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Trip on the Grimsby Smack Willie & Ada skippered by Henry Tidder to the Dogger Bank Monday June 28th 1880

By J W Collins : Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission Vol 10 1888.

I went aboard the Willie & Ada at 9`o clock am soon after the dock gates where opened our smack was shoved out beyond the pier- heads, all sail was set, and with a moderate southwest breeze and fine weather, we left the Humber`s mouth, passed Spurn Point, and headed away from the land toward the famous fishing ground of the North Sea, the Dogger Bank, where we expected to meet with the fleet we were to join, and where our fishing operations were to be carried on. The Willie & Ada was 73.68 tons register, ketch or "dandy" rigged and manned by a crew of five, three of whom were men, the other two _ the "fourth" hand or deck hand and cook _ being boys of respectively seventeen and fourteen years of age. The crew slept and ate in the cabin, which considering the number to be accomodated was roomy and comfortable, being painted and grained, but differing from the cabins of modern american fishing schooners in being under deck, and in some details of arrangement. The wind died entirely away during the afternoon and we lay becalmed untill the evening, when a moderate breeze again sprang up from the southwest. The day was fine throughout and was spent by me in gathering information concerning the constructoin of the beam- trawl, the peculiarities of the vessel _ so far as speed, ability in a gale, etc , were concerned _ and making sketches.

Tuesday June 29._ The wind continued moderate during the night, but, as it was fair, the vessel slipped along easily through the water,which was so smooth and scarcely any motion could be noticed unless one glanced over the side and saw the scintillating, phosphorescent sparkle of the sea go by as we glided through it. At 5 am the captain sounded and " struck the rough" on the Dogger Bank. Two hours later we spoke a homeward- bound cutter. Our skipper inquired the whereabouts of " Bascomb`s lot," meaning the fleet we were to join, of which a captain by the name of Bascomb was " admiral. " He was told that they were some three hours` sail _ 15 or 16 miles _ distant in the direction we had been going. We then resumed our course, and at 9 0`clock am the captain, who had been aloft at the masthead looking out for " Bascomb`s lot," came on deck and reported seeing two fleets nearly ahead. We steered for the nearest fleet, which however, did not prove to be the one we were in search of, but the skipper of one of the smacks which we hailed pointed to leeward and said: "That`s Bascomb`s lot, down there I think." This proved to be the case, and soon after the order was given to our crew to : " Get up the trawl bridles and shackle them on," our skipper remarking, at the same time, " They have their gear down and I don`t know how long it`s been out." As we drew nearer the fleet the captain exclaimed : "Ah, there`s the Clara with her craydon (small flag for signalling) over her stern," and a moment later he said: " There`s the admiral`s flag; we`ll steer for him." It may be explained that in this instance the admiral`s vessel was distinguished by a flag flying on a stay extended from her bowsprit end to the main-topmast head.

After the usual hail of, " What cheer ? oh, what cheer, my hearty?" our skipper shouted the inquiry. "How long you`re going to tow?" to which the admiral replied: "Oh till about 4 o`clock." It was then shortly after noon. A moderately brisk southwest breeze was blowing which continued with little change during the day. After receiving Admiral Bascomb`s answer we tacked and ran back to the Clara which belonged to the same owner as the Willie & Ada, and the skipper oif which had hoisted his flag at the mizzen peak as a signal that he wished our captain to speak with him.We had brought out letters, outfits, ect., for this vessel, which had been absent from port several weeks, and her captain naturally desirous of learning the news from home, as well as to obtain some additions to food supply. However, we did not stop to go onboard of her at this time, for immediately after speaking with the admiral and learning that he would "tow till 4 o`clock," our skipper remarked: "Then we`ve got four hours; we`ll put it out," meaning the trawl, of course. All hands were busy at work in the mean time getting ready to shoot the trawl. The bridles had been shackled to the trawl heads, and now the towing hawser was got up and shackled to the bridles; the dandy bridle hauled off the winch, made ready for running, and bent on to the trawl-warp.While this was being done we had reached the Clara, and as we passed under her lee our skipper shouted: What cheer? what cheer, my boy? I`ve got something for you." It seemed to be understood by the Clara`s crew that they must wait for a more favourable opportunity to get what we had for them, and the assurance that we had "something" seemed to satisfy them for the time being.

