Friday, June 29, 2018

1st Letter on Georges -- Charles Olson

February night, or August
on Georges the seas
are short, the room’s
small. When the moon’s
fullest the tidal currents
set fastest

On the morning of February 14th we started and in twenty-four hours were over the rocky bottom of the southerly part of the Bank. A hundred sail were crowded in together, half a mile. and some mile, apart, handlining, where the cod spawn.

The fishing and the weather were good or days. Although the cold was intense we were at the rail sometimes a full hour without changing position, then, if we got a halibut, the cook would bring up a pancake with plums in it to celebrate. And coffee.

The vessel shifted its berth twice, in the first week, each time drawing nearer to the body of the fleet. The fish were more plentiful but with each move our concern grew, for we were all bunched up easterly of dreaded South Shoal. If the weather stayed fine there was no danger but if it came on a gale and even one vessel dragged her anchor, or cable and went adrift, we might all go.

At sundown on the 24th there was a sudden change. The clouds massed, and the rising wind roughened the seas. At eight o’clock the skipper was uneasy, he kept looking up at the sky and at the horizon. The wind had veered to the northeast, and was increasing. It began to snow, moderately at first, and then more.

The skipper went forward to examine the cable and gave orders to pay out ten fathom. Our lights, in the rigging, had been lit since sundown, and the rest of the fleet could still be seen, when the skipper, warning that the night would be a watch for all of us, advised those who could to get some sleep. We went below about half-past eight.

It was now about eleven o’clock. The wind was a gale, the snow came down spitefully, and the seas were so high we could do nothing but look up the sides of them. From the short break of them in these confines of Georges, the way they snapped themselves off, one of them could break aboard us and sweep everything over the rail to leeward, or, worst, coming in too big, set down on us, bury us, smother the vessel under its weight and take it and us down in one crush.

At midnight the tide itself changed, set toward shoalwater, and now the wind, the sea and the tide were in one movement from the northeast, and the gravest strain was put on all the vessels trying to ride out the night. We were on deck to keep what lookout we could for the first vessel which might loose itself and drive on to us. The oldest hand aboard was at the windlass with a hatchet ready to cut the cable if paying it out wasn’t fast enough to let a vessel by, and we had to go ourselves.

The darkness had become impenetrable and a more dismal night none of us ever passed. We longed for morning to dawn. Once in a while the storm would lull for a little, and the snow not fall so thickly. Then we would see some of the lights of the fleet nearest us, but this was not often. During the night a large vessel did pass quite near us. We could see her lights, also her spars and sails, as she was driven swiftly along. We trembled at the thought of what she might have done had she struck us., and when we learned o the terrible disaster of the gale, we spoke of this vessel as the cause of some portion of it.

At length the east began to lighten. Morning was coming. Our danger was not over, the gale continued, but there was comfort to the light. The fearful darkness and the terrible uncertainty was relieved. We could now at least see our position.

We had something to eat, in turns, when, about nine o’clock, the skipper sang out, “Vessel adrift, ust ahead of us.” All eyes were on her. On she came directly for us. A moment more and we’d have had to cut, when she passed with the swiftness of a gull, so near any one of us could have leaped aboard her. We watched her as she went on and a short distance astern she struck one of the fleet and we saw the waters close over both vessels, almost instantly. As we looked they both disappeared.

Our own anchor began to drag, and we yaw. This was dangerous in the extreme, for if the anchors did not take hold again, find new bottom, we too must cut and once adrift go as these others had. Fortunately, the anchors bit up found holding ground, and we rode again in safety.

All through the day of the 25th we watched. Two more vessels bore down on us, but went clear. We were saved. At sundown the gale moderated and the terror of it, which had swept so fearfully over Georges, was over.

The next day we were back at fishing, we fished through the week, had good fishing, and headed home. Eastern Point Light, when first sighted, looked good to us, but coming in by the Fort, the crowds of people waiting there to see each vessel’s name awoke it all again. Several came on board asking if we had seen such and such a vessel since the gale. The town was in commotion. Such anxiety I hope never again to witness. The wharves were full of broken ships and there was hardly a home which didn’t have a loss. The gloom was general over the town for many days. One hundred and twenty men had drowned that one night and day, and fifteen vessels gone down, all on Georges
the shoal of Georges
the north, west and south

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