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USFC Grampus

USFC Grampus was a fisheries research ship in commission in the fleet of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, usually called the United States Fish Commission, from 1886 to 1903 and then as USFS Grampus in the fleet of its successor, the United States Bureau of Fisheries, until 1917. She was a schooner of revolutionary design in terms of speed and safety and influenced the construction of later commercial fishing schooners. Grampus′s home ports were Woods Hole and Gloucester, Massachusetts . During her 31-year career, Grampus made significant contributions to the understanding of the mackerel fishery off the United States East Coast , Canada , and the British colony of Newfoundland. She also investigated the tilefish population, conducted fishery investigations in the Gulf of Mexico, and contributed to fish culture work in New England to propagate the mackerel, cod, and lobster.

mackerel fish culture commercial fishing

1. Design

1.1. Fish Commission Requirements

Fishery scientists of the late 19th century believed that successful spawning was the most significant factor in the productivity of fisheries, and the Fish Commission had placed the fisheries research ship USFC Fish Hawk in service in 1880 to serve as a floating fish hatchery that could move up and down the coast in accordance with the timing of American shad runs.[1] Grampus was constructed to fill a need the Fish Commission perceived for a ship with a well in which marine fishes could be kept alive and transported from the fishing grounds to fish hatcheries on the coast of the United States , where fisheries researchers could collect their eggs for use in the hatcheries and further ensure productive fisheries. Grampus also was to bring back fish for biological study of the fish themselves.[2]

Grampus also needed to be seaworthy and fast, so as to be able to collect fish from European waters and bring back to the United States fish such as sole, turbot, plaice, and brill – which were important to the European commercial fishing industry but did not occur naturally in the waters off North America – so that they could be introduced into waters off the United States. Grampus also was to demonstrate the method of beam trawling used by European fishermen in the North Sea but not in the United States at the time to catch groundfish, and to spur the use of beam trawling by American commercial fishermen in the hope of increasing the monetary value of the American catch and to provide additional employment for men aboard American fishing vessels. The Fish Commission believed that groundfish species native to the waters off North America could be profitably fished even though they differed from the species found in European waters, and Grampus was to use beam trawling to test this idea.[2]

The Fish Commission wanted to develop a comprehensive understanding of the migration of food fishes in the spring and autumn as they travelled to and from their summer feeding grounds, and chose to construct Grampus as a sailing ship because it wanted her to be able to remain at sea for weeks or months at a time to follow the migration continuously and investigate it completely without having to come into port for coal, as a steamer would. Grampus also had to be seaworthy enough to remain on duty and not lose contact with the migrating fish during bad weather. Finally, Grampus had to be designed and equipped to capture fish that did not swim near the surface in order to investigate fisheries completely, and she also needed to be able to capture and investigate minute life such as plankton, which supported the food fish population.[2]

Grampus needed a windlass in order to work her gear, and the Fish Commission opted for a steam windlass. United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Zera Luther Tanner, an influential inventor and oceanographer of the era, commanding officer of the Fish Commission's fisheries research ship USFC Albatross, and previously the first commanding officer of Fish Hawk, received the task of determining what type of steam apparatus Grampus should carry. He chose a steam windlass with engines of 35 horsepower (26.1 kW). Operating the windlass required the installation of a boiler, steam pump, iron water tanks, and associated piping.[2]

1.2. Speed and Safety

Illustration of USFC Grampus from Report of the Commissioner for 1886, published in 1889.

In addition to meeting the Fish Commission's research and fish culture requirements, Grampus's design also reflected ideas for improvement in the design of the then-conventional New England commercial fishing schooners so as to improve both speed and safety.[2] In the mid-1880s, these schooners tended to be wide, shallow, and sharp so as to allow the greatest possible speed by reducing drag through the water and allowing the ship to carry a considerable amount of sail. In order to keep the hulls shallow, the schooners were "very wide aft, with a heavy, clumsy stern and fat counters, the run being hollowed out excessively so as to produce in the after section a series of very abrupt horizontal curves."[2] The two masts came to nearly the same height above the waterline, and the schooners carried a large jib extending from the bowsprit end to the foremast.[2]

This traditional schooner design had a number of drawbacks. The shallow hull did not, in fact, contribute significantly to speed, and the wide stern design actually hindered fast sailing. The ships' shallowness of hull gave them a high center of gravity that made them prone to capsizing and sinking in heavy seas, often with significant or total loss of life among their crews. The foremast rising to the same height as the mainmast often meant either that the jib when raised to the top of the foremast caused an inefficient, asymmetrical sail pattern, or that the upper parts of the foremast were left unused; having a foremast that was taller than necessary added extra expense to the cost of the ship's construction and also meant that she had an unnecessary amount of weight aloft, making her less stable and more prone to dangerous rolling and capsizing. The large jib also created problems, moving the sails' center of effort too far forward when the schooner shortened sail and the mainsail was reefed, making the ship harder to handle. Moreover, handling the large jib required crew members to work on the bowsprit in bad weather, a dangerous practice that resulted in men being swept overboard and drowned.[2]

