Oh, many a race have our Gloucestermen sailed,
But never a one could there be,
Like that which the wild "Flying Fishermen" sailed,
In a gale on a turbulent sea.
'Twas the great anniversary of eighteen nine-two,
They planned this momentous event;
And on this achievement, for ages before,
The fishermen all were intent.
Six schooners were listed for Friday's big race;
James Steele, Ethel Jacobs, Jo Rowe,
The great Nannie Bohlin and Grayling - these five
Were actually rearin' to go.
The only one missing the morning before
That most unforgettable date,
Was the smart Harry Belden, and some preordained,
The Belden might get there too late.
"What's happened to Maurice?" they asked on the wharfs.
"He'd oughter pulled in long ago."
"He's never forgotten the fishermen's race!"
"What makes him so confounded slow?"
The truth was that Maurice, on Newfoundland's Banks,
Had traveled some miles farther east,
To follow the fish and return a full hold,
And wasn't disturbed in the least,
Till early the week of the Fishermen's Race,
When he hastily hoisted his sail,
And met a discouraging, desperate calm,
With nary a sign of a gale.
On Tuesday they anxiously waited for a breeze,
But not till next morning it blew.
"Thank God!" Whalen shouted, "we've no time to lose."
And over the ocean they flew.
They sailed night and day without stopping for breath,
And tied up in port Thursday night,
With no time to scrape her or empty the fish,
Or make matters shipshape and right.
"We sail in the morning - goodnight," Maurice said,
"You're too dog-gone tired to stay;
To make Eastern Point for the start, we must meet
On deck at the first sign of day."
That memorable Friday darned dismal and chill,
With fog overhanging the sea;
The vessels sailed out where the starting point lay,
Past barges and race referee.
Such weather conditions had never been known,
In any race noted before,
And as the nor'easter increased in its strength,
The visitors hurried towards shore.
The course from the judges' boat, near Eastern Point,
Went close to Nahant, then to port
Of Halfway Rock, Davis' Ledge, then Minot's Light,
And the finish line - really a short
Triangular course of some forty-one miles;
They tossed and they pitched to the start,
And not a reef point was there tied in a sail,
Though many fell nearly apart.
The Ethel was leading and taking the gale,
With capable Saul at the wheel;
Jo Rowe close behind her, in rounding the mark,
And, man, did that fishing-boat heel!
In jibing, E. Jacobs snapped off her main gaff;
The Belden was close on her trail,
With Nannie C. Bohlin fast sliding ahead -
A noble sight, under full sail!
The wild wind was blowing a forty-mile gale,
The sea breaking high over all;
The lee rails were buried - the hatches besides,
And the foremasts deep down in the squall.
So thick was the fog they could scarce see the mark,
As from Minot's they tacked in towards shore;
Then on to the n'ward of vicious Pig Rocks,
And certainly never before
Had many men seen such a venturesome race,
Sailed under dark, lowering skies,
When real ancient mariners paused to reflect,
If sailing at all would be wise.
The flower of the fishing fleet rallied that day,
Two men firmly lashed to each wheel:
"No reefs, man," said Whalen, when someone remarked,
The Belden was showing her keel.
Half smothered in water they valiantly sailed,
With life-lines tied fast to the masts;
The gale grew ferocious, and buried in foam,
They weathered ts plentiful blasts.
The smart Harry Belden was forging ahead,
Triumphantly taking the sea,
With every sail set she cavorted along,
The day of that grand jubilee.
She dove in the sea to her fo'cas'le hatch,
And buried her deck to her break:
"Watch out!" shouted Maurice, above the high wind:
"The water the Belden can take!"
She rolled pretty low on the lively home stretch,
But Whalen took no reef at all;
Her jibs were in ribbons but held till she croessed
The line in the teeth of the squall.
A shout from the crowd, as exultant she plunged
To victory, buried in foam.
"As thrilling a race as has ever been sailed!"
Said a spectator, ere he went home.
The Bohlin came second, and third, Joseph Rowe,
With waves breaking over her deck,
And Captain Rube Cameron tied to the wheel,
In water well up to his neck.
Long will they remember that glorious race,
So bravely and brilliantly sailed;
When the most unpropitious and ominous sort
Of weather conditions prevailed.
Those good days have vanished when engines and steam
Were unknown on vessels at all;
And when skippers laughed at the foolish idea
That they'd deign luff or reef in a squall.
The Belden was able and one trip she sailed,
From clear off of Georges' north shoal,
To the old Boston Lightship, one forty-four miles,
In ten-hours - and, say, did she roll!
The Belden was able and Maurice well known,
As a skipper of well-deserved note;
A greater sail-carrier, few can recall,
And a hard driver, too, of his boat.
One dark night the Belden came in from the Banks,
And ran on a ledge off the shore,
Where mountain waves ruthlessly hammered her down,
Till the schooner was totally lore.
Her crew all survived and slid onto the land,
On a breeches buoy, just in good time;
They mourned for the Belden but thanked the good Lord,
They lived to encounter their prime.
And even today, half a century since
That great Flying Fishermen's Race,
We hear them extolling the skippers who led
The public so merry a chase.
No more do they navigate over rough seas,
But mariners never forget
Their sterling accomplishment, daring and grit,
And mention their loss with regret.
For Gloucester has fathered some valorous sons,
Whose colorful lives on the sea,
Will long be a source of substantial delight
To landloping sailors like me.