One of Gloucester’s last great schooners: Grand Bank’s LA Dunton turns 100
Earlier this year, the schooner LA Dunton marked a century since its launch, and a man from Fortune, NL – the only surviving doryman to have fished on it – is also approaching that milestone.
The Dunton was built by Arthur D. Story and launched in Essex, Massachusetts on March 23, 1921. Built after gasoline auxiliary power became common in schooners, she was possibly the last large non-powered fishing schooner – often designated locally. like a “dummy schooner” – to be built. .
Named after Louis A. Dunton, a well-known sailboat from Maine, the ship’s deck was 124 feet long by 25 feet wide and its hold was 11½ feet deep. She was described as a two-fold schooner with a main lower mast 88½ long. The total height of the main mast, including the top mast, before a 100 horsepower crude oil auxiliary engine was installed in 1925, was 113 feet above deck.
It was a 10-dory schooner, with two men to a dory while fishing – a crew of 22, including a captain and a cook, who lived in very cramped quarters.
When the schooner reached the fishing grounds, the dories were lowered to the side and brought back from the ship. Baited trawls were set and hauled. While fish were plentiful, the men worked around the clock, fishing and cleaning the catch, grabbing food and sleeping as best they could.
Fog was the fishermen’s greatest enemy; straying from their mothership or being run over by another ship or steamer was always a dangerous possibility.
The Dunton, built for Captain Felix Hogan of Boston, fished nearby Georges Banks and as far as the Grand Banks for halibut in the summer and haddock in the winter.
According to reports at the time, “she continued to run for the banks under the Canvas and Yankee property” until Hogan retired from the sea in the early 1930s.
Enter Captain Benjamin Pine, famous Gloucester fisherman and internationally renowned racing skipper who was born in Belleoram, Newfoundland but moved to the Gloucester area with his family when he was 10 years old.
The year was 1933; Gloucester and the fishing industry were in the grip of the Great Depression. Many people were unemployed and had no choice but to go unemployed.
As the schooners were lost or nearing the end of their working life, they were not replaced. Pine, like other owners, tried to sell some of his ships; but there was a very limited market.
The depression, which erupted in 1929, brought down demand for Newfoundland iron ore, newsprint and salt cod. Similar to the situation in the United States, it was difficult to find jobs in Newfoundland, and many people found themselves with government assistance so little that it only met about half of the needs. nutritional values of a person.
Decline of the schooner
By the late 1800s there were over 300 schooners, carrying some 8,000 men, coming from all parts of the island, sailing to the offshore fishing banks in pursuit of cod. However, during the 1930s the situation changed dramatically; only 40 bank vessels, carrying no more than 1000 men, regularly engaged in fishing. According to the report, the schooners came almost exclusively from ports on the south coast, such as Grand Bank and Burin.
In 1934, a total of 18 Grand Bank bank schooners, carrying more than 400 men, captured nearly seven million pounds of cod (66,544 quintals).
It was the same year, February 22, that Aaron Buffett of Grand Bank of G&A Buffett Ltd. wrote in his journal: “G&A Buffett had an offer for a schooner LA Dunton from Capt Ben Pine of Gloucester which is in the process of being accepted.
On April 19, 1934, Buffett with his wife, Elizabeth, as well as Captain Clarence Williams and his crew – who would return the ship to Grand Bank – arrived in Boston. The next day they went to Gloucester, where they met Ben Pine and saw the Dunton for the first time.
It took almost a month to complete everything that needed to be done, including mooring and caulking, installing a lighting plant, purchasing ropes, chains and other equipment. necessary and obtaining clearance to transfer the vessel from Washington before the Dunton was ready to depart.
With Buffet and his wife there to see her leave, the ship left Gloucester on May 17th.
The 13-year-old schooner was about to enter the second chapter of her life; for the next 29 years, its home port would be Grand Bank.
