It's Thursday, Jan. 29, two days after the Northeast's first blizzard of 2015 ripped its way up the coast. If winter wasn't in the air before it sure is now.
Winds over 50 miles an hour generated near whiteout conditions in some spots and left 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground. In Massachusetts coastal homes were flooded from surging seas and when a seawall collapsed in Marshfield.
Yet at first glance there doesn't seem to be much damage to the Northeast's fishing community. A quick call to the Coast Guard found the only incidents related to the storm involved broken moorings for fishermen in New Hampshire and Maine. Things didn't seem to be much worse for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut though that hadn't been confirmed.
It could have been a lot worse. Sure, it can always be a lot worse, but I'm talking WORSE — the February Gale of 1862.
Feb. 24 of that year, some 70 schooners out of Gloucester were anchored in close proximity on Georges Bank when a storm blew down out of the Northwest.
It came on so quickly there wasn't time to heave up anchors and run for deeper water to get away from one another. So they did what they could: post two lookouts, one on the fore gaff and another on the main, out of the way of boarding seas. Both were peering to windward — with snow and sleet driving at them, nearly blinding them, spray freezing against eyes, beards and hair — hoping to discern a vessel drifting down on them. If the boat could be seen soon enough, their anchor cable could be cut and a collision avoided. If the vessel couldn't be seen soon enough, the gale force winds would send the drifting schooner careening into the anchored vessel and both would probably sink.
Collisions happened a lot on Feb. 24, 1862. Thirteen schooners and their crews disappeared. Two more were abandoned and their crews rescued by other vessels. The human toll: 120 men, leaving 70 widows and 140 fatherless children.
George Procter's "The Fishermen's Memorial and Record Book" (originally published by Proctor Brothers, Gloucester, 1873) lists all 13 schooners and the crews that were lost, along with the value of the boat and what it was insured for.
Procter also gives an idea what it was like for those waiting back in Gloucester. "The anxiety of those having friends thus exposed was terrible to witness, and, as each vessel rounded Eastern Point, there was the most intense desire to learn her name, and to ascertain if those on board had seen anything of other vessels since the blow. Nearly every vessel met with more or less disaster, losing cable and anchors, booms, masts, or were so badly stove up as hardly to be able to get back to port. One by one they came along until the number narrowed down to thirteen, who with their crews had left port for their last fishing trip."