Been curious to know if there was any choice in selecting a berth for fishing among the various vessels which formed the fleet, I asked our skipper the question: "Where will you shoot the trawl ?" He replied: "Oh, any place where we can get it out." The inference is that no judgement is excercised beyond that of getting sufficient room ( or far enough from other vessels ) to tow the gear without danger of collision accordingly, a few minutes after speaking with the Clara, the trawl was shot from the port side. After it was down, the warp parceled and put in its proper place, so that the vessel, with tiller swinging, headed about at right angles with the wind, all hands went below and turned in for a nap except the oldest boy _ commonly called the "deck hand," or "fourth hand"_who stayed on deck to look out for the vessel, note the working of the trawl, and watch for the admiral`s signals. A little after 3 o`clock pm the boy on deck shouted that the admiral was hauling, and the crew tumbled out of their bunks, hurriedly pulled on their heavy leather boots, and jamming their hats or souwesters on their heads, ran on deck and began to get up the trawl.

The process was an interesting study for me, as I then saw it for the first time. I assisted in the work, heaving on the capstan and helping the skipper to get the dandy bridle in and the after end of the trawl-beam up to the vessel`s stern. We had been towing over ground which was more or less rocky, and which is known to the fishermen by the technical term of " The Rough," so that when they are fishing on such bottom, which they sometimes do in summer because fish are more abundant there than elsewhere, they call it " working The Rough." As a result of our "working the The Rough" on this occasion, the trawl had been badly torn, which mishap was first announced while the net was been gathered in; the second hand exclaiming, in somewhat disheartened voice: " She`s all gome to smither ends!" The rip was not quite so bad, however as was first expected; and about 300 pounds of fish still remained in the " cod-end," which was hoisted on board, and the catch let out on the deck. In this small lot there where many varieties, chief among which where turbot, sole,"cock" sole ( which is a different species from the common sole, Solea solea), plaice, cod, hake ,ling, gunard, goosefish,or monkfish ( Lophius), besides a large number of star- fishes, anemones, sea corn ( eggs of welks), and sea pears, which, together with small rocks, and more or less sea grass and shells, made up a very interesting collection, though it was not "fishy" enough to have any special merit or attraction for the smack`s crew.

As soon as the trawl was emptied of its contents the ( stay ) foresail was hoisted and the vessel filled away by the wind, the fourth hand took the helm and was ordered to "keep her along after the fleet" which was then to windward of our vessel, working up for a new berth. The skipper, second and third hands went to work to mend the net, but when this job was well advanced the mending was continued by the two former, while "Tom," the third hand, was ordered to "box the fish"; which order implied that he should dress and pack in boxes such as were marketable, about two-thirds of the lot, and throw the remainder overboard. In this instance, however, only the hake, turbot, cod, and haddock were dressed - that is, eviscerated, the others were simply washed before being packed, but were not gutted. In the meantime the diminutive cook was actively employed in the cabin preparing supper, which all seemed glad to partake of; the appetites of the crew having been sharpened somewhat by the vigorous excercise of heaving up the trawl. Having worked to windward for about two or three hours, the trawl was shot again at 8pm. This time the vessel was on the starboard tack and the trawl was "shot around the stern." This was a new feature of the buisness, and, as the weather was fine, an excellent opportunity was afforded to note all the details. After the trawl was down the watch was set and the rest turned in.

Wednesday June 30th : All hands where called out to heave up the gear at 4`0 clock am. I had staid up late the previous evening to gain some additional information about trawling, and to watch the fleet as the vessels worked slowly along, the bright lights of the smacks being plainly discernible in the hazy darkness of the summer`s night, as the vessels rose and fell in the long undulating swell of the North Sea. Therefore, though it was bright sunlight at the time the admiral signalled to "haul trawls," I was first awakened by the skipper shouting to the tired and sleepy third hand : " You Tom ! You Tom ! come, rouse out here and haul!" Out we tumbled and on deck, where the cranks were already shipped on the capstan; the hatch off, and down in the hold, ready to coil away the trawl-warp, was the small boy, who not only officiates in the capacity of cook but must always be promptly on hand to assist wherever hi services are required. All hands fell to with a will, the skipper tacked the vessel back and forth, " working up over the gear," while the clank, clank, clank of the capstan told that the trawl-warp was being rapidly got on board.

The catch on this occasion did not exceed over 200 pounds weight of marketable fish, though nearly everything was saved, including skate, dabs,and catfish. As in this case, however, the net had not been torn, the skipper offered, as a reasonable explanation of the small catch, the statement that there was little or no wind during much of the past night, consequently the vessel could not tow the trawl fast enough over the bottom to catch any fish - in fact, for much of the time, we had been doing little else than drifting with the tide in a calm. In the morning the wind breezed up quite briskly, and continued to fresh throughout the day. After the trawl was up. all sail was set and the smack worked to windward to join the rest of the fleet, which had not drifted quite so much to leeward during the night. Meanwhile, the fish were " boxed," and it was announced that one of the smacks, which had her " craydon" flying, would leave the fleet this morning for home, after the catch of the other vessels  for the previous day and night had been put on board her.

