Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Over the years, a story similar to the following makes news...
In 1990, four fishermen died when their trawler was dragged under by a British submarine on a training exercise off the west coast of Scotland. A few weeks later, an American submarine ploughed into the nets of a trawler from Northern Ireland, making the vessel heave before ripping the net from its winches.
Unfortunately, for trawlers and submarines, dubious adventures like the above occur often enough to imprint their special kind of apprehension on fishermen and submariners. For trawlers, especially those boats dragging their nets on the bottom, the capture of all types of "loot," which includes dead and live torpedoes happens on a somewhat regular basis among the fleets. The following tale is one of many that I've read while researching commercial fishing:
Navy detonates Torpedo caught in fishing nets from an Estate and Environment news article, dated 29, Jan.'08.
A dangerous torpedo, dredged up by a trawler in its fishing nets was detonated by the Royal Navy safely at sea off Plymouth yesterday, Monday 28 January 2008.
The Royal Navy's Southern Diving Unit based at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth was alerted early in the morning after a trawler discovered the ordnance in its nets.
The Diving Unit helped the trawler deposit the unwanted catch in the sea 800 metres south of Plymouth Breakwater to keep it safe from shipping. The safety area round the torpedo was reinforced by a shipping exclusion zone overseen by MOD Police and coastguard.
The trawler Katherine M had been fishing off of Cawsands Bay on Sunday afternoon, when on lifting her nets she discovered large brass item some four feet long [1.2m] and 21 inches [53cm] in diameter. The duty watch from the Southern Diving Unit, who were at the time dealing with an incident in Swansea, were tasked to deal with the item.
The bomb disposal team consisting of Chief Diver Neil Smith, Leading Diver Carvell and Diver Ansell arrived back at Plymouth, and then deployed to carry out a detailed examination of the warhead which is yet to be identified, but is thought to have been an early German submarine torpedo dating back to around 1920.
According to Chief Petty Officer Diver Neil Smith of the Southern Diving Unit
"When we're called out, you're unsure whether the item is live or a dummy - there's no way of telling, so you assume everything's live until it's counter-mined, when it either explodes or it doesn't."
The warhead was carefully hoisted off the deck and lowered to the seabed where it remained overnight until Monday.
The team then sailed out to the warhead again and two four-pound explosive countermining charges were placed on the torpedo by the divers and in consultation with the Royal Navy's port control staff, the charges were detonated at 0930hrs.
When the torpedo was detonated in a controlled explosion it was accompanied by a huge plume of water, indicating the torpedo was live and had been a potential danger to shipping.
Asked about the danger involved in removing the torpedo, Chief Petty Officer Diver Neil Smith of the Southern Diving Unit said:
"It depends on the state of the item involved; this one was definitely historic but the local hitorians can't find anything specific. They think it's a German torpedo from the 1920's, so it's fairly old, historic, and was definitely live as it went off."
During the study of the British fishing industries, a number of references were found indicating a shortage of fish for the market during WWI. The lack of fish was caused by many of the steam-driven trawlers, as well as sailing smacks having been commandeered by the military to help in the war effort. Also, there were a number of references to many craft being sunk. There was little mention of how the boats were used other than keeping an eye out for mines in the shipping lanes. Thoughts that the fishing boats were also used as lookouts for German submarines came to mind, but little information about how the men and their boats were used was provided by the authors in the books I had studied. Later research produced a few references to the type of action the fishing boats encountered:
Inverlyon, 93ton trawling smack sank coastal submarine "UB.4" on the 15th August 1915in the North Sea
NELSON with ETHEL & MILLIE, 14th August 1917, central North Sea, off Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire on the English East Coast - gunfire of German "UC.63". Special Service trawling smacks "Nelson" built 1905, & "Ethel and Millie" built 1908, were fishing with trawls shot, when in mid-afternoon a U-boat was sighted at 3 to 4 miles which closed and opened fire with her 8.8cm gun. The smacks were out of range and waited for "UC.63" to come nearer. "Nelson" was hit and Skipper Crisp mortally wounded, but remained in command, giving orders to open fire and then abandon ship. His son took command of the ship's boat, and Skipper Thomas Crisp DSC RNR, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, went down with his smack. The "Ethel & Millie" was also sunk by gunfire. Some sources date the action on the 15th; total complements and casualties are not known.
