DO YOU HAIL FOR?
Oh! About 2000 to
25 hundred. That was the old familiar expression when we were coming to
the wharf on our return from the fishing ground.
Every body would be rushing around the sheds dressing their fish, getting
out bait for the next day, gassing up the boats, and talking to each other
about the hard haul
At every house in White Head in the weeks prior to the haddocking season,
which was the fall of the year, you could smell the tarred lines as soon
as you opened the door. Everybody was getting his or her trawls rigged.
Some of the men would be tying ganging on; some putting hooks on, and
generally the old men would be coiling it down. The last job before baiting
it for the first set. Of course he would occasionally let a load of tobacco
juice go in it; he wasn't going to do the baiting anyhow.
The nights the first white frost would come the old fellows would be getting
quite anxious, everybody would be painting up their trawl tubs, fitting
up their dory sails making dory scoops, as good gear meant good fishing.
Even considering the cold and wet, and long hours in the dory pulling
your heart out, and without food, the guys took great pride in the neatness
of their dory. The schooners varied in size from a 35 foot one dory boat
to a 60 foot 6 dory vessel.
I shall never forget the beautiful sight of the schooners floating against
a nor'wester up the harbor with their snowy white sails. Us kids would
watch to see who made the best hitch to windward.
In those days of
the early twenties and before that time, great care and skill went into
the designing of vessels, as they were wholly dependent on sail and good
handling by the helmsman.
How different vessels will act with different people at the wheel, and
of course great care would be taken in turning your sheets to get the
best out of her. Some of those vessels would seem as though they were
alive and try to obey and answer to every command of the skipper. Now
days they build hulls of no special design, they are just floating enclosures
for a lot of machinery, ugly things of which you could not be proud and
the thrill of sailing is gone.
At that time which is now called the old days, and of course those people
who did not fish in a dory call them the "good" old days, people
were different. Many were neighborly harder fishermen and better fighters
if you had been there on any election day you would surely believe me.
White Head is only a small fishing village, but of course we always thought
it was a very big small place. In fact we had three fish markets, two
churches, a church hall and a woman that could take off worts. Oh the
parties in that hall, pie sales and dances, bean suppers and dances, and
dances how the young people used to turn out in the spring in their new
You see from June until the following March that we would talk of what
we were going to buy in the spring, that was the lobster season. The people
who weren't catching lobsters were in the factories packing lobsters and
that meant cash.
In fact it meant twenty-six dollars a month for those in the factories.
Now this wasn't exactly all cash, as the lobster firm had a general stores
and they would be quite willing through the winter months to advance you
credit for tabacco, rubber boots, rabbit wire, etc but however you could
always count on twelve dollars for a good suit. Girls worked in the factory
too; they had them, all sizes. You know us guys weren't exactly Casanova's
but some of the guys didn't blush much at all when the girls spoke to
I will always remember the first dance I had in the hall, I was decked
out in my new brown stripped worsted suit with a two buttoned double breasted
vest and twenty-two inch pant cuff. I will always say that was the time
in my life I felt the best dressed.
The older women who were not preparing the beans for the supper, which
would come later, were setting back where they would be safe from getting
kicked. Some of them were saying, "I believe Beatty is going to have
his first dance tonight."" That was the big event of your life
that first dance. The girl I had planned to dance the first time with
was sitting across the hall from me. It would be her first dance also.
We were both very embarrassed. After several nods and smiles to each other
while the first two dances slipped away and with every once of strength
I could muster, I walked over and asked my girl to dance with me. Know
what? I still think that was the greatest thrill of my life.
When the pies would
go up for auction at a pie sale, that was the time the men were separated
from the boys. It was a public disgrace for a man to let his wife's pie
go to any other than himself. Why some of the men would even go short
on liquor money to pay the price some character had run him up to. Quite
often two or three guys would pool their money and bid some devoted husband
to maybe forty dollars for his wife's pie, and that's not exaggerating.
