In the 1930s when the last of the square-riggers were making voyages from Australia to Britain with grain, Portugal was evolving a totally different type of deepwater sailing ship.

These were the Grand Bank and Greenland cod fishing schooners. The Portuguese fleet gathered at Lisbon every April for a blessing before they sailed to spend the summer long lining for cod in one-man dories.

In 1950, Portugal sent 31 schooners to the Grand Banks and six years later there were still 23 auxiliary schooners in the cod fishery and many were relatively new. A series of wooden motor schooners had been built at Gafanha including the Dom Deniz (1940), Maria Freerio (1944), San Jacinto, Virato (1945) Condestavel, Adelia, and Coimbra (1948.) The only wooden former Grand Banker left sailing now is the 140ft barquentine Gazela Primeiro built in 1883 for ocean trades. She was rebuilt in 1900 at Setubal as a Grand Banker and made her last cod fishing voyage in 1969. After this, she was sold to an American Museum and is operated by the Gazela Philadelphia Preservation Guild.

In 1972, I went to Lisbon to see if any Grand Bank schooners were left. The ship owners, Parceria Geral de Pescarias vaguely admitted that they still owned schooners, but wouldn’t tell me where they were and instead showed me over a 1,195 gross ton motor ship Neptuno, which carried 102 men dory fishing. However, by asking around I found out their drying plant was at the dusty little town of Barreiro. The area was very poor and had no signposts and no English, but a local man with bad teeth asked if he could be my guide. The company’s cod drying plant was at the head of a small river and lying off it was the 4-masted steel schooner Creoula, loaded with salt and ready to sail for Nova Scotia, and the 4-masted schooner Argus which was laid up.

The drying plant was like a fort, but I had a letter with the company heading on it and my guide used this to talk our way past the armed guard. Then, accompanied by another armed guard, I was taken out to Creoula, but sadly no photographs were allowed. She carried a crew of eight and 54 dory fishermen and planned to return six months later with 800 tons of salted cod and 60 tons of cod-liver oil.

Although the owners had been embarrassed about still operating a sailing vessel, the crew were rightly proud of what must have been a very practical ship to sail on. In 1972, only Creoula and two auxiliary schooners went to the Grand Banks and Greenland. The following year Creoula, after 37 seasons, made her last voyage to the cod fishery.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2017 Issue
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