Schooner Days No. CMLXII
by C. H. J. Snider
The Big Fisherman's
Many a happy hour have I spent and many a good meal have I had in the forecastle of the great champion fishing schooner Blue Nose. The fisherman was of almost exactly the same overall length as our full canal sized lake schooners, being 143 feet, and of the same beam, 26 feet maximum, but her shape was so different, like the requirements of her service, that there was no likeness at all in the forecastles.
Lake schooners' forecastles were shaped much like shallow wells split in two. Sides were formed by the round of the bows, and our bows were usually pretty bluff. The backwall was a bulkhead going straight across the vessel, forward of the foremast. As the foremast was pretty well forward itself this bulkhead was well up front as the hoosiers say. The forecastle floor was a platform built across the forward end of the hold above the vessel's bottom. This floor was seven or eight feet below the deck, and four or five feet above the keel.
Bluenose's was as deep as the lakers', but like a wedge of pie instead of half a fruit cake for she was sharp, with a long overhang. the bulkhead was well abaft the foremast, and the foot of the latter was beautifully scraped and varnished and quite decorative.
Aft of the foremast, in the widest part of the forecastle, was the galley or ship's kitchen. the lakers' galley was aft in the cabin, Bluenose was a full sized salt banker, with a working crew of 22 men, and he galley was in proportion. There was a long low coal range with an iron-railed top and I don't know how many stove lids, but always two great kettles of tea and coffee hot on it, and a large oven below. There was a zinc-covered work table shining like silver, ample dish lockers, pot lockers, provision lockers, and a big sink with hot and cold running water. Two dozen mugs hung on hooks, read for a mug-up at any time, and the white capped cook or "doctor" was always there to hand them out, with a slab of pie or a round piece of hard bread which you call a sea-biscuit. Yet believe me, that man always had time for a half-hour nap in the first dog-watch if he wanted it, before getting ready for tea.
Meals of anything from fish chowder to roast turkey, with fresh vegetables and sauerkraut, hot biscuits, fresh baked bread, sponge cake and cranberry pie were on tap three times a day and a cold one at midnight, with snacks as required in between. We are not talking of Bluenose's barnstorming here on the lakes, nor in England, but when she was an honest-to-God fisherman and racing champion on salt water. Fishing crews worked hard and lived well, and the cook might be the best paid man in the ship, better than the master sometimes, for all but he, including the cookee, were on "lays" or shares, and sometimes the lays were so thin you couldn't used them for cigarette paper - yet, one season Bluenose paid a 15 percent dividend to her shareholders.
The whole crew ate at two sides of a twelve-foot table forward of the foremast, like a banqueting table, only it had fiddles at the edges, not to play on, but to keep the plate from landing in your lap every time the Bluenose came about on another tack. This table was always covered with a woolen cloth of gaily striped material, red predominating, which didn't show coffee stains or spilled ketchup. It was washed frequently, if not for every meal. Everything was meticulously clean.
On each side of the table, and fairly close to it where the wedge of the forecastle narrowed, were ranged the bunk shelves, with high rolling-boards and bright cretonne curtains on rings. The shelves were double-banked and long enough to hold a man and his belongings comfortably. The curtains gave complete privacy. Twenty men could sleep in this forecastle and six more aft in the cabin. The forecastle was paneled, painted and varnished, and well lighted from the deck overhead, both by the scuttle and set-in plates of heavy glass. Below it had oil lamps, and plenty of them. And they, too, were kept clean.
All this, to me, sailor luxury, was thirty years ago, when Bluenose was still a working girl, below she was fitted up with staterooms in the hold to take passengers to the King's jubilee at Portsmouth, and before they spoiled her with engines.