That first year in the dory, that was something. My father, an old veteran
fisherman, skippered his own vessel at the age of nineteen, the age they
leave school now days. Of course he had his years in the dory before that
many years before that. I must tell you later what he told me of a mackerel
trip he went on a big vessel down to the Labrador coast.
Now that bloody dory. My father was used to having good men with him all
his life. I can imagine what he would be thinking around home, when he
noticed by twin brother and I growing up, as he would be more or less
obligated to break us in in the dory. After all we were thirteen years
old, and couldn't lie around doing nothing all our lives. We were so very
excited to get started. We would be men then. Take it from me, you have
to be. It was the first of December we started. We had a small two dory
schooner, the NINA CLARE; a nice looking boat, built in Drumhead, but
she just about had the best out of her then. I was seasick for five years,
I would even be sick if I smelled my oilskins home in the house.
Some of the nights
that winter we would stay at home and others we would stay at Canso where
the fish market was twenty miles away. My father was always in a good
humor. When he turned out in the morning, in fact when he would get up
early to make the fire, the neighbors would hear the stove covers and
the doors banging. Oh what a mess he would have no patience at all. He
would have a nice pile of dry kindling wood then he would pour about a
pint of kerosene over it and when he lit it, he would have a good fire.
After he had things ready, he would call us boys, once, just an ordinary
call that we could hear quite well through two closed doors. You know
how good a minute in bed is after your wake, so my brother used to pick
a shoe up and let it drop on the floor to make a bit of commotion in the
room. About one minute after that my father would let out his extra special.
Did you ever wake up in a standing position?
We didn't laugh at our father in fact we never talked much to him either,
unless he was relaxed and wanted us to. A funny thing happened one morning.
We always had a rocking chair in our kitchen. One morning Pa came downstairs
to make the fire, carrying the oil lamp in one hand, and shielding the
light from his eyes with the other, opened the hall door and stepped on
the rocker of the old high back rocking chair. He was left holding the
base of the lamp in his hand. The words he used, I'll not say, but the
scriptures are full of them. Nobody laughed.
Shortly after that a neighbor of ours, old Joe, came to the door, he had
had a different experience that same morning. He wanted a match. Poor
Joe, at bedtime the night before he realized they had no matches in the
house. So they kept a lamp burning all night and when he was carrying
it down in the morning to light the fire he held it too close to his nose
and sneezed and blew it out. He and Pa ended up laughing but when Joe
left the good humor left and the gloom resumed. Pa had fried eggs and
made toast for breakfast. The toast or burnt bread was made in a wire
toaster over the open stove cover. We always had to keep the back door
open to let the smoke out. Pa always had his toast first.
After breakfast and by this time it was getting close to 4:00 am our day
would start. We would first go to the plant wharf where other fishermen
would be gathered. A happy lot. If we ever had had the blizzards and storms
that were predicted on that wharf there wouldn't even be any rocks left
After the trawls had been baited the night before, they would be put in
cold rooms or dead rooms in the icehouse that meant carrying them from
the bait shed, hoisting them up two floors and dropping them down through
A tub of baited trawl is not light. We would start by getting those trawls
out, carrying them to the wharf, loading them in dories, and rowing them
out to the boat anchored in the cove, pass them on deck, and put them
in the hole. After that we would hoist the sails, put the dories aboard,
slip the boat mooring, and
we were away, but not as it sounds. Normally the engine would be froze
up, the boat would need to be pumped and a fire made in the cuddy stove.
The cuddy was the living quarters of the schooner. It was small and shallow,
the only light came from the gangway, and that had to be dept partially
closed to keep in the heat and keep out the spray.
When you got on a schooner large enough that you could use a broom in
the cuddy without cutting the handle short, you were really on something.
Do not get the idea we sat around the fire because as soon as we got to
the fishing ground the dory's were launched and there we would be for
The old fellows would have the weather pretty well cased. If they said
it would be a nice day, you could pretty well depend on it, but of course
there were exceptions, quite a few exceptions. It seemed we would fish
the stormiest days and often stay in and lose some of the nicer days due
to poor prophecy.
