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"LEARNING THE ROPES."
soon learn the ropes," reached my ears as I picked myself up, and took my place. Appetite I had none, although there was plenty to eat, and everything was good. After supper I turned in, and soon fell into a troubled sleep, interspersed with dreams, of which shipwrecks in every variety formed the staple article, and I awoke in the morning, anything but enchanted with a sailor's life. All that day I could see the crew watching me, looking for the first symptoms of sea-sickness, and ready, no doubt, to minister (in their way) to my wants. I was fortunate, however, in escaping an attack, although for three days I felt listless, weak, and chilly, and had not a particle of appetite. In the meanwhile all hands were arranging the watch, setting up the slack of the rigging, slushing the masts, overhauling their clothes, and gradually shaking themselves down into their new quarters.
On the following Saturday we chored at Sleep Creek in the Gut of Canso, where we remained until Monday, taking in fresh water, catching lobsters, wandering about the country, and feasting on strawberries, which grow luxuriantly in that part of Nova Scotia, and are much larger and of finer flavor than the wild strawberries with us. The skipper and I visited the crew of a schooner, on her way home with a full fare of fish. They said, mackerel were plenty, but small, that they had
been only three weeks filling up, and that we would find a number of Gloucester vessels in the Bay.
On Monday we got under weigh, and soon after the skipper called us aft, and divided the lines, hooks, lead, and pewter. The lines are linen, white or blue, and about the size of heavy trout-lines. The fishing-berths were then marked off, and all hands drew lots for the choice of stations, with the exception of the cook, skipper, and the green hand (myself), whose places are the same on all vessels, that is, the cook has the forward berth, just aft the fore-rigging, the skipper the middle berth, just forward of the main-rigging, and the green hand the after-berth, being aft of all the rest, and reaching from his neighbor to the stern, very commodious, and, I found on trial, very appropriate, as in any other position I should have entangled the lines of the crew continually. In catching mackerel, all hands fish on the right or starboard side, the vessel laying to under foresail and mainsail, and drifting bodily to leeward, bait being thrown continually, which keeps the fish near the vessel.
And now I obtained my first insight into the mysteries of the business. I lay on the deck in the sun, smoking, and watching the proceedings of the crew with intense interest. The first thing was to fit out their several berths with cleets, for coiling their lines on, which was soon done. Next came the casting of the jigs, and for this purpose an iron mould is used, in which the hook is firmly set, leaving about one-third of the shank with the point projecting below the mould. The lead and pewter are then melted together and poured in, and when each one has cast all the jigs he wants, the mould is passed to the next -and in about three hours, all hands were seated around the deck, with files, rasps, sand-paper, and dog-fish skin, shaping, scraping, smoothing, and polishing the jigs, each one according to his fancy. I had made an attempt to run a jig, and succeeded in melting the material, and pouring some of it into my shoe, some on the floor, and a trifle into the mould. Seeing my awkwardness, "Tom" (my especial chum), and "Procter," who took a fatherly interest in my welfare, told me to "belay all that, and they would rig me out, as soon as they had finished their own." The next day, as I chanced to look along the
cleets, I found my own berth fully fitted out, lines, snappers, jigs, and all, in readiness for immediate use, and, on closer inspection, I found that my friends had bestowed far more attention on my tackle than on their own, and, in fact, that my establishment was more complete than any other on board.
As the crew were now prepared for business, and we were very near the fishing-grounds, the skipper announced the hours for meals, etc., as follows, breakfast at four, A. M. (unless the fish are biting, in that case as soon thereafter as they stop biting); dinner at 11, A. M. (with the same exception); tea at 4, P. M. (with the same exception); and supper any time from 8, P. M., until next morning (no exception to this, as mackerel do not bite after sun-down); and no cardplaying (except when the anchor is down).