Telesia & Energic (or "Cheerio"), 59t Special Service fishing smacks sank "UB.13" on 24th April 1916 off Belgian using mined nets
LADY OLIVE, 19th February 1917, English Channel, west of the Channel Island of Jersey (49°15’N, 02°34’W) - sunk by German coastal minelayer "UC.18". Q-ship "Lady Olive" ("Q-18", steam coaster "Tees Trader", 700grt, 1-4in, built 1913) sank "UC.18" in the action. The U-boat was caught in a mined anti-submarine net, forced to surface and finished off by gunfire. "Lady Olive" was sunk possibly by a torpedo.
In 2008, a very interesting glass fishing float was found and won on Ebay. The float marked FGC, was painted with a destroyer-the HMS LION, an aircraft carrier, airplane, fishing vessel, and submarine. It was such a nice historical piece, that I had to go for it.
One of the more important pieces of information found, was a sentence in a book about Canadian glass linking glass floats to the war effort. We know during the WWII years, many Northwestern Glass Co., Owens/Illinois/Oakland and Corning floats were used in the Soupfin Shark Fishery, but how were Canadian floats used during war time? In an email to Bill Jessop about the question of whether or not Canadian glass works produced glass fishing floats, the piece of information concerning Canadian floats possibly used in WWI and WWII was added.
A month or more passed. One night, while looking to see what might be in my email account, I discovered that a very nice surprise email from Bill was waiting for me. Bill's email link led me to the history of the use of fishing craft during WWI, and WWII against submarines, and the use of glass fishing floats on submarine nets.
Your interest and the reference in the “Canadian Glass” book to the use of glass floats on submarine nets stimulated me to do a bit more research. You might consider the following as an addendum to my Nov 28/09 note:
GLASS FISHING FLOATS ORIGINATING FROM WWI USE ON SUBMARINE DEFENSE NETS
Your readers may wish to go to the U.S. Navy Dept Library website (http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/onipubno08.htm) to view ONI Publication No.8 “Notes on Anti-Submarine Defenses”, published as a Secret document by the U.S. Dept of Naval Intelligence in May, 1917. The document is identified as a reprint of “confidential British publications” and was Secret until apparently declassified on Aug 17, 1972. This was intended as a technical “how to” document but is very readable and fascinating from a glass float collector’s background perspective. From a scan of this document, it is apparent that submarine net usage must have been a factor in the anecdotal vast quantities of “glass fishing floats” that came ashore during and after WWI.
Some interesting excerpts from this publication:
“A number of different kinds of floats for supporting the nets have been tried, and the one which has been found the most satisfactory is the 5-inch diameter glass ball as used by fishermen-glass balls being considered as efficient for general use in that they hold the tide less when working the line of nets across the tide, are less visible, and very much less expensive.” (p.23).
“The glass balls, before being attached to the net, are put in net bags of untanned trawl twine, and are then attached by a draw line in mouth of the net bag to the head of the net. It is recommended that the trawl twine employed should be first tarred to prevent it rotting. It is most important that these lines are tightly knotted to the headrope of the net and not loosely attached. It is recommended that, to distribute the flotation evenly, the balls be put on the headwire of the net singly and equidistant from each other along the whole length of the headwire of the net, and not grouped or bunched at the meshes. Thus, if 150 balls are required, they should be attached every 2 feet.
Another good method is first to place the balls in net bags and then in canvas hose of about 6 inches in diameter, as shown in figure 3. This further prevents balls being worked off the net.
In the case of the 30-foot net, 75 to 100 balls are required.
In the case of the 60-foot net, 120 to 150 balls are required
In the case of the 84-foot net, 180 to 200 balls are required.
In the case of the 120-foot net, 250 to 300 balls are required.” (p.22-23).
