Thursday, March 28, 2019

Quarry Scrolls set to Music

The public is invited to
"Synesthesia and the Fusion of the Arts"

Friday, April 12, 7:30 pm
2 Masconomo Street, Manchester
RSVP required (978) 526-1443 or

Admission is free, seating limited to 60
This is a fund-raising event for the Gloucester Writers Center.
A signed copy of Quarry Scrolls given for each $20 donation.


  Halibut Point photographs and haiku poems
from the book Quarry Scrolls, by Martin Ray
accompanied by
original clarinet compositions by Stephen Bates

The program was developed with support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Icing, Halibut Point

Science searches the planets for signs of water,
for ice or vapors to structure life like ours,
Earth cells bathed in teeming aqueous fluids
that destroy membranes if they freeze within them,
those sharp dazzling crystals of winter. 

Every pore of Halibut Point granite is saturated.
Winter stone sighs with the expansion of its inner ice.
Broken particles of granite anchor plants and soil,
or wash into the sea,
to form new geologies. 

Winter water solidifies. Its transparency
crystallizes into visible postures
and confectionary coatings.
Does it have intentions?
Does beauty exist outside my eye?



Friday, March 15, 2019

The Seine Boat

Three men tending a fish trap, Lanesville shoreline c. 1940 1
In perusing the collection of "Pictures from the Past: Lanesville & Vicinity," 1 another type of row boat occasionally comes into view, beamier and larger than a dory. This spacious double-ended craft accommodating a crew and nets presents a very different outline from the rakish lapstrake * dory of the all-weather solo fisherman.

Seine boats, Lanes Cove, late 1930s 1
(Note the vintage automobiles to the left rear. The last granite-loading derrick at this spot was swept away in a hurricane, 1935.)
A complex of technologies appears in this 1930s glimpse of the Lanes Cove wharf. Several dories represent low-capital individualists. Power boats are moored nearby. Larger rounded row boats of various sizes intersperse the picture. Two in the foreground, nested with a pair of power boats (suggesting that wharf space and fees dictated the configuration), are piled with seine nets. Outfits like this followed the migration of fish with schooling habits as they moved up and down the Atlantic coast. Their method of attempting to find and encircle a school of fish with a long net worked with particular advantage on species that massed near the surface, such as mackerel, herring, and menhaden.

Mackerel had been an abundant and desirable fish since the first days of colonial America. Francis Higginbottom remarked on "infinite multitudes on every side of our ship," off the coast of Cape Ann on the 28th of June, 1629. 2 Avid, even frenzied feeders, the mackerel were caught by baited hook. The technique was advanced considerably by invention of the mackerel jig, credited to Abraham Lurvey of Pigeon Cove in 1815.

Gloucester's sailing fleet extended its range to the bays and offshore banks of North America during the nineteenth century. The vessels sought to locate and sail into the middle of schools of fish. Men lined along the ship's rail jigging for mackerel.

In the middle of the century fisherman began to employ purse seines in the open ocean, attempting to row around a school of fish with wall of net, join the ends, and close the bottom of the cylinder into a 'purse' by means of a line running through rings at the weighted base of the net. The technique utilized square-sterned, lapstrake craft averaging 28 feet that resembled a ship's yawl boat.

Seine boat (rear), Higgins & Gifford Boat Yard
Photograph courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
About 1857 the iconic form of the seine boat was developed at the Higgins & Gifford Boat Yard on the Gloucester waterfront. The proprietors had recently moved from the Cape Cod area, where whale boats carried lines and responsibilities that shaped the seine boat. 3 The thwarts of these new craft were located up forward to seat a powerful team of rowers who would double as the gang standing in ranks to pull in the net, which was piled in the rear. As the industry expanded the seine nets grew to lengths approaching 1500 feet, by 150 feet deep--tremendously heavy, especially if full of fish. 2

Lowering the seine boat from the schooner deck

Setting the seine net

Hauling the seine

Bailing mackerel from the seine 4
To accommodate the nets, the largest seine boats increased in length to nearly 40 feet. Like whaleboats they needed to tow and row well. In 1872 Higgins & Gifford converted the planking from lapstrake to carvel for greater speed and durability. Design subtleties improved their steadiness in the water as the fishermen moved vigorously in their different chores. The seine boat was sharpest forward, for speed, whereas the whale boat was sharpest aft, to facilitate backing away after the whale had been struck. 2  

Folly Cove netters, 1930s
William Hoyt Collection, Sandy Bay Historical Society

The Italian fleet at Folly Cove Pier, 1932
Photograph courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
Seining vessels pursued mackerel inshore on a more modest scale. Diesel-powered boats replaced sailing craft in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and the seine boat gradually gave way to motorized tenders. 

