Page 22. MAINE COASTAL NEWS November 2015 The American Sardine Boats Continued from Page 11.
Sometimes a small load of fi sh would be carried in an open boat, and you might see a man towing his loaded dory to the factory if he had pursed up the last of the fi sh in his weir (pronounced ware) and cleaned it out. Not all herring went to canneries. Some
larger ones would be taken to smokehouses to be smoked in wood smoke. Some fi sh were loaded into sardine boats that served as bait boats, from which the lobster fi shermen could buy their bait instead of going to the factories.
Sardine boats might have a small row-
boat or skiff for a tender and lifeboat instead of a dory.
Even though they would anchor at times awaiting their load, many did not have a windlass on the for’ard deck. Instead, they would have a heavy bitt or cleat. Down aft they would have one or more bitts. When being readied for their next trip several bags of salt would be neatly piled on deck. The salt would be spread on the live herring as they were going into the hold so as to deliver a better product at the factory. At the factory an inspector would come aboard and inspect the fi sh to make sure they were good for canning. When the loaded boat came in the facto-
ry sounded its loud steam whistle to call the packers to the factory. Women comprised a high percentage of the diligent and compe- tent packing crew. A typical crew on a sardine carrier would be the captain and another man who would be engineer, cook, deckhand, and mate.
A very interesting thing about the cap- tains of the sardine boats was their terrifi c ability to get around the rocky, tidal coast of Maine, many times going into coves and gunkholes with no navigation buoys, and frequently in thick dungeon fog and/or night. They went into very bad places with many
ledges, weir stakes, and other hazards, such as the Eastern Bay, Great Wass Island, Beals. There were many weirs in the bay, and the Cape Shore was very productive for seiners. The sardine boat skippers were incredible pilots. In the days from the sailing carriers up through the middle 1950s or so they had no electronic navigation devices, such as depth fi nders, radar, sonar, GPS, LORAN, or any modern devices. Most boats from the later 1940s on had ship to shore radios and they could help in knowing of other boats in the vicinity. They had a magnetic compass, possibly a tachometer, and a clock or watch. One of my Woodward cousins was captain of the Eva Grace when he was sixteen years of age, One very experienced skipper, a friend of mine, told me he used a kitchen timer to time the boat between buoys or marks. As the Psalmist promised us, The Lord watched over them.
(Note a linguistic point here: I have used some old Downeast nautical expressions so far and probably will use more, viz., the word “hoist”. Downeast it was “heist”. So, herring were heisted aboard the boat, heisted out of the boat, and so on. I don’t feel right in not saying heist.)
Methods of loading and unloading sar- dine boats changed over time from bailing fi sh by hand to heisting to having a pumper alongside to pump the fi sh and save the scales for a very lucrative byproduct, to sar- dine boats being fi tted with herring pumps. In the earlier days the purse seine would be lashed onto the side of the carrier and tight- ened up to bring the fi sh into a dense ball of herring. A man on deck would use a big brailing net ( some six feet in diameter) to dip into the herring then the net would heisted up, swung over the hatch opening, and with a lever connected to the bottom of the pursed net he would swing the lever and a great rush of fi sh would go into the hold, fl ipping and fl apping hysterically. The net was on a tackle (said with long a) rigged from the boom on
the foremast. Once the fi sh were in the hold a little salt would be spread on them. It was interesting to see the load so active in the hold for the fi rst few minutes. The carriers were fi tted with heisters, which were small heisting engines with a winch head, run by one man. After the trip from the loading point to
the factory, the boat was tied up under the heister at the factory. A big bucket would be lowered into the hold and, fi lled with sardines, be heisted up and dumped into the factory production line for canning. After being unloaded the boat would be prepared of another trip. Later on, as I recall, factories pumped fi sh from the hold.
I want to emphasize how handsome the sardine boats looked loaded. They’d be hull down and those with not a lot of freeboard anyway would be, to use the expressions, fl attened right out, jagged, deep loaded, decks to the water. Wow! They looked some pretty, whether stopped or underway! *****
One day in thick dungeon fog Dad was bound to the west’ard with a load of lobsters in his lobster smack, Arthur S. Woodward. All of a sudden, out of the fog and very close he met two big sardine boats east bound, and they were in company, side by side, and closing at about twenty knots! Neither boat changed course and Dad went right between the two of them! One of their skippers said he walked the deck all the way to Jonesport, he was so shaken up.
