USFC Grampus

USFC Grampus off Massachusetts in 1902.
United States
Name: USFC Grampus
Namesake: Grampus, an alternative name for the orca
Builder: Robert Palmer & Sons, Noank, Connecticut
Launched: 23 March 1886
Completed: 1886
Commissioned: 5 June 1886
General characteristics
Type: Fisheries research ship
Tonnage: 83.30 net register tons
Displacement: 484 tons
Beam: 22 ft 9 in (6.93 m)
Depth: 11 ft 1 in (3.38 m)
Propulsion: Sailing ship
Sail plan: Two-masted schooner rig
A pilot at the wheel of USFC Grampus.

USFC Grampus was a fisheries research ship operated by the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, usually called the United States Fish Commission, and its successor, the United States Bureau of Fisheries, beginning in 1886. She was a schooner of revolutionary design in terms of speed and safety and influenced the construction of later commercial fishing schooners.[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.[2] 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.[1]

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.[1]

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 in to 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.[1]

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.[1]

Speed and safety

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.[1] 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."[1] 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.[1]

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.[1]

To address these issues, Grampus, although similar in design to the traditional New England schooner, also differed in significant ways. She had a hull about two feet (0.6 meter) deeper than traditional schooners of similar length, giving her greater stability. 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.[1]

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.[1]

Construction and commissioning

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. Grampus' 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.[1]

During sea trials in 1886, the steam windlass and its engines and boiler proved to be far too heavy and large for Grampus. The steam apparatus was removed and the steam windlass was replaced by a wooden one, making Grampus much easier to handle at sea.[1]

The Fish Commission commissioned Grampus on 5 June 1886.[1]

Service history

Grampus's home port was Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Her research operations extended along much of the United States East Coast.

On 5 September 1891, Grampus was on a voyage from Hyannis, Massachusetts, to Woods Hole with U.S. Fish Commissioner Marshall McDonald and his wife and daughter, Assistant U.S. Fish Commissioner J. W. Collins, and two female guests aboard when she ran aground on L'Hommidieu Shoal in Vineyard Sound during a southeasterly storm. McDonald, Collins, McDonald's family members, and the other two women made it safely to Falmouth, Massachusetts, in a dory, and Grampus later was refloated and returned to service.[3]

In April 1894, Grampus was on a voyage from Gloucester to Woods Hole before proceeding to Lewes, Delaware, to study the southern mackerel fishery when a serious nor'easter struck, raising significant concerns for her safety.[4] However, the seaworthy ship survived, and her logbooks recording her research operations for the Fish Commission and the Bureau of Fisheries continue through at least 1921.[5]


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