Book Review: Gloucester Glory Days

Anyone interested in the history of Gloucester, the commercial fishing industry on which it was founded and the lives of those who engaged in the trade will want to get a copy of John Morris’s “Alone at Sea: Gloucester in the Age of the Dorymen” (Applewood Books, $34.95). The book covers the rise of Gloucester as one of the world’s biggest and richest fishing ports from the 1700s up to the 1940s.

Author John Morris

Boaters familiar with modern-day Gloucester will marvel at Morris’s descriptions of what the port looked like at the height of the salt cod and mackerel fisheries, when hundreds of sleek, graceful schooners filled the harbor and the docks bustled year-round with fishermen from Nova Scotia, Portugal, Sweden and other countries. Equally fascinating are the descriptions of the different fisheries and fishing techniques, and how both changed over the years. Yet as certain fisheries rose and fell, fishing remained technologically the same—largely carried out with hook-and-line from wooden sailing craft—until early 20th century.

Book Jacket

One is struck most by the fortitude of the fishermen of this age and the skills of the schooner captains, who faced dangers ranging from icebergs to pea-soup fog to hurricanes as they fished such distant grounds as the Grand Banks, the Scotian Shelf and Georges Bank—all without the aid of GPS, VHF, radar, weather forecasting or chart plotters. It’s hard to imagine how men clad only in wool clothing and oilskins could endure setting tub trawls in an icy Atlantic in mid-January. Many perished, of course, sometimes in great numbers when the fleet was caught on the banks during a storm, and Morris describes how the Gloucester community coped with such losses.

“Alone at Sea” is impeccably researched and filled with numerous footnotes and great old photos of Gloucester, the fishing vessels, and men engaged in fishing.

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