When we would be away from home and live aboard in the winter, how terrible
it would be. No fisherman ever came out of a dory dry. When the day was
finished you would go below to a wet dank cuddy and make a fire. If the
stovepipe was to leeward of the foresail the up draft from the sail would
make a good draft, and your fire went good. But if you were on the other
tack and your stovepipe was to windward of the foresail you would get
smoked out. The swearing would be terrific with the smoke, and the cook
trying to keep his pots
upright on the stove. Considering our maker came from a fishing family,
I think he will forgive them for that.
After the fire was made awhile, the water would start to run through the
deck, as the ice on the deck above would have the seams opened up and
the heat would melt enough of it to make life more miserable. If you have
been in the cuddy of a fishing vessel, you would notice most of them have
little shoots or water troughs made of leather, tin, a piece of oil skins
or anything. These were tacked to the deck head to detour the water from
falling on their faces while in their bunks. Many many times I have got
out of my bunk to put on my oil skins to keep dry and turned in again.
There were lots of wild ducks down home. A neighbor of ours shot enough
ducks one winter that they saved enough feathers to fill twelve feather
beds, and twenty-four pillows.
Then came the thirty's, those were the days. We were selling fish for
forty cents a cut. Fish were scarce and the price of gear was very high,
so with fish low in price, we had to fish more gear, and work longer hours.
My brother and I built a new boat, of modern lines. A lovely boat, for
long living, forty-four feet she was. We were finished with day fishing
now. What luxury it was to haul trawl, with a boat like that under you.
In the cold days we would haul the trawl in the cuddy, with a fire going,
and stripped to your shirt, when the vapor was thick as fog. Pa was dead
then. I used to say to my brother, if Pa could see us hauling
trawl in this comfort, he would drown us. No money was made. We started
fishing in June that year, as soon as we had our lobster traps ashore,
and never had a cash settlement with the fish merchant until the middle
of October. We had fished very hard, would leave the harbour at two AM
and not get finished work some nights until eleven o'clock. Lots of nights
we never got turned in at all. In our settlement we had made seven dollars
each after paying for bait, gas and gut. We ate a lot of fish those years.
Boiled, fried and baked. Salt fresh and dried fish. We could always manage
to get potatoes.
In the time between the swordfish season and the haddocking season which
would be early fall, we used to go the PEI in the schooner and buy Island
produce to peddle along the shore, potatoes, turnips, vegetables, pork,
cheese, apples, etc.
There, farmers were no better off then we were. We could buy potatoes
at that time for 5 to 10 cents per bushel, pork 12 cents per pound. We
never ever made any money at that, even retailing the potatoes for 50
or 60 cents a bushel and practically no overhead cost. There would be
so many people without vegetables, and without money, and Pa would never
say no. Most people are like that in small places, always ready to help
the more unfortunate ones.
If the breadwinner of any household was off work or fishing through sickness
the neighbors always pitched in to help, even to share their meager lot
It seems the less
a person has, the more ready they are to share it. I guess when people
get wealthy they do not seem to realize, that others maybe in want. I
don't think it does anyone any harm to have a small taste of the bitter
side of life. I know when I see food wasted; it makes me very angry.
I remember hearing Pa talk about a mackerel slining trip he went on years
ago. When he was just a young man in a big vessel, the Captain's name
was Dix. Vessels at that time used to sign on a crew just for the trip.
There were about six or seven from around W. S. went in the vessel. Each
member of the crew had to take their own boat and nets. Pa's father, my
grandfather was a very careful man about his fishing gear and everything
else he had. He had a big fish store hanging with fishing gear of all
kinds, and he could go in there in the dark without a light, and get anything
he wanted, even the jog of rum he kept hidden in a barrel of cork. Oh
those were the days. Grandfather, like most of the older men at that time
wore a beard. How he would run his tongue around that gray beard which
was dark stained around his mouth from his pipe and his liquor. He was
a fine old man highly respected by everyone. Grandfather had a nice little
fishing boat, a western boat as they were called. Clinker built with a
centerboard, and three sails. Grandfather was quite proud of this boat
as she was a good little sailer, and his only fishing boat at that time.
