Gazela is a barkentine, which has three masts. She is square rigged on the foremast only, the main and mizzens being fore and aft rigged. She was built the shipyard of J. M. Mendes in Setubal, Portugal to fish the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.
Her records, as she now stands, date from 1901 but there is good evidence that many of the timbers used in her construction are from the ship Gazella (spelled with two Ls) which was built in 1883. Portugese stone pine is the primary wood used in her hull and decks while the masts and spars are of Douglas fir.
According to tradition, the first Portuguese fisherman arrived on the Banks in 1452, when a ship strayed off course and sighted the land they called Terra Nova. Later it became known as Newfoundland.
Gaspar Corte Real is honored as the first Portuguese visitor to that land in 1472. A bronze statue of Corte Real stands in the capital city of St. John’s Newfoundland to commemorate the arrival of Portuguese vessels to the Banks.
For two centuries, St. John’s has harbored the Portuguese fleet, and offered a refuge from storms, as well as repairs, recreation, and above all, fish for bait. The favorite fishing area for the fleet was Virgin Rocks on the Banks, less than 150 miles from the city.
A Grand Banks Fisherman
Every spring Gazela would leave Lisbon laden with as many as 35 dories stacked on deck like drinking cups and a crew of 40 men (35 fishermen/sailors, two cooks, two mates and the captain) and a couple of apprentices. Her hold would be full of salt which would be displaced with the fish that were caught (cod, flounder, halibut, haddock and perch) and preserved with that very salt.
The fisherman’s life on the Grand Banks ships was no picnic. They were up at 4 a.m. every day with a hymn of blessing from the watch stander. The men would tumble out of their bunks, fully clothed but for boots and outer clothing. They ate a hasty breakfast of coffee and rolls and then trooped out into the chilly air to be lowered over the side in one of the small dories. Each would get a bucket of bait, usually scraps or junk fish from the previous catch.
Each man also loaded aboard a small wooden box containing his personal belongings – water flask, food (typically bread, cold fish and cheese) knives and sharpening stone, tobacco, a whistle, and most important of all, his compass. The compass belonged to the company but each fisherman was responsible for the compass assigned to him at the beginning of each trip. Preparations for launching took about an hour. The boats were rowed clear of the ship, small sails were set and the men were on their way. They would often travel as far as twenty miles from the ship in their search for fish.
Once the men were to their chosen fishing location they began the laborious task of “shooting” or laying out the longline. First he would set out a marker buoy attached to a small anchor. Then, baiting his hooks as he began to pay out the line, he drifted downwind or with the current. Ultimately he would have upward of a mile of line out. He would then attach the bitter end of the line to his dory anchor, and drop it. His personally marked buoy and his own position served to alert other dorymen so that they would not lay their lines across his and tangle the lines. Next, he rigged a couple of hand or jigger lines and began fishing for some extra cod. This gave him some idea of how the fish were biting, and hence how long to leave the longline down. If no fish were biting, perhaps a three-hour wait was enough. It was usually never more than four hours even if fish were scarce.
If the catch was good enough in a single haul they would travel back to the ship and toss the fish onboard for processing and go out for a second load. No matter what, though, they seldom stayed out for more than four hours at a time. At the end of the day a recall signal was sounded and the boats would all return to the ship to be unloaded, hauled in, cleared of gear and stacked for the night. If the catch was big enough the fishermen would help the crew that had stayed aboard to process the fish before having a late meal and going to bed.
The crew that remained on board the ship had rigged her for fish processing. The fish-holding bins were rigged outboard between Gazela’s galley and her mizzen mast. Inboard of these bins and parallel to them ran long tin chutes at the ends of which were vats for holding clean fish. A continuous flow of salt water helped slide the fish along into the vats and wash them off. Between the bins and the vats cleaning tables were mounted with tubs beneath to hold fish livers. Inboard of all this were the hatches through which the fish would ultimately disappear for storing and salting down in the hold. Once rigged, most of the equipment remained in place for the season except for that lying in the way of dory storage or in the event of heavy weather.
During the winter, Gazela would be laid-up for routine maintenance. Normally, she had her topmasts, spars, booms and running gear removed and stowed for the winter. She was re-rigged and fully provisioned when the captain and his crew came aboard the following May.