Some of the nets contained mines:
“ The mines are thus suspended in the net in a horizontal position and present the minimum resistance to the tide when working in the line of the tide, which is practically invariably the case………The nets are floated by glass balls attached as shown in figure 8. This method is perfectly efficient if correctly carried out. The net bags for the glass balls should be of tarred trawl twine. When it is required to leave the line of nets down for extended periods the glass balls in the net bags may be covered with wire netting; this is usually done in groups of 4 glass balls as shown in figure 8. Extra glass balls are usually attached immediately above each mine. “ (p.54-55).
The publication contains various diagrams illustrating methodology for preparing & attaching glass floats (e.g.fig 8, p.68), and the towing and mooring (p.36) of the nets buoyed by the glass floats, under various conditions.
Consequently, it is conceivable that some of the 5” plain green unmarked glass fishing floats that have been found on the East Coast of Canada, the U.S. and in Europe were released from WWI submarine defense nets (some floats then beachcombed and re-used by inshore fisherman). They may have originated from the either the Dominion Glass Company and possibly Nova Scotia glass plants. Also, since substantial quantities of war materials were convoyed across the Atlantic to Britain in WWI, it is plausible that some of these glass floats could have been exported and introduced directly into the submarine nets extensively employed off Britain, Scotland and Ireland during WWI. Later, they may have been released directly from there into the Atlantic and the North Sea. This opens the further question as to what extent trade-marked Euro floats may have also been manufactured & incorporated for use in the submarine nets? It's also possible that manufactured floats found on North Sea coasts partially originated from German submarine net equivalent usage and not just as exported fishing net floats.
In any case, it appears that there is reasonable evidence that not all old Atlantic blown-in-mould glass fishing floats are truly “Euro’s." Some may have originated from Canadian manufacture prior to, and during, WWI. and used in Allied submarine nets, and later, lost.
Hope that this was helpful. Maybe we will learn something from others with undisclosed perspective?
Bill is an excellent researcher. Google the link he provided. You will find the information on pg.9 in cast iron repair. A fascinating read is there waiting for you. It's quite possible that one or more of the European-possibly Canadian-floats in our collections were lost-not by fouling on some underwater obstruction while trawling, but were actually hung up on a German submarine, then ripped free of the sub trap.
Thanks to Bill, we now have another very interesting historical usage of glass fishing floats.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Todd "the Norsknailpounder," sent an email containing a question one day last summer. Todd asked: "Have you ever seen a European float with swirls of color in the glass?" Replied that the only swirling that I had seen in an authentic Euro glass fishing float, was in the 8" brown/amber Williamshutte that came from our German friend. The swirling of darker brown in the glass is not very noticeable until the float is backlit. That ball has so much beautiful "whittle effect" and bubbling in the glass, that its swirls are not noticed without close inspection.
Todd replied to my reply, together with a few photos of a Norwegian float in his collection that has darker green color swirling in the seal button of an otherwise aquamarine colored float.
While "beachcombing," the Ebay auctions on the morning of February 17, 2010, I gasped when I saw the photo of a netted colorless float with blue swirling. Gawking at the auction photo, I saw the float's capnet for what it was-the distinctive two strand style of French fishermens' floats. Quickly, opened the auction, looked at the float photos and read the following:
19th. Century Protection/Fortune Bringing Ball French Witch Collection!!
This stunning ball was part of a collection of artifacts and occult tools that were amassed by many generations of a family of French Celtic Druidic witches. Please see below item description for further details.
The piece first came into the family's possession in the late nineteenth century after they purchased it from the estate of well respected practitioner in the Saint Amand area .
The family then hung the ball in a window directly by the front door of their home.
As far as I can tell from talking to Muriel, the piece was one of a series of objects that were empowered during a very lengthy series of workings that the majority of the orders and solitary practitioners of the area participated in during the mid- nineteenth century, and I have to say that must of been an incredible event to witness to say the least! The family were understably delighted when they had the opportunity to be the caretakers of an object that was so important not just to their own history but also to the witchcraft history of the area!
The tradition surrounding the ball is that it has the ability to protect any house that it is hung in from negativity and will bring wealth, health and happiness to all in the dwelling .
