Remembering the February gale of 1862

The end of the second week in February and snow is due to fall along the Maine coast. On Thursday and Friday winds are expected to hit just over 50 mph in the Gulf of Maine with 23-foot seas. Georges Bank has a hurricane force wind warning with gusts of nearly 70 mph predicted and seas building to 24 feet. Both the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank will have snow and freezing rain.

It will be pretty crappy out there for the next couple of days, but there have been February storms that are worse — a lot worse. Take the February storm of 1862 when on a Monday evening of the 24th, a gale out of the Northwest slammed into the Gloucester fishing fleet on Georges Bank. About 70 schooners were at anchor and very near to each other.

As recounted in the Fishermen’s Memorial & Record Book printed in 1873, “Not having sufficient warning of the blow, they were unable to heave up” resulting in “fearful collisions . . . Nearly every boat would lose booms, masts, cable and anchors or were so badly stove up as hardly to be able to get back to shore.”

Those back in Gloucester knew there had been a terrible storm but without radios they did not know if friends or family members would return. So they gathered ashore, watching as the schooners rounded Eastern Point, watching to see what vessels were returning and then to ask if those aboard had seen their loved ones or a friend’s vessel.

They counted the schooners as they rounded the point until the number narrowed down to 15, who with their crews had left port on their last fishing trip.

The February gale of 1862 enacted a heavy price on Gloucester. 120 men and 15vessels were lost, leaving 70 widows and 140 fatherless children.

In a couple of cases a family lost more than one person when a vessel went down. Take the schooner Enterprise as an example. Henry Peterson was the master and listed among the eight-man crew was ‘Hervey Peterson (son of master),” or the schooner Oconomowoc. Dennis S. Kelly was the master and listed among the 10-man crew was “Dennis Kelly (master’s son).”

Before the February gale, the fishing community of Gloucester was already reeling for a January 1 gale that hit Georges Bank, Newfoundland and the shore winter fisheries took four vessels and 38 men. So between January 1 and the end of February Gloucester had lost 19 vessel and 162 men. That was a horrible winter.

About the author

Michael Crowley

Michael Crowley is the former Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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