed forward with buckets, and by the most strenuous efforts, exposing themselves the while to the flames, succeeded in extinguishing the fire before any very serious damage had been done. Another instance of this kind occurred to the schooner Princess, of Bucksport, Me., a few years later, while lying in prospect harbor, Nova Scotia. All the crew except the captain had gone to the wreck of the steamer Atlantic, a few miles distant from the harbor. The fire broke out in the forecastle. It was first observed by the crews of some vessels near by, and they proceeded to the rescue. Although the fire was well under way, they succeeded in extinguishing it by cutting holes through the deck, but not before the vessel was badly damaged.

Instances of vessels having been struck by lightning are not at all rare, but as a general thing they are only dismasted or receive some other slight injuries. There are a few cases, also, where some of the crew have been very seriously injured.


Fishing vessels are liable to attacks from whales and swordfish. In the "History of the Swordfish"* instances are recorded of attacks upon vessels by swordfish. Many of the New England fishermen have their stories of swordfish striking their vessel. A New London fisherman of many years' experience states that there are several broken sword in the hull of his vessel. The danger from these attacks is from leaks, which have sometimes resulted in much damage.

Whales have been known to strike and cause the destruction of merchant and whaling ships, but we have no record of such disaster to fishing craft. "The Fisheries from 1623 to 1876," published at Gloucester, gives the particulars of a vessel of that port being towed by a whale. The fluke of the anchor caught in the blow-hole of the whale, and the frightened animal rushed through the water with the vessel in tow. It became necessary to cut the cable in order to save several of the crew, who were away from the vessel hauling their trawls. In 1878 the ship Columbia was sunk off the Newfoundland Banks by a blow from a whale. The crew took to the boats, and were rescued by Captain Deddes, of the Steamer P. Caland. The story of the loss of the whaleship Essex in the southern seas is one of the most familiar in the annals of the whale fishery. "The boats of the Essex had killed the calf of a whale, when the mother, apparently understanding their connection with the ship, attacked it, retreating about a mile to get headway, and striking the vessel on the bows, staving in its timbers and making a hole so large that it was useless to attempt to stop the leak." The crew took the boats, and were finally picked up.


Although the majority of the fishing vessels are as substantially built as any in the world and are well calculated in this respect to withstand the strains which may be brought to bear upon them, yet unprincipled builders sometimes take advantage, when building a vessel for sale, to slight them in certain particulars. These may be so briefly mentioned as-

    (1) by putting in defective timber or plans;
    (2) by insufficient fastening; and
    (3) by a lack of care in calking the vessel.

If to these defects are also added others in the rigging of the vessel, it follows as a matter of course that she is poorly calculated to withstand the vicissitudes and perils incident to the pursuit of the fisheries. Vessels of this kind are sometimes built to be sold at a cheap rate, but such a practice is entirely wrong, for it exposes the lives of many men to the danger of being lost at sea. There should be provision for the legal punishment of those who engage in such nefarious enterprises.

Defects are, however, more frequently met with in old vessels, which are in some cases sent to sea as long as it is possible to obtain a crew for them, and it is to be wondered at that more fatal disasters have not resulted from such a practice. There is no doubt that the cause of the loss of many valuable lives might be traced to this source; and owners who will persist in exposing men to such peril, certainly are deserving of the severest condemnation.

The fisherman, who is called upon to meet many dangers with which each voyage brings him in contact, and for the results from which the owners may not be held responsible, should have at least the security of a stance and well-rigged vessel.


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