On Wednesday, the 15th of July, about four o'clock in the morning, I was sleeping soundly, when the cry, heard by me for the first time in my life," All hands ahoy! Mackerel, here they gnaw!" awoke me with a start. I raised my head suddenly, struck the plank above, and dropped back to think it over; in the meanwhile every one had rushed on deck, and by the time I got there, the fish were flipping lively in the strike barrels, one of which is placed to the right and a little behind each fisherman. Mechanically I threw out my lines, thought I felt a bite, and drew in the lines of my next neighbor, cleared them, and tried again. Soon a large mackerel took hold, the jerk I gave caused the line to cut my fingers to the bone, besides tearing the hook out of the fish. Again and again I pulled, and jerked, and hauled, but all to no purpose. I could feel for a moment the weight of the fish, but straightway he was gone. Looking over the side, I could see the animals with their round big eyes, turned up towards me, and their mouths open, apparently on a broad grin. I glanced into my neighbor's barrel, it was half full. I was in despair-soon the flipping ceased, not a bite, fish all gone. The boys came and looked into my barrel, laughed a little, said I must not be discouraged, next "spurt" they would show me how.
About ten o'clock some one sung out: Skipper, school of mackerel on our lee bow, about a mile off." We looked, and sure enough there was a ripple on
PULLING A NEIGHBOR'S LINE.
the water, easily distinguishable from the cats-paws made by the puffs of wind. The skipper took the helm, one of the men ran out on the jib-boom with his hands full of bait, another climbed into the boat on the davits, provided in the same way, and a third took his place at the bait-box amidships; the rest of us stood by the main and fore-sheets, boom-tackle, and jibhalliards and down-haul. "Tack ship" -round she came on her keel-"hook on boom-tackle, ease off main-sheet, down jib, let go fore-sheet," and in three minutes the schooner was stationary, with the water on her starboard side alive with fish. Then came the rush to the side, and the quick plump, plump, of the jigs, and the flip, flip, flip, of the mackerel into the barrels. "Tom" left his lines and came to me. Says he, "when you get a bite, haul in quick but steady, so-the first jerk will tear out the upper jaw, and you lose your fish-when you get him within three feet of the side, reach down your right hand along the line to within six inches of his nose, so-then raise him quick, and with a jerk snap him into the barrel--that will tear his jaw off, and the jig will naturally fly forward
into the water, then go through the same operation with the other line." Tom caught half a dozen fish while giving his instructions, and then left me to shift for myself. For some time I could not get the "hang" of it, and I remember, the first mackerel I got safely over the side, I took hold of with one hand, and with the other took out the hook. I did not try it again, however, as the laugh that followed my first manœuvre satisfied me that that wasn't the right way, no how.
When the fish had ceased biting, we divided into four gangs for dressing and salting. These operations are thus performed: All hands put on their oilclothes (except the skipper, who takes the helm, and whose fish are dressed by the gang nearest his berth), then the splitter, taking a mackerel in his left hand and laying it on a board, with the head from him and back out, draws a flat, sharp knife down from the head to the tail, close to the back-bone, then, with a turn of the wrist, he throws the fish into the gib-tub, a large wooden box, about three feet square, and six inches deep, on opposite sides of which stand the two gibbers. They take out the entrails-which is done by holding the fish in the left hand, and with the thumb of the right loosening the gills on each side, the whole of the gibs are
then extracted with one turn of the hand, and the fish are thrown into a barrel of water to soak: there they remain for an hour or so, when they are salted and put into other barrels: as soon as these are full they are headed up, marked with the owner's name, or in some other way, to distinguish them, and stowed away below.
The quickness and dexterity with which a "catch" of fish is dressed and salted, would surprise any one who looked upon the operation for the first time. It was my business to pass up the fish to the splitter, and after they were dressed, to the salter, and although I worked as hard as I could, I found it impossible to keep them busy all the time. Two good hands can gib as fast as one can split, and there is great strife always among the gangs to see who shall be through first, especially with the last or sun-down "spurt,' 19 as supper is the only meal at which all the crew assemble in the forecastle-and, accommodations being rather scanty for twelve men, it is easily understood that "first come is first (and best) served." When all the fish are dressed and salted, the decks are washed down and swabbed, the barrels properly stowed so as to be out of the way, and we are ready to try them again. I may remark here, that were it not for water
being so plenty, and so easily available, fishing would be dirty work; and even as it is, there are some kinds of business that are more cleanly.