This beautiful item was originally handblown in a stunning clear glass perfectly complimenting the deep rich graduated blue of a wonderful flowing form within the body of the piece. It was then surrounded by a hand knotted blue dyed natural twine netting. The ball has a hand applied glass blob covering the pontil mark which was then hand impressed with the initials "LV".
The piece is in lovely condition with stunning fading to the twine, bubbling and quirks to the glass from handcraftsmanship . There are a series of what looks like partial bubble bursts, knocks or bruises to it's surface, but does not go through the body.
And with the ball measuring just over 5 inches in diameter (including netting) and just over 20 inches from top of net-fixing knot to the edge hanging loop, this is a Must For any Lover of All Things Esoteric !!
This Incredible piece of Witchcraft History was part of a collection of artifacts and occult tools that had been put together by many generations of a family of French witches. I myself was fortunate enough to be bequeathed this piece by Muriel who was the last surviving member of the family line.
The lady herself lived in the same village as myself, Chaumont, close to the city Bourges that was frequented by " Les Bourdelins," possibly the most influential and powerful druidic tribe in PreRoman and Roman France!!
Her family line had a hugely respected reputation for healing and knowledge of the Old ways" stretching back many generations .
I had the honour of knowing her personally at the tale end of her life .
Because of our interest in history, witchcraft and all things esoteric , she decided to give some items of her extensive collection to us, with other items directly relating to the specific craft of the this area (The Cher) being bequeathed to " La Musee de Sorcerie " in Concressault
Now that was an interesting piece of provenance for a float to have! After reading the description, I thought about the "Witch Balls," which were hung in many homes here on the East Coast in the first days of the "Jersey Devil." They were hung to ward away or capture dark and freightening spirits. Also thought about something another French seller had told me about the custom of hanging fishing floats in French kitchens. There is also the story of British fishermen's families displaying hanging floats in a window facing the sea, as a talisman of good luck to bring their sons, husbands and fathers home safely.
Those thoughts somehow punctuated my excitement after looking at the auction photos, and realizing that it was a French-made LV float. Next came a sigh because the auction would not end for a week. How could I contain myself for that long? Would anyone else find it? How many would notice this obscure French auction? Could I actually win this amazing float?
Daily, sometimes a few times during the day and evening, I would look again at the auction to see if anyone else had found it, and to look at the auction photos to make certain that my eyes weren't deceiving me. A couple of bidders who's Ebay initials I did not recognize, bid the first couple of days.
Trying to not set myself up for disappointment was really difficult. Waited day after day, and kept mum. When Nancy and I talked about how our day went, or what kind of thoughts we'd had, it was difficult to not talk about the places my head had been whenever the float came to mind. I'm able to attentively listen to her day-to-day teaching stories concerning her young students, their misbehavior, her successes, and what other teachers are experiencing, as long as she will listen to my stories-many of them glassfloat related. But I can tell when that glassy look comes into her eyes as I begin another float story. She seemed to grasp the depth of my excitement about this float, but until she picks up, and stares at a newly-arrived float the way that I do, one never knows the depth of her emotional commitment.
Slowly the week passed, day by long day. Trying to savor each day for itself was difficult, because I wanted to get to the auction's last day, last hour-minutes-seconds. What an excitement addict I become when there's a float that grabs my attention, and a small voice says, "this float's for Tom." At least that's what I imagine those kind of float thoughts say when a float appears on an auction together with a special feeling of hope. Until that wonderful Ebay phrase comes up on the screen, "Congratulations Sea Hermit, you've won the auction," I'm a mess. I was a mess every waking minute until the week passed. On the days leading up to the finale, I checked every float auction I could find to see if that ball was posted anywhere else. Nope. Just maybe, no other collector knows about it? Gees! I sure hoped so. Then the final day arrived.
Internally, I was a mess. It was so difficult to concentrate on my responsibilities, and keep myself away from the computer all day long. Finally, only an hour remained until the end, then 10 minutes, then three minutes. The countdown began. Glued to the auction, I had to look away when there were still two minutes to go. Finally, I was able to look when I knew there was a minute to go. The counting down had been going on in my head second by second, even though I could not bear to look at the screen. At 30 seconds I typed in my bid, at 15 seconds I entered it, then quickly went back to the auction. Five seconds, and I'm thinking hard, "bid don't change"! Four, three, two, one...then the aucton page stops, and I rush to pull up the auction again to see the outcome. No one had overbid me. That wonderful Ebay winning sentence greeted me. Nirvana!
