When looking back to the years living on Pictou Island, I think of the changes that occurred within the inshore fisheries. From 1940 to 1964, my father had built 22 wooden lobster boats plus two iceboats that were used for island mail delivery. Some lobster boats he had built for himself while others were built for other fishermen. Names that he gave to some of the boats that he built for himself were Rackay, Blue Bird, Blue Jay, Water Baby, Slo-Mo-Shun, Big M and Dream Boat.
I recall a 30 footer that he had built the year I was born and he named her Slo-Mo-Shun. Dad first powered this sleek 30 footer with a 289 cubic inch Ford and then a 427 cubic inch Mercury. The Slo-Mo-Shun would sail along pretty well when being powered by either engines. He fished in this boat for nine years until 1959 at which time he built for himself a 40 footer that he named Big M. The name Big M derived from the 427 Mercury that powered his new boat.
Lobster boats, during those years, had no permanent cabin. A cabin could be constructed for your boat that would easily be installed or removed. This cabin would be installed when preparing for herring or ground fishing and removed for lobster fishing. Some lobster boats had a small spray hood built around the motor area. The crew could stay half-warm and dry inside of this structure when sailing in rough seas. Wind conditions 50-plus years ago didn’t seem to be nearly as harsh as they are today. A lobster boat over 40 feet in length in the 1950s was rarely heard tell of but in the 1960s and 1970s, they quickly began to evolve. Most boats were 30-60 feet in length and were powered by a six or eight cylinder gasoline engine.
Many times I, as a small lad, would go fishing lobsters with my dad when living on Pictou Island. I was probably about seven years old before I was tall enough to reach into the lobster traps on the wash board of the Slo-Mo-Shun and assist in removing the fish from the traps. On the other hand, my brother Vincent, was born to be a fisherman. Vincent regularly fished with Dad on the many days that he would play hookey from school, otherwise our father usually fished alone.
Dad gave my brother the Slo-Mo-Shun and a fleet of lobster traps I believe in 1961 after he built the Big M for himself in 1960. I continued to attend school and Dad usually continued to fish lobsters alone. My mother didn’t like the idea of Dad being on the water alone so she would often accompany him when lobster fishing.
It didn’t take long for Mother to learn the ways of the sea. She could match any other hired help as far as doing the work. Putting her hands into the traps and hauling out the rotting herring bait or the lobsters, crabs, eels, sea-eggs, jelly fish, flounders, etc. never deterred her in the least bit. Mother could throw those lobster traps around as good and in some cases much better then many other hired helpers. Today’s automatic trap haulers eliminate a lot of backbreaking work by placing the lobster trap to the side of the boat. During earlier years, one had to bend over the side of the boat and pull each heavy water-soaked wooden lobster traps from the water and up onto the washboard. Dad would normally do that for Mum but many times she would beat him to it.
There were days when other lobster boats would stay tied at the wharf because of high winds and rough seas. Mother and Dad, however, would be out fishing.
I recall a story Mum told me of one stormy windy day when she and Dad were out fishing while most other fishermen would not go out. Robert Rankin who at that time was probably about 10 years old, was standing on the island wharf when they came ashore and he remarked to my mother that she was shaming the other fishermen by being out fishing that day.
My mother would chuckle when she talked about those times. Some fishermen would remark to my father that bad luck would follow him by allowing a women to be out in the boat with him. This was an old superstition that even today is believed by many. Contrary to what others may have thought, I believe she probably brought good luck for they always made it back to shore.