The crossing from Cape Bretton to Lunenburg was not a nice one. It was only for about four days, but having the wind right against us made it very uncomfortable. The Bradore Lakes in Cape Bretton had been so flat it was almost like sailing on land, so we had to get used to the rolliness of the sea all over again, even if the waves weren’t so big. Another factor is that we *cough* got out of the habit of taking sea sick pills before departing *cough*. When we left Lunenburg we were all wiser and took pills before actually feeling sick. Except Karin, she’s the only one of us that never drinks a pill and still does OK.
Anyway, Lunenburg. It’s a small fishing town with quite a lot of sailing boats moored in the small bay. There was a time when that little bay was filled to the brim with big wooden fishing schooners and the town was that of a big, vibrant fishing community.
The town is very quiet now, the main fishing industry having moved elsewhere, but many of the people still find their employment in the scallop fishing industry. The houses are mostly old wooden ones painted in very bright colours, the favourite being red. Usually the window panes are painted a different colour from the rest of the house and the colours don’t necessarily fit together either.
Along the shore there are quite a few single jetties for big yachts or super yachts. There are two old schooners fully rigged in the old way. Also, a biggish metal fishing boat tied up a little further along the shore. We had the opportunity to tour one of the schooners and the metal boat because they are old fishing boats belonging to the museum (I’ll explain later), and they were quite cool.
Of the very short time we were in Lunenburg we spent two whole days in the Fisheries of the Atlantic museum. Just because it was such an awesome museum with so much to tell. The first day we looked through as much of the museum as time allowed us and attended the talks and demonstrations. For example, a launching of a model boat to show the typical way the old fishermen of Lunenburg did it. The four of us got to help by hitting away little blocks of wood that held the model in place, using tiny hammers : ). The next day we literally spent the whole time in the museum’s mini theatre. We watched all the extra clips they showed about all the different subjects of the museum. We only went out once for a snack and to hear the talk about scallops that we had missed the previous day.
The people of Lunenburg originally came from other countries and knew nothing of fishing and boat building. But for survival they needed to learn, and learn they did. Long before the age of big steel boats and engines, the men went out on their wooden schooners to fish cod. These fish used to be very plentiful in the area, having an average size of half a man. Despite the dangerous seas, many fishermen were joined by their sons, often from the age of eleven.
There is a large area close to Lunenburg and Newfoundland where the seabed rises and falls, to create great canyons. These cause irregularly large waves during storms. While traveling over the area ourselves with almost no wind, we still saw some really weird wave patterns as the bottom became shallow – 10 meters – and then dropped down again. This area was the most excellent for cod fishing, but could also, for obvious reasons, be deadly. One island in particular close to the canyons, Cape Sable Island, has claimed the lives of many, many ships and their crew.
The method used for catching cod is called Dory Fishing. They would leave in their wooden schooners with 12 dories on deck. These little row/sailing boats were stacked 6 high on either side of the aft mast. The boat sailed a distance of a day or two to the chosen fishing spot. Coming back could take double the time going out, if the wind was contrary. The schooner then put out a special sea anchor and all the dories were launched with a crew of 2 each. The dories try to keep in sight of the ship, but can go really far away. While one man rows, the other puts out a very long line full of hooks – up to a thousand. The line sinks down and as soon as they come to the end of it , they haul it all back up again, expertly flipping the caught cod off the hook into the dory. Cod is a deep sea fish and the sudden difference in pressure render them completely struggleless (yes, I know that’s not actually a word ; p). The catch then needs to be rowed all the way back to the schooner, hoisted onto the deck, cleaned, salted and packed away – and all before breakfast!
The fish that they caught were usually salted: a layer of fish, a layer of salt, a layer of fish, and so forth. The fish being salted as they were packed in the hull meant the crew could keep on fishing either till their hull was full or their stores ran out, which made an average of about 2 weeks. The wives and families back home didn’t and couldn’t know anything about their loved ones’ safety until they got back home. Storms, fogs, currents, these were all things that could make dories and even whole schooners disappear.
The fishermen could also put the fish in ice: a layer of fish, a layer of ice (all harvested by themselves during the winter from the lakes). But that meant they had to return sooner to ensure the freshness of the fish.
Later came engines and radios, which helped to improve the tension levels on land. But it also meant the fishermen could now go fishing in the freezing winter, which they did.
In those days they didn’t understand or think of the fish as a limited resource, so they just went out and fished and fished. To them, time was money. Only recently did the fishermen start receiving salaries. Before that, they only got a portion of what they caught and everyone helped, even the engineer if he had any time to spare.
One of the boats we toured was an old dory fishing schooner. We had a good look around at how everything used to work. There was a person on deck that could tell us stories and answer all our questions about the design of the schooner and her previous life as a dory fisher. It was really cool.