It is not recorded how long it took Captain Williams and the crew to bring the schooner from Gloucester to Grand Bank, but Buffett noted in his diary, “Dunton on June 13, 1934, loaded with 2,050 quintals of salted fish, sailed for Porto [in Portugal]. “
On July 14, 1934, the schooner left Porto for Lisbon, where she loaded 125 tonnes of salt and returned to Grand Bank on August 6.
The Dunton made another trip to Portugal with salted fish in September of that year, returning again with 125 tonnes of salt.
Before the end of the year, she also sailed three times to Nova Scotia ports, once for lumber and general cargo and twice for coal.
On December 12, the LA Dunton returned to Grand Bank after dropping off crew members at Bay L’Argent and Stone’s Cove.
The ship was then moored until mid-February when Buffett’s next diary entry mentioning the ship is dated February 19, 1935: “Our two schooners, Nina W. Corkum with ten men and LA Dunton with 12 men , are being installed for banks. “
Williams fished the schooner for many years; in 1938 she landed 4,090 quintals of salt cod for the season.
To cope with the harsh realities of fishing the offshore banks of Newfoundland, changes had to be made to the original appearance of the Dunton. A pilot house was built on the flywheel after the amount of canvas it carried was reduced; her bowsprit has disappeared and her high mainmast has been replaced by a spar noticeably shorter than the bow.
Later, below deck, some of its 16 jib berths were sacrificed for additional cargo space and a large 160 horsepower Fairbanks Morse diesel engine was installed; the ship had become a motor boat with an auxiliary sail.
A familiar name
In the 1930s and 1940s, Captain Alex Smith – considered one of the “fish killers” of the schooner shoal fishery – regularly returned to Grand Bank with exceptional catches of cod; including his record year in Dunton where he landed enough cod to produce 7,000 quintals of dried fish.
On June 3, 1945, Buffett wrote: “The schooner ‘LA Dunton’ came from the banks with a full load – 1150 quintals – including the deck locker full and some in the wheelhouse.
Over time, the Dunton has become a household name in Grand Bank. As her Canadian-built, softwood-built sister ships began to disappear, the Essex-built ship – half-timbered and planked from the finest white oak – went on and on.
With the construction of fresh fish processing plants and the arrival of steel-sided trawlers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the era of saltfish bank schooners came to an end. During her last seasons on the offshore shores, the Dunton landed fresh fish in Nova Scotia.
Maurice Kearley, 93, of Fortune is the only dory still alive to have sailed on the ship. He was on the ship with Captain Arch Evans for eight months in 1953, his final year as a fishing schooner.
“We were doing halibut that year, landing in Nova Scotia, making more money than we ever would for the salt cod fishery,” he said.
After spending nine years as a dory, he described the Dunton as “a good schooner, and very fast when we set sail for her”.
In 1956, the Buffett Company sold the Dunton to S. Piercey at Grand Bank. Four years later it was sold again to JB Foote & Sons. Both companies used it in coastal trade as a general cargo carrier, primarily between the ports of Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Retreat and catering
In early October 1963, the schooner was purchased by the Marine Historical Association of Mystic, Conn .; within days, under the command of Captain Harvey Banfield and his Newfoundland crew, she was delivered to her new owners, Mystic Seaport, who restored her to her original platform and to her “bank fisherman” appearance. .
In 1994 the ship was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of Gloucester’s last large schooners to fish on the offshore shores; it is now one of the main attractions of the Mystic Seaport Museum.
Kearley – who turns 94 in August – has been to Mystic three times to tour the Dunton: once in 2001 with his wife, Rita, as well as three other former crew members and their wives as guests of the Seaport Museum, and in 2016, accompanied by his granddaughter, Heidi.
The LA Dunton is still in the water at the Mystic Seaboard Museum and is open to visitors. Dan McFadden, director of communications, says the museum is raising funds for the restoration of the ship.
“Getting wood of the right species, size and quality is a challenge and requires a lot of up-front work,” he said. A laser scan of the exterior and interior was performed. The aim is to define a basis for the condition of the schooner which is the basic reference for planning subsequent work. “
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