By Doreen Leggett
David Jerauld stopped fishing decades ago, but stories of his boat, the Pocahontas, still find their way into conversations.
“A legendary name for a legendary boat,” said Paul Gasek from Brewster, who crewed for Jerauld back in the 1970s before going on to another kind of career in fisheries; producer of the popular television show, “The Deadliest Catch.”
Jerauld has landscaped for years – too many days at sea away from his family convinced him to jump ship – but he grew up fishing.
His great grandfather Silas Robbins, born in 1835, was a sea captain, and more than a century later Jerauld fell into it.
“I went with some of the guys when I was 12 years old,” Jerauld remembered.
His dad was a carpenter and painted houses, but in the 1950s and ‘60s fishing was part of many lives.
“He did (bay) scalloping like everyone else around here,” Jerauld said of his dad.
Like many Chatham kids his first job was at the pier packing fish or cutting bait in shanties. He mostly packed for Bob Fraser at Stone Horse Fish. The fish would come up in big kettles and they would layer wooden boxes with ice and 125 pounds of fish, nailing them shut.
“You’d put them on the scale, put them on the tractor trailer and they would go to New York,” Jerauld remembered. “I got 50 cents a day.”
There was a metal stove in the middle of packing houses with benches and old fishermen used to spit tobacco and tell stories, said Jerauld, who liked listening.
“There were some real characters,” Jerauld said, adding that you had to be tough to fish back then without modern navigation or fish finders.
When he was around 15 he worked for Paul Lucas who owned a trap company. There were several back then as weirs used to catch a lot of fish during runs from March to mid-June.
“Squid was the biggest thing,” Jerauld said. “We used to get 40,000 pounds a day. When we were catching a lot of squid there was 8 or 10 people (working).”
Lucas landed the catch in Harwich and most of it went to freezer plants by the canal.
Jerauld fished weirs for 15 to 20 years and one of the things he remembers most is burn marks on his hands from squid ink.
“It’s poisonous. You’d put cream on your hands every single night,” he said with a shake of the head.
He also would quahog and crewed on boats. When he was still a teenager the boat he was on almost sank. He was sleeping and the boat, owned by well-known captain Sten Carlson, hit the side of a dragger.
“I woke up and the whole side of the boat was gone,” Jerauld remembers.
Before they got a ride back to port, they tried to stop the vessel from sinking by throwing over the catch.
“All we did was attract sharks,” Jerauld said.
The experience didn’t faze him much. He remembers it being exciting because they had to travel to Boston to testify.
“It was the first time I had been off Cape,” he said with a smile.
After several years Jerauld bought a boat, the Maureen Donna, named after his late wife and his daughter.
“It seemed like the thing to do,” Jerauld said.
A few years later he sold the Maureen Donna and bought the Pocahontas, a 42-foot Bruno Stillman, up in Maine.
“In the ‘70s fishing was good. We were cod fishing mostly,” he said.
Before 1976, when the Magnuson Stevens Act pushed the big foreign trawlers 200 miles out, the Pocahontas would fish among boats that dwarfed her.
“You would kind of pick a spot and go between them,” Jerauld said.
Sometimes she would pull alongside and they would trade items.
“We would give them American cigarettes,” Jerauld recalled.
The year the act passed is the one Gasek remembers being a great one for the Pocahontas.
“We found this little place and we were getting 100 or 110 boxes a day,” Gasek said. “I think that built up the buzz on the Pocahontas.”
Hook fishermen were making two-day trips to the Great South Channel, 50 or 60 miles away.
“You had to be back and unload before 6 pm and make the truck. Friday you couldn’t fish because there was no market on weekends,” Jerauld said, adding they spent those days working on the boat. “There was always plenty to do.”
Gasek said other fishermen got used to seeing them – Jerauld and Gasek with the late Ned Crockett — bring in big catches.
“Sometimes we took home around $2,000 a week (each), which was huge then,” Gasek said.
They fished well together, Gasek said, and had an “esprit de corps.”
“Jerauld is one of the best haulers I have ever worked with,” Gasek said. “Your brain and body have to compute wind and waves and the weight of the gear, and this stuff is moving. He was a great practitioner, regardless of the weather.”
Cod prices were low and when there was a big set of sea scallops close to Chatham, the Pocahontas switched fisheries. She had different crew and the stories multiplied.
After sea scalloping, Jerauld took the Pocahontas gillnetting, but he became worried he was spending too much time away from his daughter and son. He segued from fishing into landscaping.
He still fished in the winter though, mostly with the Tolleys on the Dawn T.
“Weather was horrible,” he said with a smile.
He sold the Pocahontas but still hears about her from time to time. She is generating more stories up in Maine.