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A Maritime Mystery Photo

Old  Salt / Presents
Historic Portsmouth #256

Your humble historian is taking a mental holiday and leaving the heavy lifting to you. This picture shows an old salt to the left near the mast of a sailing vessel. To the right are seven wooden dories stacked like soup bowls. (Continued below)


That’s all we know. It turned up in the Strawbery Banke Collection while researcher Jan Harney was looking for photos to illustrate a book. "Just liked it!" her memo reads, but no more information was available. Readers who have a clue are invited to share. (Courtesy Strawbery Banke Museum)

Maritime Mystery Photo ? Strawbery Banke Archive


Response #5
You have probably been inundated by answers by now but her is another:  Looks to be a stack of dories, (not whale boats) on the deck of a schooner rigged cod fisherman, looking aft. Reminds me of Captains Courageous, a Rudyard Kipling novel that was made into a movie in 1937 with Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney, Melvyn Douglas and John Carradine. Filmed using real Gloucester fishing schooners . (A&C Society) /Dennis

Response #4
My father saw the mystery picture you published in the paper this week. He believes it to be an early purse seiner. All the dories would go out, distribute the net, await the catch, then encircle the net and row into the center to create a purse that would be winched up onto the boat. This is now done mechanically. Thank you for your insightful column. / Terra and Will

Response #3
You got my attention with the picture of the dory fisherman. (BTW there are 8 dorys stacked on the port side). The man pictured is in the typical garb of the day but it struck me that I may have seen him before. There is a book that I have "Gloucester on the Wind" by Joseph E. Garland and on page 144 the same man could be your mystery man. I'll bring the book to my office if you want to see it. Same hat, sweater and the profile of the nose is pretty close.

Someone who did a lot of study of the schooner fishing fleet was Thomas Hoyne a painter who's artistic renditions are the best I have ever seen - so much that I have collected numerous prints, one of which hangs in my office at the Port of Portsmouth.  / Capt. Geno Marconi

Response #2
I have always admired the "Historic Portsmouth" photos that are in the Herald and review them with interest. I was particularly intrigued with the photo "Marine mystery photo" in the 5/28/09 edition of The Herald. Regrettably I cannot give you any information on this particular picture other than to enlighten you hopefully to some degree on what this photo shows. 

I am very familiar with this type of vessel which appears to be a two-masted schooner and from the stacked dories it would also appear to be a fishing vessel commonly used in fishing on the Grand Banks and were referred to as Grand Banks schooners.

I come from a long line of seafarers. My great grandfather, grandfather and father were all sea Captains and they were engaged in not only fishing but commercial ventures down the Eastern seaboard and into South America.

My grandfather owned (2) two three-masted schooners, The "Jennie Stubbs" and the "Sally C. Marvel". These vessels were Maine built and I believe principally sailed to the Grand Banks fishing grounds where they would stay for several months with the other fishing vessels of "The Fishing Fleet".

My own father was a Captain for the well known White Star Line and was the Master/Captain of the passenger vessel S.S. Lexington that ran primarily from Providence, R. I. to New York and was one of the so called Providence to New York boats. Unfortunately I did not become a sea Captain but did serve 22 years in the U. S. Coast Guard retiring in 1988 as a Master Chief Petty Officer E-9.

As I indicated previously this vessel is clearly a Grand Banks class of vessel and I would guess in the neighborhood of 160' in length. The photo shows (8) eight stacked or nested dories on the deck, but it would appear that there are more as it will be noted that the number (10) ten appears on the bottom of the nest. Closer examination will reveal that at the extreme left edge of the photo another stack of dories is visible which would appear to be about another (8) but it is not clear enough to accurately tell.

This is definitely a schooner and appears to be a (2) two-master as only (2) two masts are visible. She also appears to be gaff rigged which is the typical rigging for a schooner of this type and class. It is clear that this was a working vessel as can easily be seen by the wear and condition. It would also appear by the photo that she was not meticulously maintained.

These vessels generally had no power other than the wind, but in many cases the vessel did carry a so-called "Yawl Boat" that was carried on davits at the stern of the vessel and did have an inboard engine. This boat was an open boat and could be lowered and secured to the side or stern vessel and used in the same manner as a tug boat is used for power to manuver the vessel in calm waters or when coming in to docking or mooring. These boats were some 16' to 18' long. I hope that this may be of some interest to you.
Leslie E. Dorr, FICM, USCGR (ret)

Response #1
I’ve always devoured all of your writings in the HERALD. In our humble opinion, there is no doubt that is a photo of a Grand Banks fishing schooner. The dories on the deck were deployed by individual fishing crew members who would, once arriving at the Banks, row out in their dories daily and return to the schooner at evening with their catch of codfish. The catch would be counted and that’s how their share at the end of the trip would be paid. An old Greenland friend of mine before he passed gave me a great artifact of his many trips to the Banks as a fishermen, his last being in the mid-1950s. It is a wooden ring with a carving on top that enabled the fishermen to re-bend their hooks. The hooks were made of soft iron so that instead of struggling to unhook their fish they could just rip them out of the fish’s jaw, re-bend them and quickly send their baited (with salted clam, no doubt) back down to the bottom where the codfish lived. This saved a lot of time and added to the fishermen’s production. I really value that ring and also old "Mac" MacKay’s friendship and the memories he shared with me. Dick Pinney has written about the outdoors professionally for over half a century.

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