Rushed into the kitchen to tell Nancy that I'd won, then back to the computer to look once again at the photos. Then the fear. How long will it take to make the Atlantic crossing? Will it get hung up in customs? Will it get broken during transit from France to New Jersey? Ah gees! Tom get hold of yourself.
So I did, by writing the seller to ask if they double boxed fragile items. A very nice return email contained the wonderful information, that in all of their years of selling, they had never had a piece broken. They packed well. Ok. They did not offer to double box it, but they did give me confidence, and ended by saying that they were happy the float would go to someone who truly appreciated it. Really nice seller to share this experience with.
Thirteen days passed from the time the float was mailed until it arrived here. Considering the Wicca history of this float, that seems to me to be a very interesting number of days to cross the Atlantic Ocean and arrive at my front door!
Upon opening the box, discovered that the float was double boxed. Coming from France, the second box-a Cotes Du Rhone wine box, brought a smile. Opened the second box to find the float completely wrapped in bubble wrap then the whole surface covered in tape. That float couldn't have been packed any safer. Thank you. A series of photos were taken as the opening and unwrapping progressed, until finally the float was in my hands, and I looked at every single bit of it. Incredulous that this wonderful and rare example of a French float was now in the collection, and could be shared with all of my float friends and readers, I then took photos of the float.
As time passes, who knows if other swirled Euros will appear? Since Todd's email, I've learned that my friend Bob has a yellow/amber Euro with brown swirls, and Bruce Gidol said that he thought he had a green one with swirls. Waiting for Bruce to locate that float. Bruce, Richard and their wives are coming to visit at the end of next month. Maybe he will bring it with him? If he does, I'll photograph it, and post it to the blog.
Questions are in my mind whenever I look at the swirls in this otherwise colorless float. Could the glassblower have done this on purpose? Was there some blue glass left from a previous object on his blowpipe, which melted into his gather as he twisted the blowpipe in a pot of molton glass? Was this just a stroke of good fortune arising out of a mixed batch of recycled glass, or the result of a dirty batch? I've got to ask our son-in-law Chad-the family's glass artist, how this might have happened.
There is also a consideration. Wouldn't the right thing be to hang the float in a safe and special spot to continue its tradition? I've been thinking about this since the float arrived, but have yet to hang it out of fear of it falling and bursting. Sooner or later, the right spot will come to me.
And a last descriptive item, there are no seams on this ball. It was most likely blown into a mold bowl or firebrick mold similar to the photo of the Aanaes company mold from the "Some Odds And Ends" post.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing the photos and reading the seller's history of this unique float. To end this post I wish all of you at least one great float coming your way this year.
The list of photos starting at the top:
1. The auction photo;
2. Box in a box;
3. Unwrapped showing maker's embossing;
4. The side of the float and
5. The top of the float
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Back in the fall of '09, my Father remarked, "It's a good thing this isn't snow!" He was talking about all of the rain we had been getting in November. Here in Southern New Jersey we've been very wet since last April. Even the normal summer dry spell was very shortlived, only lasting about 10 days. Throughout the summer we had many thunder and lightening storms accompanied by copious amounts of rain. Then winter set in at the end of November.
Since then, we've had three major snowstorms, many small snows between, and three huge melts-all occuring during the Full and New Moon periods. Here in the Pinelands Protection Area where Nancy and I live, the water table is very high. Flooding has been happening to all of us who live from 40 miles inland to the sea, since the December 26th. thaw. I can't tell you how many hours have been spent pumping out the basement with a combination of three 1/2hp. pumps and two shopvacs. Never having experienced a flooding of the water table in the more than 20 years we've lived here, we did not anticiapate the need for a French drain or sump pump. You can bet on both of those being on top of the list of our next remodeling project!