The Ship’s Log 1903-1904
Only the logbooks from 1903 and 1904 have survived so the very first years of Gazela‘s life are sketchy. In 1903 the captain was Paulo Fernandes Bagao. He began the log on May 18th of that year, the day of sailing. There was a crew of 50. The ship left anchorage at 5 a.m., was towed down the Tagus River by Lisbon and set a course west along the 38th parallel upon reaching open water. She averaged 100 miles per day and reached the Grand Banks on June 7th, after having sailed 1900 miles. The next 126 days were spent in the area, daily (weather permitting) putting the dories out and making an occasional trip to St. John’s for supplies.
The capacity of the ship was 350 tons but fish tend to lose about 20 percent of their weight through dehydration so quite a good deal more than that was caught and stowed. The fish also shrunk with this dehydration and the action of the waves tended to settle the fish so the hold filled slowly. Eventually, however, it was full and she set sail for home. With favorable westerly winds and current, she made landfall in just 13 days, unloaded the fish and paid off the crew. During the winter the ship was laid up for normal maintenance to ready her for the next season.
May 19, 1904, saw Gazela sailing down the Tagus again. Twenty-one days later on June 9th, she was on the Grand Banks having averaged 98 miles per day. For the first month and a half the season was uneventful but then, on July 21st, three dories failed to appear at the end of the day even though the weather was clear and calm. It was never determined if the boats were lost or whether the men deserted.
These yearly excursions to the Grand Banks continued pretty much the same, year after year, but by the 1930s the stocks of fish on the Grand Banks were becoming depleted because of over-fishing and the advent of powered draggers. The fleet began to sail north as far as the Davis Straits between Baffin Island and Greenland, above the Arctic Circle, in search of better hauls.
By 1938, it was clear that the trips in the far north would require that the Gazela be fit with an engine due to the bad weather and lack of sea room for sailing that region. So, she was lengthened by two meters and a 180 horsepower diesel engine was installed. She could do seven knots with the engine although the sails remained her primary means of propulsion for purely economic reasons. She also received a radio and a generator that supplied lighting and refrigeration. A pilot house was also built to shelter the compass and wheel. As far as the sailors were concerned the most welcome addition was a diesel engine that was coupled to a windlass to raise the anchor.
The doryman also modernized by switching from hand lines to tub-trawls, 600 fathom lines rigged with 600 baited hooks which were stretched along the sea bottom and were more efficient fish-catchers.
The ship underwent another refit during the winter of 1958-59 when a large galley was erected on the main deck just aft of the anchor windlass, and an electrically-powered oil burner replaced the old coal stove.
Gazela‘s Last Fishing Voyage
Gazela‘s last trip to the Banks as a commercial fishing ship was made in 1969. The captain, Anibal Carlos da Rocha Parracho opened the ship’s log on May 25th, and fifteen days later, the ship was on the Banks. Because of wretched weather – fog, wind, storms – and a broken steering gear, the fishing was almost in vain and the ship was moved to the Virgin Rocks Banks. Storm after storm and equipment troubles continued to plague the ship. During the next 123 days only 76 were spent fishing and the catch averaged a low 9,300 pounds per day.
Six successive tropical storms, from Anna to Eve, had forced her to seek refuge in St. John’s. Hurricane Debbie alone cost Gazela eight days in port. In late September she was again driven off the Banks to the safety of St. John’s.
While in port, a major casualty to her main engine held her up for repairs. Before she could clear port, tropical storm Ingra further delayed her. On the night of October 1st, while in the harbor, Gazela and the motorship Vila do Conde collided, and Gazela suffered considerable damage forward, necessitating another 13 days in St. John’s for repairs. Finally, on October 14th, she left the Banks and only 11 days later, on October 25th, she picked up the pilot at the Tagus. So ended her last year as a fisher under Portuguese colors. At 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, Captain Parracho signed off the log.
A New Life
About the time Gazela was laid-up after her final voyage to the Banks, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum was searching for an historic sailing vessel. Word reached Gazela‘s owners and the following year, she was purchased for the museum by philanthropist William Wikoff Smith. On May 24, 1971, with a crew of Americans (including one former Gazela engineer), the ship left for its new home in Philadelphia, tracing Columbus’ route via the Canaries and San Juan, and on Thursday, July 8th, made her first entrance into Philadelphia.
Work soon began to make Gazela ready to receive touring groups. She was expected to sit at Pier 15 at the foot of Vine Street. The pier was fitted out with a gift shop and a number of maritime artifacts including several anchors, a small Portuguese motor whale boat called Gazelita and a ship’s figurehead, but the work was abruptly interrupted on January 2, 1972 when she was almost destroyed by an arsonist’s fire. Had the fire continued longer than it did, the fuel tanks just forward of the bulkhead would certainly have ignited. Fortunately she was saved and opened to the public.