We also got to see a more recent, yet still out-dated, steel fishing motorboat that also belongs to the museum. The Cape Sable has a huge net which was lowered on one side (always the same side) and pulled up by winches. But like the old schooners, the fish was still packed in ice.
Here also, there was a man on deck explaining and telling things. He himself had worked on boats similar to the Cape Sable and on the more modern boats. So he had a lot of first hand stories of his fishing experiences and the dangerous moments out on the water. Also the kind of conditions to be expected for the workers on both the older and modern boats.
These days the fishing industry from Lunenburg is small and mostly involves ‘scalloping’ (fishing for scallops). We saw the kind of flat nets used for trawling and had a chance to taste raw scallop.
We also held scallops that were in the museums’ touch tank. A scallop is a type of round shellfish, sort of like a small clam, but without the frills. Their eyes are the little black dots scattered all along the inside edges of the meat just where the shell opens. If they feel threatened, they swim away by pushing or pumping seawater with their shell, moving in fast bursts. But they move forward, not backward as we had been expecting. We all kept on being startled when we were holding a scallop and then suddenly felt the water push against our palms as it jetted itself away ; D.
We also learnt a lot about lobsters as that is quite a big industry in Lunenburg and actually in Cape Breton as well. The lobster market is highly regulated, with expensive permits and different lobster seasons in different areas, to make sure there will always be lobster available. Quite often, as we were driving in Cape Breton we would go past a yard with all these stacks of lobster traps just waiting for the season to open again. I never before realized what a serious predator the lobster is, but after seeing a video clip of a lobster carrying away a hermit crab, I suddenly realized how big and scary they are to their prey. Unknown to the lobster, the hermit crab pulled the safety chute and abandoned it’s old shell in the lobster’s claw, finding itself a new shell among the rocks where it had landed.
The ship that is Lunenburg’s pride and glory is the Bluenose. It all started in 1920 when the fishing community of Lunenburg decided that they wanted to have a race of working sail boats. They challenged America’s fastest working sailboat. The Americans accepted and elimination races were held in both Canada and America, leaving only the fastest fishing vessel of each country to compete. The people of Lunenburg freely put up the cup and the prize money, of some four thousand dollars, but what they hadn’t been expecting was to lose. The loss of the race, and of all that money, left the people of Lunenberg feeling very sore. Experts were called in to design a ship which could beat the Americans. Great haste was employed to have the Bluenose built before the end of Winter, so that she could still put in a full season’s fishing and thus qualify as a ‘working boat’ for the race. No power tools in those days, remember, and every steel fitting was made by the town blacksmith. All the schooners’ sails had to be cut on the ice of the frozen bay during winter, because that was the most open space. The sail lofts of today can be quite awesome places, just because of the massive floor space needed to actually stretch out some of the sails.
The Bluenose was finished in time. Captained by Angus Walters, she won the next working boat race. And the race after that. And the race after that one too. The Americans kept trying to build their own ships to beat the Bluenose, but they never could. The Bluenose became a national icon, her image even making it onto all the Canadian 10c coins; and she’s still there – if you have such a coin you can go and look : ).
She was a beautiful schooner and worked hard each fishing season to earn her keep. But during World War 2, Angus Walter, the then owner, was unable to keep her any longer and had to sell her to the war effort. They used her as a carrier ship in the Caribbean until 1946 when she hit a reef and sank. Angus deeply mourned the loss of his ship. Years later, when he was past eighty, Angus had the chance to be part of the official ceremony that started the work on the replica of this national icon, to be realised in Bluenose II, complete with rigging and blacksmith made blocks and spars.
And there you have it. In a very long blog (all summed up, by the way), what we did with and learnt in our time at Lunenberg : ). Both of the days on which we visited the museum, we were the last to leave with the staff closing up behind us.
Looking back over everything we’ve seen, learnt and done over the last two years, it is sometimes quite funny to think that nearly everyone I know have not done or learnt the same things we have. When starting to travel I hadn’t thought that traveling could really ‘broaden the mind’ as they tell you in books, but it does. God has really opened my eyes to new cultures and different peoples, and has constantly pushed me over my comfort zone to teach me so much more about Him! I try telling everyone I meet, that, although this trip has been amazing and we’ve seen and learnt so many things, it is because of God’s work in my heart and in us as a family that I would never swop it. He has taught us a lot about Him and again and again calls us to depend on Him. I am grateful to say that He is humbling me and teaching me to love others in a way that I by myself never could. Every time I miss our friends back home, or we have to leave a new group of friends behind and I feel extra dispirited and sad, I remember that He is always with us and that He is in control, nothing He does is a mistake! : D.
Psalm 139: 9-10
“If I take the wings of the dawn If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me”