***** Between Schoodic Point and Petit Man-
an there’s a ledge, just about in course way. A loaded carrier was inbound to Milbridge and ran ashore on that ledge and sank. We had a sixteen foot fl at bottom rowboat that would do about sixteen knots with the outboard. It was a pretty day, and Obed “Bub” Peabody and I were working at the wharf. We decided to go up to the site of the sinking, so we took the boat and headed up the Reach at full speed. In something over an hour we arrived at the sinking site. The sardine boat was on bottom so we looked around and discussed the event, and swung back for home. As I remember we got home in time for
dinner (noon). ***** We got word that there were a few fi sh
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in our weir, the Molly Cove in the Eastern Bay. I had the Kenneth D., our sardine boat, so Obed and I got underway and headed for Molly Cove. The tide was quite well down, but we decided that we had enough water for our deep draft boat to get through Pig Island Gut, a shortcut. As we were almost in the Gut a friend of ours in his lobster boat came up alongside and spoke us. He asked where we were going, and we told him Molly Cove. He said he would lead us through the Gut since the tide was down. So, we started jog- ging along behind him. All of a sudden we felt the carrier start to drag on the mud. She was starting to take bottom. We had enough water to hold her up so she dragged a little and then was in enough water to fully fl oat her. We proceeded to Molly Cove, took in a few hogsheads of fi sh and went back up the Bay, up the Reach, and back to our wharf with a nice trip of fresh lobster bait. *****
The Gut near Mack’s Point and Little Island (Mouse Island), is a very tricky rocky place, navigated by those who are familiar with the channel or by people who don’t know any better. Capt. Chet Lenfestey and
his brother, Verlan, had the sardine boat Nellie M. Stanley. I was fascinated one day as I saw the Stanley coming in through the Gut at maybe half tide or less. Of course Chet and Verly knew the way through the Gut and were coming in from the Western Bay into the Reach. Verly, a very tall man, was standing on the bow on watch, looking very tall, and Chet, at the wheel, was moving her very slowly. They jogged along until they cleared the Gut and were out into bold water. A nice piece of navigating through a tough channel.
***** A good friend of mine came in to the
factory with a load of herring. The hatch covers were off and he was bending over looking at the fi sh. Somehow his false teeth came loose and he dropped them into all those herring in the hold. *****
Following is a list of American Sardine Boats that I remember from my younger days.
Arthur S. Woodward (was our lobster
smack; helped build J-B bridge; built in Beals); Atrypa (was a yacht); Bessie L. (“rebuilt” in Nova Scotia, died in Creek, Sawyer’s Cove); Betsy and Sally (built in Beals); Black Diamond; Bofi sco (built in Beals); Calumet II; Casabaco; Chester Pike; Chester T. Marshall (was a lobster smack); Conqueror; Continental; Curlew; Delca (I think she was a yacht); Double Eagle (was “rebuilt” in Nova Scotia); Edward M.; El Placita (was a yacht); Ernest Lowell; Eva Grace; Eva H.; Fishhawk (died under Char- lie Merchant’s wharf which he built over her); Frances Evelyn (was a lobster smack, originally looked like the Aerolite); Gary Alan; Grayling; H. A. Johnson (was a lobster smack); Hazel Leah; Hazel Ramona (was a big seine boat); Helen Eaton; Helen McColl; Henry O. Underwood; Ida Mae; Indepen- dence (aka “Pickledish”); Irma; Island Maid; Jacob Pike; Joyce Marie (renamed Glenn Geary); Kenneth D. (was ours for a while; helped build J-B bridge); Kingfi sher; Lawrence Wayne; Lillian (was “rebuilt” in Nova Scotia); Lou Ann; Maine Queen (built in Beals); Medric; Mildred; Mione (was a yacht); Moosabec; Muriel; Nellie M. Stan- ley; Neptune’s Bride; Onawa; Oquirrh; Os- prey; Patriot; Patrol; Paul Frederick; Pauline Pauline McLoon (was our lobster smack); Pioneer; Quickstep (and II ?); Rangely; Roamer; Royal; Safety; Sewanhaka; Surf- man; Susie O. Carver (was a lobster smack; built in Beals); Sylvina W. Beal (varied history/now schooner rig); William Under- wood; Woiee; and Wolverine *****
There were many Canadian sardine
boats, running to numerous Maritimes can- neries. I was familiar with a number of them, but I have not listed any of them. *****
NOTE: This is a non-fi ction article
that I have written recently. If you have found it interesting and enjoyable then you should read my non- fi ction book entitled ADVENTURES AND HISTORY FROM DOWNEAST MAINE… Lobster Smacks, Lobsters, Lobster Boats, Beals “Lobster Island”. The book was published in 2014. It is available from International Maritime Library, Winterport, Maine. Telephone: 207- 223-8846, @ $23, including shipping and handling.
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