This section is from the book "Moose-Hunting Salmon-Fishing And Other Sketches Of Sport Being The Record Of Personal Experiences Of Hunting Wild Game In Canada", by T. R. Pattillo. Also available from Amazon: Moose-Hunting, Salmon-Fishing and Other Sketches of Sport: Being the Record of Personal Experiences of Hunting Wild Game in Canada.
The exciting and wearying experience of the hurricane was followed by several days of calm, in which we did little more than drift, only making two degrees to the south in five days. Life had begun to be monotonous. The damage caused by the hurricane had been repaired, and there was really nothing to do but watch the ship, eat, and sleep.
About nine o'clock one morning, Sam, one of the seamen, was scraping the royal mast, a job to the sailor although more perilous such as washing windows is to the housemaid, when he called out " Halloa, on deck ! "
" What is it, Sam ? " replied the captain. " There is something ahead, looks like a tub a soak-tab I " 11 Where away?"
"About two points on the larboard (left hand as you look forward) bow, a mile or so ahead."
The captain turned to the helmsman and ordered her to be kept off. As her head pointed to the tub, Sam called down, " Steady! " and the captain repeated the " Steady!"
Now all eyes were turned towards the tub, which could just be discerned from the deck. The captain, however, had been looking at it with his glass, and remarked " If that is a soak-tub, and it looks much like it, with any remnants of meat in it, there is fun ahead for us."
A " soak-tub," in nautical parlance, is the bottom portion of a pork-barrel used to freshen salt beef and pork before cooking. It was quite evident this had been washed from some vessel's deck, and more than probable contained meat. One of the men asked the captain what kind of fun he meant.
" Why, the wash of water in and out of it from the meat will collect dolphin by the score about it, and very likely shark, neither of which will leave it until starved away."
Just then we had approached near enough for Sam, from his lofty position, to take in the surroundings, who, knowing nothing of what the captain had been saying, shouted, " Halloa, below there! "
" What is it, Sam ? "
" Crikey ! crikey I what a lot of fish are about it! Three and four feet long : how they are scooting around! By George ! captain (sailors are allowed to make their statements emphatic), there is an awful big fish a little way from it a kind of light-coloured fellow. What do you think they are, sir ? "
" The small ones are dolphins, and the large one, by your description, the sailors' friend the man-eater shark," the captain replied.
" By Jingo 1 I guess you are right, sir."
This information put new life into everybody, for after eighteen days' constant living on salt food, we were fresh-fish hungry. Dolphin at sea are always considered a luxury, as scarcely more than one or two are captured daring a passage. In their actions on a line they resemble a salmon and pollock, fighting for their freedom, as every inch is gathered from them. As we got nearly up to it, the captain ordered seaman Jack to get down in the main chains, and grab the tub as it passed along.
"Will and Ned, you stand by to take it from him. You had better take a turn of that clew-line around your waist, in case you should make a miss any way, Sam."
So down to the main chains (those used to be the bars of iron on the sides of a vessel to which the mast-shrouds were attached, called in nautical terms, chain-plates, sometimes fore-chains, sometimes main, as they applied to foremast or mainmast) Sam goes, seizes it with his right hand, but of course could not raise it. Then Will jumped to his assistance, and even then it was no light task; but all hands were there ready to help, and it was soon on deck. We felt, as we looked at that tub for a moment, that it had a history unknown to us. Had the vessel to which it belonged gone down in the hurricane ? Had that tidal wave swept it off the deck? We were all so anxious to get at those dolphins, we could no longer moralize, although its unwritten history did not have a cheering effect. The dolphins, in great numbers, could be plainly seen from the deck as the tub was approached. These dropped astern, and played along in the wake of the vessel. She had just enough headway to take the lines out from us, so that when the captain on the larboard taffrail and the mate on the starboard with two of us assisting each of them, threw out their baited hooks, they were immediately seized by those ravenous fellows. I had never seen a dolphin, but the captain and mate had seen hundreds, and they both stated they had never seen such large ones as were these. It was not picking fishing by any means, for every fellow rushed for his bite, and woe betide the one that got it first, for he had to follow right along to the taffrail, though jumping, scooting, rushing, and fighting every inch of the way. The quarter-deck soon presented the appearance of a George's fisherman, dolphin flouncing here, there, and everywhere.
We had captured some wonderfully large fellows when the mate struck apparently the king of the crowd a monster, which he did not know how to manage. Hitherto it had been main strength and stupidness, which sometimes works all right on small fish, but you don't want to treat giants in anything as you would pigmies. This the mate found to his sorrow, for when he got him nicely started, as he thought, and had another to add to his already large number, the dolphin gave a jump and a plunge, and was free from his captor, although still attached to the hook and two fathoms of line.
This started the classic English, which was checked by the captain " Oh, Mr. C, there is no need of that. Put on that other hook, and don't be so rough with the next one. Play the large fellows, like I do, and weaken them. The hooks that are on the lines are the last, and we must make the most of them."
So over goes the new gear, and as quickly as the bait clears the vessel another big one seizes it.
" Now, play with him a little before attempting to haul him."
This would be just the advice to give a man that knew anything about fishing, which our mate didn't, nor would he let those that did take his place. So as a result, when the captain hooked one about the same time, they ran across the track of each other and made a fine muddle. Backwards and forwards they went, as if in a country dance, which induced me to call what the boys used to when they got their lines tangled, " first cut of a green cheese." The fish had nearly wound up the slack of the lines, and the only possible way out of the difficulty was to drag them in together, which caused a lot of merriment for the whole of us. In fact, by this time we were in great glee.