From dorisman to trawler, Maurice Kearley looks back on a life well lived at sea
Maurice Kearley was 16 when he first went fishing on the Grand Banks in 1944, a time often referred to as “the days of the ships of wood and the men of iron”.
For the next 36 years – until he retired to work on land at the age of 52 – he fished on vessels that went from wooden schooners to side-sided trawlers. steel, then to steel stern trawlers.
Every mode of fishing has always been dangerous, and Kearley, 93, can speak directly to short-lived escapes, distressing experiences and the loss of a close family member in the unpredictable North Atlantic.
He was born and spent his early years in Baie de L’Eau, a small community of just eight families deep in Fortune Bay. He started cod fishing with his father when he was eight, then lobster fishing with his brother Art at 12 when he made enough money to buy his first costume.
Kearley, after attending school for a few years – only until grade 4 – left home at age 13 for his first job, as a “water grabber” carrying drinking water for men. who laid cables across the island.
At 16, he enlisted as a dory, aboard the 12-dory schooner Tweedsmuir, owned by the Warehams of Harbor Buffett, with his father Thomas as a dory.
He spent nine years as a Dorisman on schooners going to the offshore banks, including seven years on the J. Petite and Sons ship Palitana, with Captain Victor Fiander of English Harbor West.
It was while fishing in English Harbor West that he met his future wife, Rita Hepditch; his family had moved there after a tidal wave devastated the Point Aux Gaul region of the Burin Peninsula in 1929. Married in 1950, the young couple moved to Fortune in 1953.
To say that the life of a dory aboard a banking schooner was rough would be an understatement. The 12-dory ships carried 24 fishermen, plus the captain, cook and engineer, all sleeping below deck in cramped quarters, often for weeks.
There was no toilet on board.
“We kept a wooden bucket on the deck, with a rope attached, for doing your stuff,” Kearley said, explaining that the rope was used to lower the bucket to the side to wash the bucket with salt water. .
Danger still lurked when they were away from the mothership in their little dory. There were times when the sharks would come to the surface, following the cod on the hook as the fishermen reached the side pulling their trawls.
“Sometimes the bloody sharks cut our lines,” Kearley said.
Its memory dates back to when a group of whales surfaced among their dories.
“There were so many big whales around that we had no choice but to haul all the dories back on the schooner,” he said – and he wasn’t sure he was staying there. “It was their rutting season.”
The most distressing experience he had on the Grand Banks was when the fog rolled in as he and his uncle, Newman Baker, were returning to their schooner just before dark.
“It was so thick that we missed her; so rather than keep moving forward and maybe venture further, we anchored our dory and stayed out all night.”
The next morning the fog was still thick and they still could not hear the horn of their schooner. They felt they had no choice but to weigh anchor, hoist the sail and head for land – but luckily after only about 15 minutes they ran to their schooner. emerging from the fog.
His last year as a dorisman on a schooner dates back to 1953 when he sailed the LADunton ‘from Grand Bank with Captain Arch Evans: “The Halibut and the Fresh Nova Scotia Landing”.
The late 1940s and early 1950s saw a major shift in deep-sea fishing with the construction of fresh fish filleting factories around the island, marking the end of schooner salt fishing and the arrival of side steel trawlers.
Many experienced schooner fishermen quickly received job offers for trawlers. Kearley joined the crew of Bonavista Cold Storage’s Blue Wave side trawler with Captain Freeman Hatch, fishing at Grand Bank. Although he continued to sail the Wave for over three years, it didn’t take long for him to worry about the dragger.
The MT Blue Wave and the MT Blue Mist were the first steel trawlers purchased by BCS; they came from the UK and were intended for North Sea fishing. Lying low in the water, they were likely to freeze when high winds lifted a heavy sea, sending tons of salt water crashing into trawlers at fishing grounds or as they made their way to and from their home port.
They weren’t good seagoing boats and even under normal weather conditions the Wave and Mist were known to have “slipped over” – completely to one side in the sea.
When this happens, the engine should be immediately stopped to allow the vessel to right itself. If you add a wild winter storm in the North Atlantic – coupled with a build-up of tons of ice – to the mix, it would prove disastrous.
Kearley wasn’t on the Blue Wave for very long before he experienced this frightening event.
“I was on top of her when she came out of the side of her beam, far enough that her rail was underwater,” he said. The event shook him.
“I started having bad dreams and something told me I had to get off this boat,” he said. Meanwhile, his brother, Art, had joined the Wave as a second engineer.
The fate of the blue wave
Maurice’s bad dreams kept recurring, so he finally decided to get off the ship. Eighteen months later, on February 9, 1959, the ice-laden trawler sank, carrying her crew of 16 to an aquatic grave – including Art.
Just seven years later, in 1966, the Blue Mist suffered a similar fate in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, taking with it the lives of 13 other men from the Burin Peninsula.
A raging, extremely cold winter storm with high winds – recorded as one of the worst storms in many years in the region – lasted from February 17 to 22 that year. Three other trawlers, including side trawler Booth Fisheries George Kentner ‘with Maurice Kearley as second, reported severe icing and had to detach their trawls from the deck.
Kearley said their trawler froze so much that before dawn, with its rail underwater, the entire crew were called onto the deck to “beat the ice”. After several hours, his face became so frozen that he spent over a week in the hospital after they returned to port.
For the remainder of his fishing days he was a crew with Captain Vern Myles – first on the stern trawler Sandra L. Gage, then on the stern trawler Nathan Cummings.
The introduction of the stern trawlers in the mid-1960s was a real game-changer for the men who had already equipped the small side trawlers in the 1940s and 1950s. These newer and larger vessels, specially designed to fish in our waters difficult areas of the North Atlantic, offered more comfort and safety to the men on board.
With the traditional side trawler, the net was hoisted over the side of the boat and, whatever the bad weather, the men on the deck had to handle the fish there. Cod should be gutted, while flatfish would be forked directly into the hold.
The design of the stern trawler changed that; now the fish net was winched onto the ramp at the back of the boat by conveyor belts and transported directly below to the factory deck, where it could then be handled with much more comfort, Kearley said : work in much warmer conditions. “
The now widowed Kearley – his wife died in 2010 – will be 94 in August. He always drives his car, lives alone in his house and stays active with his vegetable garden. He likes to talk about his days fishing on the offshore banks, but, he says, sometimes when he thinks about his days on the schooners and in the dories, he wonders, “How did we do that?” “