1. "Pictures from the Past: Lanesville & Vicinity, volume 1," (CD) produced by the Lanesville Community Center, 2009.
2. Materials for a History of the Mackerel Fishery, ed. George B. Goode, The United States Bureau of Fisheries, 1883.
3. Erik Ronnberg, "Vincent's Cove in the 1870s; A Pictorial History of Gloucester Shipbuilding," Nautical Research Journal 41, December 1996.
4. American Fishermen, photographs by Albert Church, text by James Connolly, 1940.

* lapstrake (clinker) built - with overlapped hull planking, like clapboard sheathing on a building

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Dory Fishing in the Ipswich Bay

The inshore fleet 1

Cape Ann fishermen go to sea in vessels of the inshore fleet and the offshore fleet. The categories can be distinguished by duration or by distance, into day trips or extended trips. Dories carried individualists out from coastal nooks and coves into the Ipswich Bay. A good catch meant cash from wholesalers who took fish by horse-drawn wagon, or later by truck, to market in Gloucester. Coastal dories served an indigenous lifestyle rather than a commercial fleet.

Howard Bates brings in a nice-sized cod to Lanes Cove 2
Hand-lining uses the simplest gear and technique, a hook on a baited line. By stringing multiple hooks along a trawl line that is anchored at one end and attached to a buoy at the other, a fisherman can multiply his effort. He can row out in a dory to set, check, or reposition several trawls and leave them temptingly overnight.

Overhauling the trawls in a Folly Cove fish house 1
The trawl lines are carefully coiled in a tub, then baited as the hooks go over the rail.

Elbridge and Frank Woodbury, Lanes Cove c. 1914 2
Alternatively, fish can be pursued with diverse types of nets. It's likely that the gear in this picture will be stationed outside the Cove as a fish trap. A series of floats hold the upper edge of the trap, either at the surface or at a desired depth, according to the targeted species and its habits of movement. Weights hold the bottom down. The system depends on fish swimming through an opening, often cone-shaped or baffled, that limits their escape. They're corralled into a 'parlor' until the net is hauled up by the returning fishermen.

Hauling in a gill net with mackerel
Detail of a Martha Harvey photo, Cape Ann Museum
 Another system still used in the Ipswich Bay suspends gill nets in vertical panels from floats. It depends on experienced placement to entrap fish moving through a particular location. The chosen mesh size allows anticipated prey to swim part way through the net. As it tries to withdraw the fish becomes entangled by its operacula plates that protect the gills. Smaller fish pass right through, larger ones swim around from the barrier.

The neighborhood columns in nineteenth century Cape Ann newspapers reveal that fishermen organized their pursuits around seasonal opportunities. Fall migrations of schooling fish drew the most attention from reporters. There were seasonal peaks of cod, hake, dogfish and whitefish. The richest nineteenth-century dramas centered on brief appearances of herring and mackerel.

Large halibut could still be found occasionally. In May of 1894 Jabez Brown landed two within two days, one weighing 120, the other 100 pounds, caught near the Sandy Bay Breakwater. In July, Chris Anderson of Pigeon Cove caught a 225-pounder on his trawl.

Torching at night for spurling or small herring in Ipswich Bay 1
The circus atmosphere of torchlight fishing attracted a Boston Transcript columnist in 1896 to write a vivid account that was reproduced in the local newspaper. 3

   "The scene at night in the midst of the herring fleet when the fish are running strong is one which is indescribably full of life and color. The brilliant glare of the torches in the different boats lights up the whole surface of the water for some distance, and the boats dash rapidly here and there, following the trend of the fish, the figures of the men in them as they toil at the oars or lift the great masses of fish into the boats looking like demons in the fierce flaring light. For half an hour or so on a good night, the catching goes on, and then, all the boats are filled up, the lights one by one are snuffed out, and the race for the market begins.

   "The men will put eighteen or twenty barrels into one of these little craft [dories], loading it down to the water's edge. If it comes up rough, and the men are not quick enough about throwing the fish overboard, there is a good chance that the dory will fill and sink."

Landing catch with drudge-barrow 4
Dories also figured prominently in catching bait fish and clams to sustain the market fishing. Flat-bottomed and drawing little draft, they could navigate the inlets and the mud flats. 

1. Drawings from "History and Methods of the Fisheries," The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, ed. George Brown Goode of the Smithsonian Institution, 1887.
2. "Pictures from the Past," Lanesville Community Center CD, volume 1.
3. "Torching for Herring," Gloucester Daily Times, Nov 26, 1896.
4. Photographs from the 1890s of Eric Hudson, in An Eye for the Coast: The Maritime and Monhegan, Earle G. Shettleworth, and W. H. Bunting.  

Resources and staff of the Cape Ann Museum contributed greatly to this series of essays. Maritime Curator Erik Ronnberg has given perspective to the various nuggets from photographic archives, newspaper accounts, and specialized publications. Library Director Molly Hardy generously provided images from the Martha Harvey Collection.