It is difficult to imagine a more lively and inspiriting nautical scene than was presented on this summer`s morning by the little fleet to which our cutter belonged, and the centre of which was the homeward - bound craft, lying to, with her flag flying. All around her were collected the other vessels of the fleet, standing back and forth under all sail, their heavy square- headed gaff-topsails aloft to catch the breeze; boats passing to and fro going to the "carrier" to take their fish, to send letters, etc., visiting other vessels of the fleet, recently out from the land ( one of which was our smack ), to hear the news from home, obtain letters, and secure supplies that had been sent to them. The picturesque tanned sails, gleaming blood red in the sunlight, the shouting back and forth between the crews of the different vessels as they came within hail, were additional interesting characteristics of the scene. On our own vessel the boat had been launched stern foremost over the lee side. As soon as she struck the water one man sprang into her, and to him were passed the few "trunks" of fish we had caught, these been dropped or roughly stowed in the middle of the boat. A second man then jumped into the boat, and when the proper time arrived she was cast off and pulled away for the carrier smack to discharge the fish, " Boarding the fish," as it is called, on this occasion, when the sea was smooth and only a moderate breeze blowing, was a very tame affair compared with such work when the weather is rough. Many wonderful tales are told by the fishermen of hair-breadth escapes from drowning while engaged in transporting their fish from their vessels to the carrier, and considering that this work is done in almost all kinds of weather, one can easily believe that it is extremely hazardous, to say the least.

The catch been small on this occasion the boating was soon finished, the crews retuned to their respective vessels, the admiral showed his signal for sailing, and as the fleet stood off, close-hauled for the fishing ground, their companion, the homeward-bound cutter, set all sail and filled away for Grimsby. I sent a letter by her to Proffessor Goode, in London, and decided to stay out till the next carrier went in.  The fleet kept under full sail, working to windward about two hours, when, at 10 o`clock am the trawls were shot where the ground was rather rocky. After towing about an hour our trawl caught afoul of the bottom, so as to stop the vessel entirely. We hove  it up and found it had swept an old anchor weighing about 150 pounds that was still hanging to the net, which had been so badly torn by it that all the fish, if there were any in the trawl, had made their escape. This was rather discouraging to the crew, the members of which, however, took the matter rather cooley, and with far less grumbling than one might naturally expect, they pulled in the net and began to mend it. As soon as the repairs were completed, the trawl was put out again, but misfortune again awaited us, for in about an hour and a half it got fastened to the bottom, and it was necessary to heave it up. By this time several other vessels of the fleet were seen in the same predicament, and, perhaps on the principle that "misery loves company," our crew seemed to derive a certain sort of grim satisfaction from the fact that they were not the only ones having ill luck, and it was thought that when so many of the fleet met with this mishap the admiral would lose faith in " working The Rough."

When it was up, we found the trawl badly split; indeed in this instance, it would have been no exageration to say it was " all gone to smither ends"; and five or six plaice, that were jammed in the pockets, constituted its entire contents. The skipper, second and third hands turned to again to repair damages, and as the rest of the fleet hove up their gear about the same time, we all filled away and stood along by the wind untill 8pm when, in obedience to the admiral`s signal, the trawl was shot in 20 fathoms. We had previously fished in from 18 to 25 fathoms, and for the most part, as been indicated, on rough ground. Capt Tidder believes that little can be done "working The Rough," even where fish are comparatively plenty , since the gear is liable to much damage, and may possibly be rendered useless. Spare trawl nets, beams, heads, etc., are carried on the smacks to replace losses which may occur, but it is evident that should these be unusual even all the spare gear may be destroyed and the vessel compelled to leave the ground and go in for more.  This rarely happens, so far as could be learned . The day was spent by me, like its predecessors on this trip, in taking notes and making sketches, varied by assisting the men to heave up the gear, and steering when it was necessary for all the others to be at work.

