Portrait of a Boston schooner with Gloucester owners, legal travails, competition, and excerpts from an eventful timeline replete with adrift dories, rescues and collisions.
“Yes,” said Capt. Tom McLaughlin of the fishing schooner Sara H. Prior. “We are home for Christmas, but it was a case of swimming at first and crawling at the tail end of the passage.”
“Your vessel seems to be pretty well torn up, captain?”
“Oh, nothing unusual for her: why, she has a record second to none: in fact, if other craft passed through one-quarter of her trials their names would be ribs by this time. You see it is just like this. The Prior, or the Horse, as the crew call her, was launched on a breezy day about seven years ago, and I am sure she has escaped all the calms that have come since then and experienced all the bad weather.”
On our first trip we came very near shortening her spars, for it blew a stiff breeze from the northwest. When we sailed on our first fishing trip we went to Brown’s Bank, near Nova Scotia. There we got caught in a gale and had to run for Shelburne. It turned out a bad night. Snow and sleet prevented us from seeing the land, and after getting in on shore soundings we were forced to haul off and face the gale. That night our headsails, which were brand new blew out of the ropes, so we set a double reefed main and foresail with strong hopes that she would work off a lee shore.
“Talk about a vessel going windward; why,
She Almost Talked,
and it was then and there that she got the name that she still bears, and it means much to a great vessel under any canvas.
“Well, we got out of that scrape all right, went into Shelburn, repaired sails and came home with a good trip. Georges time came about as usual, and about Feb. 20 fish struck solid. ‘Twas then we showed the Cape Anners what the Prior was built for, and we thought nothing of beating them 20 hours on the homeward passage. During the first six months the repairs on the vessel cost $2500, yet we paid 33 per cent on first cost, clear of bills. Oh, those were good times.”
“Is your vessel a good sailor?”
“Well, she has never been beaten yet when there was any wind. Of course, I don’t expect to sail as fast as moderate weather as some of the new flyers, but give me wind and new duck and old Sarah will hold her own.
“Well, we have outsailed so many that I almost forget the names and times. Yet there are one or two instances which I will relate. You see the Gloucester owners and skippers used to blow about beating the Boston schooners, and for years we had no peace when we happened to meet ashore. Well, I concluded to go salt fishing one spring, and after a quick and good catch on the Western Banks we took the first of a northeaster for the homeward run. The next morning two sails were reported dead ahead, and at that time we had all lower sails set, forcing the old girl along at her best.
“Two hours later we were close enough to make them out as fresh halibut catchers from the Grand banks; their names I believed were M.A. Boston and G. Whitten. When we got close to them they were shortening sail, and one of them let go an anchor, preferring to ride the gale out than scud before it. Shortly afterwards the other vessel hove to under a single reefed foresail.
We went Along at a Lively Clip
under our lower sails, well knowing that the chances were good to slat them to pieces should we stop to reef, for they were played out at the time. However, we ran the gale out and made the quickest passage ever sailed from the Western banks to Boston light.
“That sent the Prior stock away up in Gloucester, for when they arrived, three days later, both crews seemed satisfied that our vessel was a pocket edition of the notorious Flying Dutchman.”
“What speed has your vessel attained?”
“Fourteen knots an hour for six hours; after that the rough sea brought us down to 12.”
“Ever been dismasted?”
“Yes,” said the skipper with a laugh, “too often to suit the owners. There was one time we were coming up around Cape Cod with a smoky southwester and by the breaking of a small shackle iron under the nose of the flying jibboom the whole business came down quicker than you could fire a gun. First went the jibboom, followed by enough of the fore and maintopmasts, followed by enough of the foremast to build a respectable sized raft; in fact she was as much of a wreck as though Wiggins had given special orders for a cyclone to hit us.”
“And how about this trip?”
“It was a nasty one, friend; winter weather outside while ashore you have had it very good.”
Plenty of Snow, Sleet and Rain
with us all the time. We tried Georges banks this time and found fish pretty scarce, not over 20,000 for two days’ fishing.”
