Lloyd Hann: Charter Trip with Lee Wulff in Miss Red Wing 1939, June-August, 1939

By Lloyd G. Hann

Miss Red Wing

With a new Red Wing Thorobred engine running, and after final checks on the engine and equipment, we left Wesleyville at 9:00 a.m.  The crew consisted of my brother Herbert, who had just graduated from high school, Ammon Wicks, a retired fishing skipper, and myself, captain and owner. Ammon was a typical Newfoundland seaman, a master mariner who commanded his own fishing schooner, built and maintained his own boats, and was an excellent cook.  When I started to operate the Miss Red Wing he was retired but still very active.  I wanted a good cook who could prepare any kind of meal and also knew everything involved in seamanship and operation of a boat.  I contacted Skipper Ammon and he was pleased to accept the berth.

Just before casting off from our wharf I told my father to send a pink (priority) telegram to Lee Wulff in care of the post office at Dildo, advising that the Miss Red Wing was en route to meet him there that evening, weather permitting.

After about half an hour running, a slight leak developed in the rubber exhaust host that connected to the engine exhaust manifold.  I decided to return to the workshop and get some extra hose and clamps, just to be on the safe side.  In the meantime, I tightened the hose clamp and stopped the leak.  The engine, being new, was run at only 3/4 throttle, to break it in easy.

The course was set directly across Bonavista Bay, about due south, to Cape Bonavista.  As we progressed the wind increased to about 25 mph, causing a bit of a chop, but the boat was handling it well.  Herb had the wheel and was doing a fine job of keeping on course.  I wanted him to get as much experience as possible in all kinds of wind and wave conditions.

The cook, in the meantime, was preparing our first meal, which we ate just before reaching the Cape.  Ammon said, “I’ve got to have everything cleared away before we get up around the Flowers,” (shoal ground off the Cape)  because, according to the wind we had crossing the bay, there would be a big lop up around there and in Trinity Bay.  Ammon knew the conditions to expect from wind and tide on most of the Newfoundland coast.  I had heard many stories from experienced seamen about conditions around the Flowers in Trinity Bay with a strong southwest wind.

We passed Cape Bonavista by 2:00 p.m. and up along the Elliston shore; and sure enough, the wind and lops became stronger as we went.  We reached the point where the Miss Red Wing was taking some steep dives and pitches, and anything that wasn’t fastened was tossed about.

I asked Ammon what he thought of it.  He said, “We’re in for a hard punch in Trinity Bay if it holds on like this.  I think the wind will go down with the sun.”  I said, “I think we’ll go into Elliston and wait for the wind to drop.”

Elliston has no harbour, but with a southwest wind and no ground sea it is possible to tie up to the coastal wharf there.  I had been there before and knew the conditions.  With a sea running it is a dangerous place for shipping.  The water was smooth around the wharf, however, and we tied up there to wait for the wind to drop.

I happened to know a charming young lady at Elliston whom I had had the pleasure of meeting when she was teaching at Wesleyville, so I decided to pay her a surprise visit.  Her father, Garland Porter, was a successful fishing skipper and had just arrived with a full boatload of cod.  I went over to their fishing premises for a chat.  While I was chatting with Garland, Ruth came there, and you can imagine her surprise upon seeing me there talking with her father; and I might add that I was delighted to see her.

During the fishing season everyone is extremely busy, especially when fish is plentiful.  We spent about three hours there, visiting around as people were working; and as I expected, the wind was beginning to drop, so I decided we would carry on for Dildo.

There was a bit of a chop up around the Flowers, but it gradually became smoother as we headed into Trinity Bay, and we made good time.  Before we reached Dildo the wind had dropped to about 5 mph.  We tied up at the government wharf with all a-okay.  Lee Wulff and his party arrived about two hours after we did.  So ended the first day of our tuna and salmon fishing charter.

The next morning, after stowing the equipment on board and refueling, we started on our first cruise around the bay.

The Newfoundland Tourist Board had engaged Mr. Wulff to make a study of tuna fishing prospects in and around the bays, and of the habits and movements of the potheads (pilot whales) that were usually plentiful there.  The tuna were to be caught using rod and reel, similar to salmon fishing, only the tuna rod and reel were much larger.  The line used varied in size from 50 to 130 pounds test.

