National Geographic : 1953 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine descendants took the original vessel's name. For two centuries the schooner was su preme, and before the end of the 19th cen tury Gloucester's fleet totaled 500 sail. The Gloucester schooner reached the peak of design in the Gertrude L. Thebaud, built in 1930, which represented the United States in the International Fishermen's Races with the Bluenose of Nova Scotia. Her slender black hull heeling to a cloud of canvas was a glorious sight. I sailed in her when Capt. Ben Pine contested the last Fishermen's Races in 1938. In February, 1948, while running cargo in the Caribbean, she broke up on the breakwater of La Guaira, Venezuela. So passed the last Gloucester schooner to work under sail. All have been lost at sea or converted to power, with diesels in the hold, topmasts removed, and bowsprit cut to a stump, a mere support for the forestay. So many old schooners were available for conversion that it is only in the last five years that new draggers have been built from the keel up in the Essex yards. The Gloucester fishery was founded on King Cod and associated groundfish-haddock, hake, cusk, and halibut. When the early shore fishery became depleted, schooners ran out to Georges Bank, and later as far as the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Once on the banks, fishermen left the anchored parent ves sel and fished two in a dory, setting trawls buoyed and anchored lines more than a mile long, armed with 500 to 1,000 hooks. The trawls, of French origin, were set in water 150 to 200 fathoms deep. Stout Dories Have Crossed Atlantic Dories, flat-bottomed, double-ended boats about 16 feet long, have been called the world's most seaworthy small craft. Several times men have rowed and sailed them across the Atlantic. The advent of the otter trawl, a purselike net fished by dragging along the bottom, helped deplete the shore cod fisheries, because the net took so many fish at one sweep and raked up the bottom, destroying fish food. Incidentally, with the coming of the tin can, eating habits changed, and people ate less salt fish. But draggers (so called in Gloucester to distinguish them from the early hook-and-line trawlers) use the otter trawl for most of the fishing done out of Gloucester today, though they rarely drag for groundfish. Setting the nets higher for free-swimming school fish, draggers take enormous quantities of ocean perch, or rosefish (Sebastes marinus). Since this small red fish became popular as a foodfish, about 1935, it has been taken in ever-increasing numbers, until today it makes up about 50 percent of the Gloucester catch. Through long custom, New Englanders still prefer their cod, haddock, or mackerel. But ocean perch find ready markets in the South and Midwest; the smaller fish more nearly re semble fresh-water varieties long eaten in the Midwest, and the small fillets are just right for the popular southern fish fries. God Shares in the Catch Portuguese and other Gloucestermen fish on a lay basis, ship and crew sharing proceeds of the catch. At the end of each voyage the crews of Portuguese craft set a certain amount aside as "God's share," to be given to the Church for charitable works. Early Gloucester skippers sailed by "com pass, soundings, and personal judgment" alone. Today the draggers use radiotelephone, radar, depth indicators, and even loran, the long range electronic navigation system that traces invisible streets and avenues on the ocean's gray wastes. Yet, despite power and modern navigational aids, the sea still exacts a heavy toll. Few fishing families of Gloucester have not paid tribute to this hard mistress. From Gloucester's beginnings as a fishing port until the present time, more than 1,000 of her ves sels and 8,000 of her men have been lost at sea. Men were washed overboard; schooners went down in northeast gales. Thick white fog took many lives when men in the dories lost sight of the parent vessel and could not find their way back, despite mournful blasts of the schooner's horn. Some lucky few rowed to land, their fingers frozen round the oars. The danger of anchor cables parting added another hazard to winter fishing on the banks. Men peering through swirling snow would sometimes see the gray ghost of a drifting vessel bearing down on them. Then the man standing by the anchor cable had to swing his sharp ax instantly, for if a drifting schooner crashed into an anchored vessel in rough seas, both were almost certain to go down. Many fishing vessels were simply never heard from again, victims, perhaps, of a hurri cane, the screaming wind that the tough men of Gloucester called an "August breeze." At a Blessing of the Fleet, the Most Rev erend Richard J. Cushing, Archbishop of Bos ton, said: "The natural virtues of a fisherman are two-trust in God, and perseverance. Toiling on the sea has taught them both." And so, despite all hazards, the men of Gloucester will continue to go down to the sea to reap the harvest of its waters. And the sea knowing Portuguese will be among them.