“We left there Sunday with a strong southerly wind, which carried us 60 miles. Then it came northwest, and blew very hard. Our barometer indicated bad weather, and the sudden changes it made in a short space of time showed me that we were in the vicinity of heavy gales. I suppose those steamers that arrived in port lately must have caught it pretty rough for they were further eastward.
“Canvas could not stand the heavy northwester that struck us, and after wagging duck for a couple of hours the old Sarah looked like a second-class junk shop, so we took in the rags and weathered the gale the best we could.
“Next morning we repaired sails and stood to the westward and with the assistance of favorable winds we got here, but I don’t know where the other vessels went.
“They couldn’t suffer any canvas, and of course went adrift somewhere; probably we will meet them coming home when we are outward bound.
“But I forgot to tell you how this old girl showed her heels to a Canadian cruiser. We were seining a year ago last summer, and as mackerel were scarce on this course I thought we ought to try the Nova Scotia shore. One day the lookout sighted a school of fish between our vessel and the shore, and we squared away in hot haste, lest the prize escape. When we were close by I knew they were large fish, and the way the boys hopped into our boat and set that seine, did me good: they were around the fish in a jiffy and began to purse up. I kept a sharp look out for cutters and lucky I did for away in the close to the land what should I see but one of them sailing out toward us. I called to the boys to whoop her up, and they did, I sailed the vessel up to them and we took from the seine 40 barrels of beauties.
“There was a good breeze blowing at the time and the cutter was only a mile away coming along
With a Bone in Her teeth,
crowded with sail. As he might say we were inside the three-mile limit, I concluded to give him a run before a capture, so we let go the seine and squared away, setting our kites at the same time.
‘Twas then the Prior showed the speed that she was designed to have, and the stern chase was witnessed by many a captain and crew who knew us. For the first hour there was no gain by either vessel. After that we altered our trim with barrels of water, then we gradually drew away, not very fast, but just fast enough to keep out of gunshot. By nightfall he was well astern, yet in the chase. After dark we tacked and stood in shore with the hopes of finding our seine. But it was not our luck, for a coaster had run afoul of it and taken it to Halifax. The case is in court now, and we hope to recover damages.”The Horse’s Heels. She Delights to Show Them to Other Vessels—Stormy Record of Fishing Schooner Sarah H. Prior, Boston Globe, Dec. 26, 1889. (author could be Tom Herbert)
The sch. Sarah H. Prior had placed 3rd in the 1886 Fishermen’s Race in Gloucester.
Affidavit of the captain and crew of the schooner Sarah H. Prior.
On this 28th day of December, A. D. 1886, personally appeared before me Captain Thomas McLaughlin, master, and George F. Little and Charles Finnegan, two of the crow of the schooner Sarah H. Prior, of Boston, and being duly sworn, signed and made oath to the following statement of facts:
On September 10, 1886, the schooner Sarah H. Prior, while running for Malpeque, Prince Edward Island, and about seven miles from that port, lost her large seine. [Page 502]Four days afterwardsthe schooner John Ingalls, of Halifax, N. S., Captain Wolfe, came into Malpeque and had the seine on board, which she had picked np at sea, Captain Wolfe offered to deliver the seine to Captain McLaughlin in consideration of twenty-five dollars, which offer the latter accepted and paid him the money. The Canadian revenue cutter Critic, Captain McLearn, was lying at Malpeque at the time, and Captain McLaughlin went to see him, to ascertain if there would be any trouble in delivering the seine. Captain McLearn would not allow the captain of the John Ingalls to give up the seine, so the latter returned the twenty-five dollars to Captain McLaughlin.
The schooner Sarah H. Prior had two seines, one large and one small size. It was the large one which she lost and the schooner John Ingalls picked up. She had to leave Malpeque without it, and consequently came home with a broken voyage and in debt.
George F. Little.
Suffolk, ss: Boston,
December 28, 1886.
Mr. Prior to Mr. Bayard.
Boston, December 28, 1886.