In the fall of 1973, Gazela was towed from Philadelphia to Norfolk for drydocking and overhaul, including new standing rigging of Bethlehem steel. She returned to Philadelphia under her own power in late June of 1974. The following year, the museum announced that Gazela would participate in the 1976 Bicentennial “Operation Sail,” during which she would join company with many of the world’s remaining tallships in the last leg of the Op Sail race from Bermuda to Newport, Rhode Island. New York harbor would host the fleet on July 4, 1976.
A two-year program, aimed at readying the ship and training a crew for the voyage, was planned. An arrangement was made with the Philadelphia division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets to use Gazela as a training vessel during 1975 with the ultimate end that the officers and cadets would crew the ship for the historic sail. Starting in March of 1976, three months of intensive maintenance was begun. The hull was completely sanded, primed and painted, every piece of standing and running gear was inspected and much of it repaired or overhauled, masts and spars were oiled, and new sails arrived. Virtually no equipment escaped attention. The anchor windlass and engine, galley water pump and oil-fired stove and the two hand-powered bilge pumps on deck were all the objects of extensive work. The old radar was replaced by one with greater range. The original ship’s wheel was restored and replaced. Below decks, the water tanks were cleaned and refilled and the dry-stores area constructed. The engine room was given a major overhaul, new wiring for AC fitted, generators, motors, pumps and air compressor and allied equipment were cleaned and overhauled. New piping and valves for the diesel fuel supply were installed and a new plan for all existing and new fuel, cooling, drain and pump lines was prepared. Finally the engine room was cleaned and repainted.
On June 6th, with a crew of 55, including 35 Naval Sea Cadets, Gazela began the voyage to Bermuda, arriving on June 12th Early on the afternoon of June 20th, the fleet got underway and moved toward their starting positions. But, during the last five minutes before the race, Gazela was sandwiched between Mircea and Christian Radich, two much larger ships. Her topmast crashed to the deck, the fore and jib stays parted and the end off the t’gallant yard was broken. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt and Gazela returned to Bermuda for temporary repairs.
Dimensions were sent to Mystic Seaport Museum where a new topmast was turned. Gazela sailed and motored to Newport where the new topmast was fitted in time to rejoin the fleet for the July 4th entrance into New York Harbor. When she returned to Philadelphia, it was to a new berth at Penn’s Landing.
From 1976 to 1990 Gazela sailed up and down the east coast under a number of captains for the Maritime Museum and, later, the Penn’s Landing Corporation. During these years she had extensive maintenance and repairs to her hull, spars and rigging as well as receiving a new engine. In 1990 ownership passed to the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, a relationship which has continued to this day. With a strong volunteer program, she has extended her range of activities to include parts in a couple of films and sailing farther from home as well as extensive and ongoing repairs. In the summer of 1995 she visited St. John’s, Newfoundland, for the first time in 25 years, a homecoming of sorts.
Modern — and Movie — Roles
Today, she is the good-will ambassador for the international seaport of Philadelphia, where she serves as a reminder of the city’s three-century heritage as a great international port. Gazela has sailed to Maine, Bermuda, and the Chesapeake. She was part of Operation Sail in 1976, the 1982 Statue of Liberty Sail in New York City and the 1982 gathering of tall ships in Philadelphia. In July 1992, she was part of the largest gathering of tall ships ever. In observance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the New World, Gazela sailed to New York and New England, and later to Baltimore and Bristol (Pennsylvania).
In the fall of 1993 she sailed to New Orleans and was filmed in her first major motion picture,Interview with the Vampire, the 1994 release starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. She has also sailed to Canada, visiting Halifax and other ports in Nova Scotia. In 1995, Gazela returned to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she had been many times during her cod-fishing years.
January, 1998 saw Gazela once again as a film star! This time, she was the featured tall ship in the PBS documentary, The Irish in America, the Long Journey Home. Every episode in the mini-series featured shots of Gazela filmed on Delaware Bay in 1996.
In April 1999 the ship sailed to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia for a major role in the film La Veuve de St. Pierre , a French film released in Paris in 2000. Le Veuve de St. Pierre is out on video. Check your local video store and you can spot both Gazela, HMS Rose, and maybe even some familiar crew faces!
Sections of the early history presented here were adapted from The Gazela Primeiro by Allison Saville, PhD, Leeward Publicatons. Additional material was gathered from Gazela crewmembers, past and present.