Thursday July 1 : At 3.45 am the watch came below, called the skipper, and told him that the admiral was hauling. As the skipper tumbled out of his berth he gave a quick glance around to see if all of the crew were up. His eye rested on the third hand, who, having been on watch all the first part of the night, was naturally very sleepy, and was still slumbering in profound unconsciousness of the admiral`s order. But the sleeping man was quickly brought to a realizing sense of the situation, and swarmed out of his berth in obedience to the order of the skipper, who shouted in stentorian tones : " You Tom, here; rouse out here and haul the trawl." All hands were on deck and at work in a remarkable brief space of time. No minutes are wasted in preparing for the day`s duties ; there is no stopping to wash, not the faintest attempt at personal cleanliness, even the biy cook is begrimed  with coal dust, smoke and soot; it is evident that little is thought of refinement, even such as may be obtained from a dip in a bucket of salt water. The main idea is to catch fish, and  the toil and hardship incident to this vocation, the necessity that always exists for tumbling out " all standing," and rushing on deck, serves to make these men - as well as all other fishermen, the world over - rather indifferent while fishing to the simplest forms of neatness, which to people on land are considered indispensible.

When, in obedience to the call to work, as on this occasion, the half wakened fisherman springs out of his bunk to the cabin floor, he realizes, first of all, the necessity of getting on deck with the least possible delay; therefore, with eyes still half closed, he gropes for his boots, pulls them on, snatches his hat from some convenient place where it has been put, and jams it on his head. This, if the weather be fine completes his equipment, but, if it is stormy, oil clothes are also donned. In either case, the least possible time must be occupied, and frequently the men are not fairly awake until they reach the deck. When the end of the trawl-warp was inside the roller, the skipper looked over the vessel`s side and exclaimed, " SAhe`s capsized again!" meaning that the trawl was upset, which he could easily tell by the bridles being crossed. It was explained by the skipper, in answer to my inquiry, that the capsize was caused by the vessel, when working up to the gear, bringing the warp taut in the opposite direction from which the trawl was being towed over the bottom. This turned the trawl over on it`s back, bringing the beam underneath, and a twist in the bridles, since the forward end of the beam is aft; the position can therefore be told as soon as the upper ends of the bridles are in. The dandy bridle was cast off the trawl-warp, and a stopper put on the after bridle, which was then unshackled. By passing the ends of these around the forward bridle, outside of the smack`s rail, the turns were taken out so that they led clear

The dandy bridle was then taken over the taffrail ( through the chock ) and led to the dandy winch; when the bridle was hove taut and the trawl beam turned end for end and swung into its proper position, after which it was hove up in the usual way. The catch of fish was small this morning amounting only to two trunks of plaice, one trunk of mixed fish - cod, small haddock, skate, a conger eel - and one or two turbot in number, a little over 300 pounds weight in all. The fishermen agree in saying that the catch so far this trip is unusually light, though at this season fish are generally scarce in this region. They tell of catching 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of fish a day, and mention instances when as many as 10,000 pounds have been taken at a single haul, the species captured on these occasions being chiefly haddock. When the trawl was up we "made sail" - that is, got under way - and stood along a short distance to join the rest of the fleet now gathered around the smack Sobriety which was the next to sail for Grimsby. The morning`s catch of the fleet was put on board of her, and I learned that she would sail the next day for market, providing fish enough were taken in the mean time to complete her cargo.

There was a brisk northerly breeze in the morning with light rain, but the wind moderated considerably during the forenoon and it stopped raining about 9 am. At 11 am we shot the trawl around the stern in 19 fathoms of water and towed away to the westward on the starboard tack. At 4 pm the gear was got on board again, and about 200 pounds of fish were found in the trawl, most of which were plaice. We then stood along by the wind on the starboard tack, heading about northwest, untill 8 pm when the trawl was shot for the night, the vessel still heading westerly. On this occasion the trawl-warp was taken around the smack`s bow instead of being hauled under her bottom, as it formerly had been. this was done to prevent it from being chaffed, also that it might be in a position to bring the vessel in stays in case we met with other smacks during the night towing in an opposite direction.

Friday, July 2 : A little after midnight - about 12.15 am - I was awakened to see the vessel wear around while towing the trawl. The object of this maneuver is generally to change the tack with the turn of the tide, and thereby tow the trawl back nearly over the same ground it passed across during the first of the night. Or, perhaps, as on this occasion, it is done to keep clear of rough bottom, which the lead gives warning of.  A smack can, of course, be tacked around with the trawl out, as has been mentioned, and this can be done quicker and easier than to wear, but unless the conditions are favorable the trawl is very liable to be upset.  There was  brisk westerly breeze in the morning with fine clear weather, but later in the day the wind moderated slightly and there were light showers of rain in the evening. The trawl was hauled at 5 am and, though it was torn considerably, there were about 1,200 pounds of fish in the "cod." These were chiefly small haddock, such as the new England fishermen call "scrod" haddock. According to the skipper, we "struck The Rough" about half an hour before we began to heave up the trawl, which accounted for its been torn.

