The Working Waterfront

When the helper gets in trouble

National Fisherman and ‘Working the Sea’

By Kevin Johnson
Posted 2023-06-06
Last Modified 2023-06-06

There is no shortage of drama in the National Fisherman photograph shown here, taken in December 1973. The dark figure of a man looms in the foreground surveying a scene of maritime mayhem. It’s foggy and snowing, and one can almost feel the elements.

A rope leads the viewer’s eye out from the shore to a grounded vessel which, ironically, is a Coast Guard boat. In the upper right corner, a fishing vessel is also grounded and tilting in the opposite direction of its would-be rescuer. In between, two men inch out onto a narrow spit of land to observe.

As National Fisherman contributor and boats and gear editor Michael Crowley relates the story:

“The night of December 4, 1973 was a miserable one for both the Alton A, a 55-foot wooden dragger from Maine, and the 44-foot Coast Guard utility boat, at the left in the photo. A fierce snowstorm drove both the Alton A and her would-be rescuer ashore, where they were pounded on the ledges at the mouth of Maine’s Casco Bay.

“The Alton A was caught in a rocky crevice and couldn’t be floated free. After being holed several times over the ensuing week, her owner abandoned her. On the other hand, the Coast Guard boat’s steel hull was better able to endure the beating, and because she grounded out closer to the high-water mark, a crane was able to get close enough to lift her ashore and onto a trailer.”

A fierce snowstorm drove both the Alton A and her would-be rescuer ashore…

This photograph is included in a new Penobscot Marine Museum exhibit, “Working the Sea,” which draws on photographs and the stories behind them from the pages of National Fisherman, a preeminent fisheries journal in the U.S. The short essays which contextualize each photo were researched and written by Crowley and will be included in a forthcoming book of the same title later this year.

The exhibit is on display at the Camden Public Library for its Maritime Month—the entire month of April—before it comes back to the museum for the summer season.

Crowley will give an illustrated talk at the Camden library at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 on his experience writing for National Fisherman and will share more stories and images from his book. The geographic coverage of his work included New England, the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, West Coast, and Alaska. This is a hybrid event and will take place in person as well as on Zoom.

The National Fisherman photo collection was donated to Penobscot Marine Museum in 2012 and can be viewed online through the museum’s website, The Penobscot Marine Museum is located on Route 1 in Searsport. Kevin Johnson is the museum’s photo archivist.