As was written in a prior post, I've been studying the Northeast commercial fishery from the 18th. century to 1950. Most of the research has been done through the reading of old books. Some of the books are biographical, some are a compilation of stories and history. If there is one thing that has truly impressed me while reading, it is the courage and hardiness of the protagonists in each story.
I now know exactly what the term, "sailor," means. We use it commonly to describe someone in the Navy, or someone who has a sailboat. What has been impressed upon me is the actual sailors and the sailing that was done during the Banks fishing prior to steam and later, diesel and gas powered engines. Those old fishermen had only the confidence in the craftsmen who built their hulls and mounted their masts and rudder, together with their knowledge of what their boat could stand, their courage, their sails and the direction of the wind for propulsion.
In the Northeastern states, the prevailing winter winds are out of the northwest and northeast. During the summer, the prevailling winds come from the west and south.
During the dangerous winter fishing season, the northwest winds were excellent for going out to the Banks off Massachusetts or Nova Scotia, and a northeaster was a good wind to come in on. Our Northeastern States' storms during the winter, are primarily from those two directions.
The winds and their accompanying high seas could make for a long and arduous sail when trying to get into dock to land the catch at the times of highest prices. If everyone came ashore at the sametime, with the same type of fish, primarily Cod, the market's supply was high, and the price was low. To be first in and unloaded during a low market supply was the goal of all the skippers and their crews.
Often, the skipper tied himself to the wheel for the duration of the homebound trip, and with a continual supply of coffee from the mess, would push his vessel to its limits by hoisting as much sail as the craft could take. With starboard or port to leeward and low in the water, the skipper or his first mate would race their boat through the wind and waves to home. If you have the inclination to read James B. Connolly's book, mentioned below, you will learn about the sailing ability of those long ago skippers and mates, and understand what the term, "sailor," truly means.
Prior to 1880, all of the fishing on the Banks was done with either handlines or trawlines. The trawlines consisted of long lines with many baited hooks tied onto the lines via short leaders called "snoods," then weighed down on the bottom-normally with an anchor.
The ships carried a full complement of dories, in which generally 2-man teams or "dory mates," rowed away from the Mother ship with the wooden buckets, marker buoys, trawlines and other gear necessary to fish. The lines were payed out over the side, then hauled back after a set had been down long enough. It was hard work hauling those lines, landing fish, rebaiting, setting again, then finally rowing back to the ship as she made her rounds to pick up her crew in the dories. Loss of life was caused by the conditions these men fished in.
Start with the Banks themselves. The Banks are a broad and shallow series of mountains who's tops come to the surface in an otherwise normal-looking and deep ocean. They can be a navigational nightmare when suddenly encountered by an unknowing ship. The gullies, points, holes, etc., where the baitfish fed, were also spots where the baitfish became vulnerable when the strong winds, waves and currents swirled over the Banks. Once vulnerable, the bait attracted Cod, Halibut, and other large and valuable predator fish from the deeper surrounding waters up onto the banks. That is where the sailboats and their crews with dories fished. The prime areas for fishing are called rips.
Rips are formed where tide changes rush either in or off the banks through cuts and high points like a fast flowing river. The waves can be huge in the rips depending on the direction of the winds and the current. I find it hard to imagine what it must have been like for two men in a rowing dory, trying to not only set their trawlines, haul the lines in, unhook the fish, and keep themselves from being turned over by the wind driven waves and currents swirling around them.
The dories and their crews fished the Banks' waters throughout the year. There was no radio communication. There was no weather communication from ship to shore-no communication at all in "real time". The only communication with boats fishing, came from the crews of boats that had sailed back into port to unload their catches for market. Everyone having to do anything with the fishing industry was keen to hear what the returned crews could tell of seeing various boats from that port either headed in, or close to being ready to head back. Those boats still out on the Banks, whether in the ship or in the dory, had only nature's signs at the captain and crew's disposal to forecast the weather.
Many men lost their lives in fog. If the dory crews were out, and suddenly a warm southerly wind blew in over cold water, there was fog. The samething happened with cold winds blowing in over warmer waters. Once the fog came, there was no telling where the mother ship was. For the captain on the ship there was no telling where the dories were. Unable to see through the fog, a rogue wave easily swamped and sunk dories and drowned many of the fishermen.