To address these issues, Grampus, although similar in design to the traditional New England schooner, also differed in significant ways.[2] She had a hull 18 to 24 inches (0.5 to 0.6 m)[3] deeper than traditional schooners of similar length, giving her greater stability, and her beam was 6 to 10 inches (0.2 to 0.3 m) less than that of a traditional schooner.[3] She had a straight stem, rather than a raking one, and her stern was narrower and more raked, with her after portion approximating a V-shape, all changes which increased her hull length at the waterline. Her foremast was considerably shorter than her mainmast, and her rigging was designed so that she could carry a double-headed rig forward that allowed her to use a smaller jib that could be furled upon the approach of heavy weather and a fore staysail running from the foremast to near her stem. The result was a ship able to achieve higher sailing speeds, able to make more efficient use of her sails, with no need for crew members to work on her bowsprit during bad weather, and less likely to capsize in heavy seas.[2]

Ideas for the changes in schooner design to make these improvements had been discussed as early as 1882, but Grampus's design was the first to put them into practice. A model of Grampus went on display in 1885 at the American Fish Bureau in Gloucester, Massachusetts , and attracted much attention. Her design influenced that of many future commercial fishing schooners.[2][3] The U.S. Fish Commission′s Report of the Commissioner for the Year Ending June 30, 1901 said that "her superiority in safety, speed, and other desirable qualities has been fully established"[3] and "[a]fter twelve years' service [i.e., through at least 1898] the Grampus is unexcelled in speed by fishing vessels or pilot boats[3] Referring to shipbuilding in New England, the report added, "Nearly all of the fishing vessels recently built are deeper than formerly, and embody other features that characterize the Grampus. The spirit of improvement has received such an impetus that the best skill of the most eminent naval architects has of late been devoted to designing fishing vessels."[3]

1.3. Other Characteristics

Grampus was of wooden construction, built largely of white oak with some white pine deck planking.[4] She was 90 feet (27.4 m) in length overall.[5] Her fish well was pyramidal in shape, 16 feet (4.9 m) long and about 8 feet (2.4 m) wide at the bottom and 4 feet (1.2 m) long and about 2.5 feet (0.8 m) wide at the top, and it had 204 2.5-inch (6.4 cm) holes in its bottom planks to allow seawater to circulate through it.[6] A laboratory was situated just aft of the well;[7] it contained closet space and shelving to hold specimens in jars of alcohol, medicines, the ship′s library of over 100 volumes,[8] fishing gear, and signal gun equipment.[7] The ship was equipped to store specimens on ice.[9]

For fishing, Grampus was rigged for trawling,[10] hand-line fishing,[11] gillnetting,[12] seining,[13] dredging,[14] and squid jigging.[15] She had equipment for capturing the eggs of pelagic fishes and keeping the eggs alive or hatching them once they were aboard.[16] She also was equipped to harpoon swordfish and porpoises, with a pulpit for this purpose mounted on her jib boom end.[15] She carried guns with which her personnel could shoot birds and seals so that their carcasses could be collected for study. To collect environmental information, she carried sounding equipment and deep-sea thermometers.[17]

Grampus′s sail suit consisted of a foresail, a fore staysail, a riding sail, a mainsail, a jib, a flying jib, a fore gaff topsail, a main gaff topsail, a main topmast staysail, and a balloon jib.[18] She carried five boats: a 33-foot (10.1 m) carvel-built seiner rigged as a schooner;[19] a 17-foot (5.2 m) carvel-built open dinghy rigged as a sloop;[20] and three 19-foot-4-inch (5.9 m) dories.[21] She also carried three 13-foot (4.0 m) "live-cars," dory-like craft covered with heavy netting through which seawater could circulate freely. They were intended to keep fish alive after crew members manning the dories hauled in trawl lines; the men in the dories could dump the live fish into a live-car alongside each dory as they reeled in the lines.[22]

2. Construction

By the spring of 1885, the United States Congress had appropriated $14,000 (USD) for the design and constriction of Grampus and design of the ship began.[2] Under the supervision of U.S. Fish Commission Captain J. W. Collins,[23] Grampus's hull was constructed at Noank, Connecticut, by Robert Palmer & Sons, which launched her on 23 March 1886. Her sails, rigging, blocks, and ground tackle came from E. L. Rowe & Son, of Gloucester; her boats from Higgins & Gifford, of Gloucester; her steam windlass from the American Ship Windlass Company of Providence, Rhode Island; and the boiler for the windlass from M. V. B. Darling of Providence. The rest of her equipment came mainly from Bliss Brothers and H. M. Greenough of Boston, Massachusetts.[2]

3. Service History

3.1. U.S. Fish Commission


The Fish Commission commissioned Grampus on 5 June 1886 under the command of Captain J. W. Collins.[23] She departed Noank that day for Woods Hole, Massachusetts ,[2][24][25] which was to be her home port. After a stopover at Woods Hole from 6 to 8 June 1886,[25] she departed for Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she arrived on 9 June 1886 and took aboard her boats and fishing gear – all of which had been manufactured at Gloucester – and made alterations to her sails.[25] That work completed, she sailed on 14 June 1886 to Boston, Massachusetts, where she took aboard her marine chronometer and "other instruments and apparatus."[25] She spent 16-22 June 1886 at Gloucester, then sailed to Woods Hole, arriving there on 23 June 1886 to begin preparations for her first scientific cruise.[25]

That cruise began on 21 August 1886, when Grampus departed Woods Hole[25] to determine the status of the tilefish off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.[24][26] Discovered in 1879,[27] first collected scientifically at sea by the Fish Commission steamer USFC Fish Hawk in 1880, and abundant enough in 1880 and 1881 to suggest the development of a new fishery, the tilefish had experienced a massive die-off in 1882, with many millions of dead fish found between Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Cape May, New Jersey.[26