The introduction of stern trawlers to the Burin Peninsula deep-sea fishery in the 1960s was a real game changer. Bonavista Cold Storage Company of Grand Bank had the province’s first stern trawler, the Grand Monarch, built in 1963.
At the time BCS was also operating five other conventional side trawlers. In 1967 the company took delivery of the Grand Prince, the first of four larger stern trawler sister-ships, designed specifically to fish in challenging North Atlantic waters. These larger and newer vessels provided more comfort and safety.
With traditional side trawlers, the net was hauled in over the side of the boat and, no matter how bad the weather, the men on deck had to handle the fish there before it was put down in the fish hold.
In the words of veteran retired trawler-man, Allan Tapper, “flatfish would be forked down whereas the cod would often have to be gutted on deck before it could be put down; the man in the hold would ice it and put it in the different pens depending on the species.”
This changed how the fish was handled. The catch would be hauled up the ramp on the stern of the boat by means of a winch and would go directly down below in the vessel to the factory deck by means of conveyor belts where it would be handled by the crew, “in much more comfort; out of the wind and cold and working in much warmer conditions”, Tapper explained.
Working onboard was still no picnic. Ice could still build up on these vessels during the stormy winter voyages and the command to go out on deck and ‘beat ice” would still be issued.
For 30 years, William “Bill” Dolimount of Grand Bank went to sea; first as a deck-hand on side trawlers and then as a deck-hand on stern trawlers.
his younger years he worked on the cutting line in the BCS plant; he was there when the ill-fated “Blue Wave” was lost along with her 16-man crew in 1959. However, when he got to go out as a crew member on a fishing trawler and earn more money than working onshore, he jumped at the chance.
His first experience as a deck-hand was on the “Red Diamond” with Captain Max Kearley. Then he signed on to join the crew of the “Blue Mist,” a similar designed and size ship as the “Blue Wave.” Under the command of 29-year-old Captain Stuart Price of Grand Bank, the “Mist” had, in 1965, the second largest catch among the nine vessels in the BCS fleet. Captain Price was considered by his employers as an extremely capable master.
Bill Dolimount spent 18 months as a deck-hand on the “Blue Mist” before the vessel was lost Feb. 18, 1966. He “saw some bad days on her”, he said; “twice she heaved out when I was on her; including one time when we had a full load of fish onboard but luckily the weather was not bad.”
Men manning the trawlers spent very little time at home with their families, only in port for a few days. A crew member would take a trip or two off. Dolimount luckily decided to stay home during that fateful February voyage of the “Mist” in 1966.
“There was no specific reason I decided to take that trip off”, he said, “and if the ‘Mist hadn’t been lost I would have went back on her for the next trip.”
Within a few weeks he was back at sea again, this time on the stern trawler “Grand Monarch.” A year later he joined the larger, newer stern trawler “Grand Knight,” where he continued as a deck-hand for 26 years; thirteen years skippered by Captain Freeman Hatch and the last 13 years under the command of Captain Russ Hillier.
Veteran skipper Alister Stone, now 87 years old, spent five years as bosun, (second mate), on the “Blue Mist.”
“We saw some rough times and I was on her when she went over on her beam’s end. We had to stop the engine and let her come back,” he said. “That time some of the men said we won’t be going back on her but they did. Jobs were hard to come by then; job to get a job.”
Dolimount’s wife, Velma, likely echoes the feelings of all trawler fishermen’s wives.
“It was really tough at times, rearing our four children alone and worrying about Bill and the other men at sea. I had much more of an easy mind when Bill went on the ‘Grand Knight’.”
Captain Russ Herridge, now retired at Grand Bank, spent 40 years on trawlers, both sides and sterns. He also says that back in the early days “jobs were hard to come by and you did what you had to do.”
A few days after the “Blue Mist” and her crew were lost, Captain Herridge in the “Fortune Star” sailed to the Gulf of St. Lawrence carrying remembrance wreaths to the spot where the vessel was last heard from. Just seven years earlier the “Blue Mist” had left port on a similar sad voyage carrying wreaths to the area where Captain Charlie Walters of the “Blue Wave” had last radioed from.
It is worthy of note that Dolimount and Captain Herridge, both of whom retired at age 58, would have preferred not to retire at such a young age, but with the companies cutting back and the cod-moratorium looming the days of the large fleets of traditional wet-fish trawlers were rapidly coming to an end.
Allan Stoodley lives in Grand Bank, NL. He welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.