The dory fishing schooner, Adventure, was well named, for she had many. The book begins with the description of one that was a bit too scary. The “Old Lady,” in her 22nd year, was 50 miles off Cape Cod with 105,000 pounds of fish in the hold, a frighteningly huge leak gushing into the engine room, and a 30-knot gale to add excitement to the situation. Only one of the bilge pumps worked. Still, there were coffee cans, buckets, and haddock baskets, and every crewmember worked to pour out the sea as fast as it flowed in – or almost as fast. That was a close one . . .
This book describes every aspect of the Adventure’s working life, from the 1920s through the 1980s. While learning her history, we also learn a bit about her captains and crew, and the techniques and trials of early 20th-century fishing on the North Atlantic banks. The text seems disorganized but is well-documented, with hundreds of first-person accounts and newspaper quotes. Perhaps best of all are dozens of wonderful photographs from the period that bring the stories to life. And the stories abound.
There are the stories of captains and crew who sailed on Adventure. Captain Jeff Thomas had her built along the lines of his favorite knockabout schooner, a design by Tom McManus, at the James & Son yard in Gloucester. She was launched in 1926 and sailed by Captain Jeff until he died in Adventure’s pilothouse in 1934. Captain Leo Hynes was next until he retired her as a fishing schooner in 1952. And there are stories about many of the crew members, even the engineroom sea-dog, Skippy.
My favorites are the tales of the perils of fishing the “spots” on the North Atlantic banks. Imagine being set into the sea with a dory filled to the top with tubs of trawl. Perhaps, if the weather wasn’t too bad, the drop might be made “on the fly,” with the schooner sailing at 8 or 9 knots. There you are, in the North Atlantic on a January day or in pea-soup fog in an 18-foot boat. These flat-bottomed craft are a treat to row. Mike O’Hearn, one of Adventure’s crew, felt he had the right trick, “I thought I could always keep her on her bottom unless the wind lifted her right out of the water. I could always bring her bow-to, but if it was too big a sea it was not good to bring her too sharp; just cant her to it a little.”
Once you’d baited the hooks and set out the line, you might get a smoke or two. Now the backbreaker. If you’re the bow man, you brace yourself and with every ounce of your strength, haul in the huge, writhing fish (usually haddock or halibut, sometimes cod) hand-over-hand. The stern man grabs them, sends them off into the bottom of the dory, and rebaits the hooks. Then, do it again, until you’ve filled your small craft to the top. Finally, in spite of the fact that you are bone tired, you pull yourself aboard the schooner and join the crew dealing with the slippery mess. When the last fish is cleaned, the hold iced, the last trace of the cleanings sent back to the sea, the bloody deck hosed down, dinner bolted and coffee gulped, it’s time for the second set. If you’re lucky, that’s done by midnight, and you can collapse into your bunk with all but oilskins and boots on, only to be roused at 4 a.m. to begin your second 24-hour day. The caption below one photo reads: “Do we love fishin’? Wal, most o’ the time.”
And then there was the time off Sable Island . . . but it’s time to let you read these stories yourself. They are well told in this book and, along with its great photographs, give you an intimate taste of life aboard Adventure. You’re sure to enjoy it.
The schooner Adventure, a National Historic Landmark, is being restored and preserved by Gloucester Adventure, Inc. as a tribute to the fishing heritage of the city of Gloucester, Mass., and surrounding Essex County. She is a 122-foot historic dory fishing schooner built in 1926 in Essex, Mass. Built of white oak and yellow pine, she was fashioned as a “knockabout” – a design without a bowsprit. Adventure is being returned to active sailing as a floating classroom for maritime and environmental education. For more information, visit the Web site at <http://www.schooner-adventure.org>; call 978-281-8079; or write P.O. Box 1306, Harbor Loop, Gloucester, MA 01931.