The pothead whales usually travelled in schools.  When the boat would get within throwing distance, a harpoon (fitted with an arrow-shaped dart about five inches long on the end of a 10 – 12 foot slender pole) would be thrown with all the force one could muster.  If it hit the whale it would usually penetrate several inches, and the pole would fall away, leaving the arrowhead

embedded.

Harpoon Whale

There was a 9-thread manila rope fastened to the arrowhead, 60 fathoms long, and a ten gallon keg on the shipboard end.  When the whale was harpooned it would dive and pull the rope out quickly.  The boat would follow the whale with all speed possible.  When the rope was fully extended, the keg would be thrown over, and the boat would follow the keg.  In the meantime, the harpooner would be ready with a high-powered 45-70 rifle and would shoot at the whale as soon as it came up to blow.  Unless it was hit in a vital spot, it would take several shots to kill it.

Mr. Wulff would be filming most of the time, using a 16 mm movie camera or a 35 mm Leica that he kept around his neck.  He was very adept at using both.  In the twinkling of an eye he would pick up the Leica and presto, he would snap some scene.

The potheads were numerous, and it was no problem to get near them.  Mr. Wulff had an assistant for handling the ropes, harpoons and related equipment, a Newfoundlander from Whitbourne named Peter Petipas.  Peter could throw a harpoon with deadly accuracy and was also a sharpshooter.  Some- times the  rifle was used by Mr. Wulff’s assistant from the US, who was a professional photographer, and occasionally it was used by me or Ammon, who was really a crack marksman.

On one occasion a pothead was harpooned when Ammon happened to come on deck.  He said, “Give me the rifle, I’d like to have a shot at that one.”  Up to that time he had not used the rifle.  It was passed to him and he said, “I’ll show you fellows how to shoot a whale.”  Ammon stood

ready, waiting for the whale to blow, and just as soon as it broke surface he fired.  All movement of the whale ceased.  “That’s the way to do it,” said Ammon, and went back below to the galley.  That was the only time that summer that a whale was killed with one bullet.

Sometimes we would be chasing a whale for hours before capture.  There were times in deep water when the whale would sound (dive deep) and be down for a long time; and when it would surface, it would be the full length of a harpoon line away.

One time we were using a heavy galvanized ten gallon drum for a float on the harpoon line.  The depth of the water was around 150 fathoms.  A whale had been harpooned and had dived.  The line ran out full length and the flotation drum was thrown overboard.  We followed as it was being towed by the whale; it was painted white and could easily be seen.  Just as we got

near, the drum started to submerge, and we watched it disappear from sight.  After ten minutes or more we saw the wake of something, barely skimming the surface.  We caught up with it and discovered it was the drum.  It was crushed almost completely and partly filled with water through the ruptured seams, owing to having been carried to such a depth.

After a whale was killed, it would be towed into shallow water and beached, where it would be measured and all data recorded.  The ones we handled were 18 to 25 feet in length.  The whale would be towed by fastening rope around the flukes of the tail and winching it up to the side of the boat.

We got a scare once, when we were towing a small one with the tail flukes resting against our bow.  We were steaming along in smooth water when suddenly the boat began to shudder.  After stopping the boat, we discovered that the violent shudder was caused by the flukes slapping the bow of the boat.  Apparently, the whale had revived and was struggling to free itself.  We had to quickly release the tow rope and finish it off with a well-placed 45-70.

We would usually bring the whale in on the nearest beach available.  Most were too heavy to remove from the water without a power winch.  Any that we landed near a good beach we would roll ashore with a parbuckle rig.  There would most always be a number of sightseers around who would be only too glad to lend a hand in pulling on a rope. 

Much data was gathered relating to the pothead whales.

After finishing with the potheads, the remainder of the season was spent cruising various sounds and areas around Bonavista, Trinity, and Conception Bays, tracking the giant bluefin tuna, learning their habits and the kinds of bait that would attract them most, using rod and reel and lures.  There were several schools of tuna around, but for some reason they were very evasive.  Lee Wulff had several strikes and was successful in landing one bluefin in Conception Bay that weighed in at around 650 pounds.

After the tuna fishing season ended, Mr. Wulff and his party of two prepared for ptarmigan and moose hunting, from which he gathered valuable data and made films for the Newfoundland Tourist Board.  The Miss Red Wing and her crew returned home to Wesleyville.

Lee Wulff salmon fishing
Peter Pettipas Miss Red Wing, 1938

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