He had had small vessels before that. Now Pa was counting on this boat
to take in the vessel on the mackerel's evening trip. Finally grandfather
broke down and let him
have the boat, and he was gone to the Labrador. Before my father ever
had a chance to use the boat, one of the men for the vessel borrowed the
boat to go for a sail, and ran her in the vessels side under a rapping
full, and stove her in foreword, ruined her. That was not the only incident
of the trip a few weeks later the vessel while at anchor dragged ashore
in a storm, and smashed up, the crew barely got away with their lives.
When I was just a little boy, I remember our next door neighbor John Phalen
coming to the house carrying an oil lantern when it was not yet dark,
to light him home after he had spent the evening with my father. They
would be reminiscing, and talking of old times of their adventures in
the fishing boats and vessels. Funny how people can get so much humour,
and hearty laughing from a life as hard as that was. They would both be
sitting wiping the tears from their faces, laughing about the things they
One of their favourite stories was the loss of Dix's vessel at Labrador.
Some got ashore in boats, some washed ashore, but none lost their lives.
They had a littler of puppies on the vessel, and the cook came ashore
sitting in the stern of a dory with a pup under each arm and stepped ashore
dry as a bone. Their trouble was just now beginning, even though they
were on dry land, as there was no habitation for miles. They walked through
bush and very rough terrain for four days and nights before they finally
saw a house light. When they knocked on the door a woman opened it; they
just bolted in the whole lot of them. Four of them bolted for the one
and only bed, and of course smashed it. After arriving
at the house a jug of rum was produced and recuperation was fast. The
captain arranged transportation home via St. John's, where four of them
strayed away from the others while on a drunk and missed the transportation.
My father was one of those. A whole lifetime of events hoped for them
getting home on their own.
Oh year, the kids now a days see good mysteries on television, while sitting
back in a nicely furnished living room, I mean false mysteries put on
by trained actors. Us kids used to sit on the floor in the kitchen motionless,
eyes bulging and not missing a word, with the interest and fascination
for those sea stories, told by the old timers. Oh the ghost stories that
used to be told, and the dramatics along with them. The kids used to be
so scared we would all go out together to the toilet out the back, and
have Mom to hold the kitchen door open for the dash back in before going
to bed. Of course once you got in bed it wouldn't be too lonesome, as
there were always four or five kids in each bed.
Yeah, the kids now a days have the run of the house which I suppose is
OK but I still think children should be restricted a bit so that as they
get older they can get added privileges and ______. Our parlor had the
door closed and the blind down most of the time. It was sacred to us kids.
Pa would take his select friends in there, and the door was closed. Pa
had men to come to the house occasionally until I was quite grown, but
I had never seen them. After we would come home from church on Sunday
evening, the whole family, nine of us would go
in the parlor, the baseburner would have a fire made in it, and Mom would
sit and play the piano and we would all sit still and sing hymns. Somehow
Pa always seemed to be feeling God when we would do this. I realize now
why he did. Often now when I hear those old hymns, it takes me back to
those days, and makes me very lonesome. When I get home now on visits,
I love to go to church, it makes me very lonesome, but it's the one place
that takes you back to those days, its hard to control the tears. When
I sit in that church, I can look around the empty pews, and see all those
people who have passed on since those days. I can even see the position
in which they sit, and the serious expression with which they would listen
to the sermon. Every person in the small place is so intimately known
by the other, their characteristics, personality and everything about
them. They're like any group of people, rascals when they are young but
reserved God fearing men and women when they are older.
I honestly believe that the majority of the human race is a cowardly lot.
They set their life on the course of least resistance, and get what they
can, regardless of the other fellow, and also regardless of the moral
value, myself included.
If a young person would live by the good book and put their vitality and