There are few things more exciting than catching mackerel where the fish are biting fast. Every one moving his hands and arms as if his life depended upon his exerting himself to the utmost, the constant flip, flip, of the fish, as they fly from the water into the strikebarrels, and the short, quick, impatient cries- keep lines clear," "whose lines these in my berth?" "there's a bloater" (extra large fish), more bait here, skipper"-with now and then a strong expletive, indicating the breaking of a jig, or the parting of a line. The whole attention is absorbed in the business, and I have stood for nearly an hour, without stirring my feet or changing my position in the least; for any movement, or shifting of feet or body, will almost certainly embarrass the proceedings of our next neighbor, whose lines, while barreling in his fish. lie on the deck close to our heels. But now the bites are less frequent, only at long intervals a tinker (small mackerel) comes over the side, and every one draws a long breath, gets a leg_over the rail, and sits down to rest. Then come the jokes and "sells," and loud and hearty laughter takes the place of the quiet that a moment before reigned supreme. Soon. however, we hear the
cook, away forward, sing out: "Here they are again, boys," and in an instant the dangling legs are all drawn in, every face resumes its gravity, the laugh and jest are hushed, and the business of the day is resumed. Sometimes the orew will stand at the rail for four hours, the fish biting fast and then leaving, at intervals, until perhaps our second strikebarrel is full, and the skipper says"Haul in, boys, guess we'll dress-(not ourselves but the catch).
But we did not fish every day we were in the Bay, by any means. About the 7th of August, and when we had taken about half our fare, say 150 bbls., a succession of easterly winds with heavy fogs came on, and for three weeks we did not take a fish. We were in harbor frequently, and enjoyed ourselves hugely, in the various ways peculiar to sailors and fishermen the world over. We cruised along the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada coasts, and up into St. Lawrence river, but all to no purpose; we could see plenty of fish, but they would not bite. We spoke with the skippers of some forty fishing-vessels, and the invariable answer to our hail of "Got any fish lately?" was "No; plenty all over the Bay, but they won't eat." Occasionally some schooner, distant perhaps half a mile, and heading on the same course with ourselves, would show signs of preparation for a race. First the
generally successful, after an hour or two, in leaving our friend away off to leeward.
At last, about the 27th of August, toward sundown, we raised a "school." They took hold voraciously. In less than two hours we had twenty strike-barrels, and it was really refreshing, after so long a spell of idleness, to have something to do. We worked slowly down to the North Cape of Prince Edward's Island, where we found about forty sail, mostly Gloucester vessels, and mackerel plenty and hungry. The weather all the time
was delightful, though somewhat cold, with an occasional breeze from the northwest. We filled up rapidly, when our skipper, one morning, as we were working into a school, sung out: "We'll turn her nose towards home to-morrow night, boys, if we have anything like luck till then." During that day we took eighteen barrels, and the next morning about seven o'clock, the other vessels being all close in shore, we saw, about three miles off, the largest school of fish that had been met with in those waters for five seasons. The sea was
fairly alive with them, acre upon acre Swimming round and round, seemingly without any fixed purpose or destination. The rest of the fleet saw our manoeuvres, and by the time we had worked into the school they were all after us, every sail set and coming down in a body. Strike-barrels were becoming scarce, and by unanimous consent we closed up the hawse-holes on the lee side, and struck off the fish on deck in one indiscriminate heap. And such fishing! I had supposed, on former occasions, that I had seen fast biting and fast fishing: but I soon found my mistake. The fish seemed perfectly ravenous. We shortened our lines to about eight feet, and for three hours the sport was kept up. But I am wrong; it was only sport for half an hour; the rest of the time it was work, and hard work, too. The jig could scarcely touch the water before the fish would seize it, and it was almost impossible to attend to two lines,
As we were coiling up our lines and straightening our backs after our exertions, we looked around and saw the rest of the fleet lying to on all sides of us, none of them more than a mile distant, and the crews of every one working away for dear life. It was a very curious sight to see the quick and constant movement of so many hands and arms (we were so far off that the lines were invisible), and it seemed as though every man was gesticulating with frantic vehemence, ever and anon pointing to the water before him. Over eight hundred barrels were taken that day, by the fleet, out of that one school.
When we turned to, to dress this last catch, we found, and greatly to my surprise, that they were a totally different