Dear Sir: I wrote to Senator W. P. Frye, setting forth in my letter the facts contained in the affidavit inclosed. He wrote me to have it sworn to and to send it to you, which I have done. Will you please let me know what course is best to pursue in regard to it, whether to enter a claim or not? I think it is a clear, strong case, and the claim would be a just one, and will be pleased to receive your advice in the matter.
Yours, very truly,
P. H. Prior.
The 1889 account in the Globe records a continued legal state of limbo. Tangle over seine was brought forward as a federal case vs. Great Britain (Canada) three years prior. The lawsuit is featured here digitized through the US Gov. Office of the historian
Department of State
PAPERS RELATING TO THE FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, FOR THE YEAR 1887, TRANSMITTED TO CONGRESS, WITH A MESSAGE OF THE PRESIDENT, JUNE 26, 1888
Mr. Bayard to Sir L. S. Sackville West.
Department of State,
Washington, January 27, 1887.
Sir: I have the honor to inclose a copy of an affidavit of the captain and two members of the crew of the schooner Sarah H. Prior, of Boston, stating the refusal of the captain of the Canadian revenue cutter Critic to permit the restoration to the former vessel, in the port of Malpeque, Prince Edward Island, of her large seine, which she had lost at sea, and-which had been found by the captain of a Canadian vessel, who offered to return the seine to the Prior, but was prevented from doing so by the captain of the Critic.
This act of prevention, the reason for which is not disclosed, practically disabled the Prior, and she was compelled to return home without having completed her voyage, and in debt.
I have the honor to ask that Her Majesty’s Government cause investigation of this case to be made.
I have, etc.,
T. F. Bayard.
The Fisheries Treaty: Speech of George F. Hoar of Massachusetts, in the United States Senate, Tuesday, July 10, 1888 (sch. Prior seeking reimbursement of seine boat)
Sarah H. Prior, reported lost, returned yesterday to port.Local Lines. Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922); Boston, Mass. [Boston, Mass]14 Jan 1890: 2.
Winslow Homer dating 1885 and 1886 collections Art Inst. Chicago, MFA and private collection (Gates)
1895 two fishermen LOST
The fishing schooner Sarah H. Prior of Boston, Capt. Frank Raymond, arrived at T Wharf yesterday afternoon from Western banks with a fare of 30,000 pounds of mixed fish. Her colors were flying at half mast for the straying away from the vessel of a dory containing Manueal Zumeira and Manuel Palheiro. They were lost last Monday on the fishing grounds during a dense fog. The eight other dories which had started out managed to reach the vessel. The lost fishermen have probably been picked up by another vessel, and Capt. Raymond thinks they will be heard from shortly.Lost Two of her Crew: Schooner Sarah H. Prior in Port with colors at half-mast, Boston Globe May 20, 1895
They make it! Follow up story published ten days later:
Provincetown, May 28—The missing men of the schooner Sarah H. Prior’s crew are safe, having arrived here last night on a fishing craft from Boston. These men, Manuel Souza Palha and Manuel Souza Shuma, went adrift in the fog Monday, May 13, while fishing on the Western banks during a heavy fog. Neither of the men can converse freely in the English tongue.
Their sufferings were great and they met with at least on inhuman skipper, while lost in the dory. Shuma, the spokesman, related the following:
“On Monday we went from the Prior to draw our trawls, and rowed a course that should have taken us to our outer buoy or end farthest from the vessel. A thick fog shut down soon after we left the craft’s side, and this caused us to miss the buoy.
“After awhile, finding that we had missed our way, we turned and rowed back on what we thought to be our track, and after a long pull came across one of our dories, the men in which were pulling trawl. This dory, by the way, was the other dory lost from the Prior that day, which was picked up one or two days later.
“We hailed the men, asking the direction of the Prior, and they pointed to leeward. As they had left the craft after us, we supposed they were right and pulled that way. They had given us a course directly opposite to the right one. After a long pull we found that we were lost.
“We were without anchor, sail, compass, food or water, the fog was very thick, the sea was rough, and we did not know in what direction to row, but trusting to luck, pulled here and there, hoping to strike some vessel. After a pull of four hours, we desisted and tried to devise some plan that would help to bring us out safely.