Most of the vessels in our fleet got fair catches of fish this morning, compared with what they had previously taken, and not a few of them had their nets torn. After the trawls were up, and while the crews were busy dressing and boxing the fish and repairing damages to the gear, the fleet filled away and beat to windward to regain the position where they began fishing last evening. The catch was not sufficiently large to complete the cargo of the Sobriety, and consequently she did not start for market to-day. But I concluded, however, to change my quarters, and when the boat left the Willie and Ada to transfer the morning`s catch of  fish I went in her, on board of the Sobriety, where I was welcomed by the captain and crew, and where I staid for the remainder of my cruise. It was an interesting sight to witness from this point of view - on board of the carrier - the various phases of boarding the fish which have been alluded to elsewhere. Along the lee side of the Sobriety were crowded the boats of the fleet, the crew of some of them actively engaged in getting their fish on deck, upon which was gathered a group of hardy fishermen belonging to the other vessels, and who, now their fish was on board and their boats dropped astern, were interchanging news, chaffing the newcomers, and apparently enjoying the break in the monotony of their lives on board their own vessels.

The crew of the cutter which takes the fish in generally have to stow the boxes below and ice them, putting down alternate layers of trunks of fish and ice, the latter being ground fine in a mill which each smack of the fleet is provided with. Sometimes the carrier`s crew receive assistance from the men belonging to the other vessels, who after they have discharged their boats and deposited their bills of lading in the companion, lend a hand to get the trunks below deck. When, however, all the vessels in a "cutter fleet" are sharing alike, each receiving an equal portion of the catch, no tallies are put on the trunks of fish and no bill of lading are needed. At 1.30 pm the admiral signaled to "shoot the gear," and accordingly the trawl was put out. But it got caught up on the bottom soon after it was down, and we had to heave it up and repair the damage which the net had substained. As this took some time it was decided by our skipper that it would scarcely pay to make another shot during the afternoon, and as several other smacks met with a similar mishap and non of them put out their gear after repairing it, they all gathered around a vessel just out from home, and the skippers went on board of her to learn the news and inquire for letters. As our captain was going, too, I joined him and spent two or three hours very pleasantly, learned some new facts about beam-trawling, and was gratified to find the fishermen communicative and intelligent, many of them possesing a comprehensive knowledge of the buisness in which they were engaged, and some having considerable general information. I did some sketching today, but, owing  to the prevalence of rainy weather since the cruise began, there have been few opportinities to securing sketches.

Saturday July 3 : There was a fresh southwest breeze in the morning  -  a head wind for Grimsby, which materially decreased my chances of reaching Southampton to join the Neckar. We began to heave up the trawl at 2.30 am, and at 5 o`clock it was alongside. About 800 to 1,000 pounds of fish  were taken on this haul. After the trawl was up the smack filled away, and stood along to the westward, by the wind, with the rest of the fleet in company, until the fish were ready to put on board the Sobriety, when we hove to and waited for the morning`s catches to be "boarded."  Several of the skippers, among whom was Captain Tidder, came aboard the Sobriety to bid me good bye, and to wish me a safe and speedy passage home. From all of these men I received uniform kindness and courtesy, while they have shown willingness to give me all the information possible concerning their vocation. As soon as the fish were all aboard our guests took their leave, our smack filled away, all sail but the jib-topsail was set, and we headed along about west by south, close hauled on the port tack. When the fish were all below and iced the bobstay was hooked  on and hove taunt, and the jib topsail set. This was at 11 am at which time the wind was moderating, and it gradually decreased untill it finally fell calm in the evening.

Sunday July 4: - Began with light northerly breeze and drizzling rain. Wind increased at 4 am to a fresh breeze and after 11 am it blew strong and squally. At 4.30 am we made land a short distance north of Flamborough Head which is 30 miles from Grimsby, and at 11 o`clock we passed Spurn Point. After rounding the point we took in the gaff-topsails and big jib, set the small jib, and took a reef in the mainsail and mizzen, thus putting the vessel under easy sail to wait for the rising tide to reach its full. No vessel can enter Grimsby docks until the signal is hoisted  - an hour or so before high water - which, on this occasion, was displayed a little before 2pm. In the mean time we lay by off the harbour`s mouth, slowly reaching back and forth in company with several other inward-bound vessel, Shortly after the signal was run up we shot into the dock, and the Sobriety soon lay securely moored in her berth, ready to discharge on the following morning. I immediately sent a telegram to Proffesor Goode, aquainting him with my arrival at Grimsby, stating the hour when I should be in London on the following day.