Being aboard was no picnic either. A fleet of sailing vessels could be anchored up on top of the Banks either in the rips or just off the sides of them. Once a boat found fish, they would not leave until their holds were filled, and their trip was made. If a ship and her crew were catching, it did not take long for others to join her in the productive spot. There could be as many as 100 or more fishing vessels fishing the same productive area on a Bank.
Captains and experienced crew had learned to read the water, winds, clouds and sky color at sunrise and sunset to help forecast the weather, but there was little to help them when a major storm suddenly came upon them, or a convergence of two or more weather systems caught them in its trap. When those big ones came, there was no hoisting of the sail, and heading home. Not only were they days and sometimes weeks from home, they also had to fill the boat with fish before heading back. Investments had been made, and the crew needed their shares in order to live and provide for the families praying for their safe return.
If the fleet was on a productive spot, they would not up anchor and leave. Instead, they dropped anchor to wait out the winds or storm. The main cause of disaster on the banks was a sudden storm coupled with a fleet of boats anchored in close proximity to one another; held in place solely by their anchor with its hawser line and if they had it, chain; large waves of unknown duration; racing tides and high winds. Into that dangerous mix, you can also add fog, snow and cold frigid winds that froze the ocean spray to everything.
Captains could not even think of raising sail to get off the banks and out of the rips when caught in a trap. With seas washing over the deck, anyone and anything could easily be washed overboard. Even if a sail could be raised, it would quickly be torn into shreads by the storm winds. There was no choice but to try to ride the weather out, and hope the anchor held, and the hawser lines with or without chain did not snap.
Winds and waves put a tremendous strain on everything. Far too often the anchor lines broke, or the anchors lost their hold. That is when the real danger set in. Boats that were holding in the wind and waves, were sunk by their upwind neighbors who's boats were drifing when their anchor came free, or with broken anchor lines, were at the mercy of the winds and current. Crashing into one another, very often in the dark of night, both boats were usually sunk with all hands aboard. Rarely did anyone survive in those conditions.
It was not uncommon for all the vessel's dories to be washed overboard. In the winter seas, the water temperatures soon froze a man to death or sapped his strength so badly that he could no longer keep afloat. The long lists of men and ships lost in those days fills many books' pages.
If you have access to:
THE FISHERMEN'S OWN BOOK, Comprising the List of Men and Vessels Lost From the Port of Gloucester, Mass. From 1874 to April 1, 1882 and a Table of Losses From 1830;
various editions of the FISHERMEN OF THE ATLANTIC, by the Fishing Master's Association, or
GLOUCESTERMEN by James B. Connolly
you will have all of the reading material you need to study the fishing history. If you cannot find copies of any of the above through your library system, you can find copies of the first two books available to read online through Google search engine.
The study has caused me much inward soul searching. I'm collecting glass fishing floats, and the history of the makers and the users. Studying the commercial fishing history to learn how the floats were used, has also led me to the study of the fishing history from the Mid-Atlantic to Nova Scotia before the time of glass floats. I'm trapped by my own desire to learn all that I can, and to assuage that part of me that craves this specific knowledge.
Whenever the nor'westers and nor'easters howl, it sounds as if it were passing through a boat's rigging. In the windy darkness, I imagine the fear of a wayward vessel preparing to crash into the vessel I'm on. The sounds of splintering wooden hulls, the falling of topmasts and the cries of shipmates and those aboard the other vessel echo in my mind.
At other times I imagine my dory mate and I are rowing for our lives-trying to find our ship in the fog. Perhaps like the lost souls in another story, we are endeavoring to keep from capsizing or freezing to death.
There is a picture painted in the words of one of Connolly's stories that is permanently fixed in a memory box of my brain. He described the captain of a ship, tied to the wheel in a violent storm, trying to keep her headed into the wind and waves, when suddenly a huge sea washes over her, and the captain is underwater. He looks up through the water high over his head, seeing the moon's light and wondering when the water will lower enough for him to breath.
When those winds blow, as they are today, I'm haunted by the stories of those American fishermen of the Northeast fighting for their lives in the gales.