“Night shut down and we drifted about in a heavy sea without sighting anything, and so on through the days and nights that followed. We became hungry and thirsty, but there was nothing with which we could allay our pangs.
“Finally, we managed to gather a quantity of floating seaweed and devoured it, but it increased the thirst that now drove us wild.
“The fog still held thick, but we had rowed on steadily while we could, hoping to make land ere we perished, but as we could not determine accurately the course to steer we made sad mistakes.
“A little later the fog lifted a trifle, giving us a glimpse of a craft getting under way not far off. Toward this craft, we pulled as hard as we could, but, although we knew her men saw us, the vessel kept off, ran away and left us.
“Then we felt as if God and man had deserted us, but, weakened as we were, we pulled on, hoping to have better luck. Then followed a third night of suffering, with fog as dense as ever and heavy winds and sea. ON the following day we fell in with the British coaster Sophia, bound from cape Niger to St. John, NB, and got on board. Her crew treated us kindly and the craft landed us at St. John nine days later, on May 23.
“We had been adrift three days and nights, and had pulled and drifted from the Western banks to the western edge of the Lahave bank. At St. John the American consul cared for us and sent us on to Boston by train.
“We could not read, so could not tell the name of the vessel that refused to save us. I have seen the man who replied to my request several times in Boston and Provincetown. When in the latter place he was on a vessel in after bait. The vessel, however, did not look like an American craft. We judged her to be a Nova Scotian fisherman, but we don’t know.”
These men had been given up as lost by people here, and their arrival was a surprise to all.Bitter Experiences of Two Men Lost in Fog. Drifted About for Three Days Without Food or Water. Long Ago Given Up for Lost by Their Friends in Provincetown. Boston Globe, May 29, 1895
Provincetown, June 14- Schooner Nellie G. Adams and Sarah H. Prior were in collision off Long Point early this morning during a dense fog and heavy southerly wind. As a result the Prior is minus all headgear, and the Adams will require a new cathead and anchor stock. The Adams’ loss will not exceed $50, but the sum required to repair the Prior’s damages will amount to considerable.
These vessels were from Boston, bound into Provincetown harbor.
The violence of the collision is demonstrated by the anchor stock broken on the bow of the Adams which was of iron, and which received the full force of the blow. Had the blow fallen a foot or two farther aft the Prior would likely have crashed into the Adams’ forecastle killing the sleeping men and sinking the schooner offhand.COLLISION OFF LONG POINT: Schooners Nellie G. Adams and Sarah H. Prior Came Together, Boston Globe June 15 1899
Another day – Another crash
A collision occurred in the harbor early yesterday morning between the fishing schooners Joseph Warren and the Sarah H. Prior, resulting in considerable damage to the latter vessel.
Both were returning from the fishing grounds, and their skippers were anxious to reach T Wharf quickly. The Warren attempted to cross the Prior’s bow, but the distance was misjudged, and the vessels came together.
The Prior’s bowspirit and most of her forerigging were carried away, and she sustained other slight damage, while the Warren escaped injury. The Warren left the pier in the afternoon after disposing of her fare. The damaged vessel will have to undergo repairs before she can make another trip.WATER FRONT ITEMS: Schooners Warren and Prior Come in Collision –Latter Considerably Damaged by the Accident in the Harbor, Boston Globe, April 27, 1900
New York, Feb. 16 – The Allan line steamer Sardinian, which arrived today from Glasgow, reports that Feb 14 at 2pm in lat 40, long 68, a fishing schooner, the Sarah H. Prior of Boston, was sighted flying distress signals.
The Prior had been blown off shore in a northwest hurricane and had been since beating against the constant northwest gales. Some fish had been caught, but they rotted in the hold. The crew had suffered considerable privation from hunger and cold, having run short of provisions and coal. The Sardinian supplied their wants and proceeded. The schooner’s captain reported all well on board and that he would bear up for his home port.SHORT OF PROVISIONS: Boston Fishing Schooner Sarah H. Prior Spoken at Sea by the Allan Liner Sardinian Boston Globe February 17, 1901