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The Italian Kicker Fleet

 

Saturday, December 30, 1911

There’s Good Money in Motor Boat Fishing

Some cold, sleet-whipped morning, when you are down by the water-front, and warmly clad to resist the wind, walk out to the end of T wharf and look over the "Kicker-Fleet".

Ice-coated you will find the little craft, but their operators will be lively and animated, and gesticulating and chattering much more freely than if it were the warmest day in summer. They are hardy, if they are not handsome, and they are interesting for the way they win a living from the waters of the harbor.

The members of the "kicker fleet" are fishermen. Most of them are Italians, and the industry of harbor fishing is almost entirely in their hands. Coming late or going early to the beach on summer days by way of the ferries, you may have seen their coughing, dingy craft, scudding out at dawn or before, and envied them. But you would not envy them at this season, for now fishing isn’t fun, but stern business.

There are about 125 motor boats in the "kicker fleet" and they represent an investment of approximately $40,000. There are two and sometimes three or four fishermen to a boat. What they earn depends largely upon fishermen’s luck, but it’s a poor day that the catch doesn’t give each man $3 or $4 over and above expenses. Some persons would rather have $1 a day and work at a job that is strictly safe and uneventful, but these men of the "kicker fleet" nourish under their unimpressive exteriors a love of contest and taste for the tang of adventure.

They get both, for the race in from the fishing grounds is commonly exciting, and the quest of the fish is not without its perils, especially in the winter months. Many a time the little boats are very near to swamping in the seas that a high wind kicks up even in the more or less sheltered spots that are the fishing grounds of the "bug fleet". Frequently a man intent on getting in his trawl goes overboard with the sudden lurch of his little boat and gives his mates a lively tussle, tossed as they are, not is the trough, and now on the crest of the combers, with the motor racing as the screw whirls in air instead of water, before he is rescued. Then on foggy days there is always the danger of being cut down by a liner, although for the most part the Kicker Fleet avoids the channels. But the percentage of casualties is not high and if they have narrow squeaks occasionally it only adds to the zest of the life.

Usually the fishermen set out before dawn and return to T wharf with their catch during the forenoon. Then they have the exciting experience of bargaining. One of the peculiarities of these fishermen is that cash is the basis of all their transactions. They never run account, they pay for what they buy and for what they have to sell they expect also cash.

From a single motor boat the fleet has brown in a few years to proportions far beyond the expectations of the waterfront and T wharf men. With a single exception of Salvadora Sciuramituro*, who still clings to his leg o’mutton sail-propelled dory, and who is a gatherer of mussels and periwinkles, the entire fleet is composed of motor boats, which carry an aggregate insurance of more than $42,000.

These motor fishermen frequent the waters of Boston harbor almost exclusively. Sometimes they go as far as Marblehead, to the Middle Bank, a profitable fishing ground; to the Boston Lightship, and sometimes to points in the vicinity of Cohasset, Swampscott and to points south of Nantasket Beach.

Everything is fish that comes to their lines, trawls and seines. Nothing in the shape of a groundfish is it and everything they bring in is turned into cash or is make use of by their families of the men or those of their friends.

A motor boat equipped to join the motor fleet costs from $125 to a sum reaching close to $1000 and each man on a boat bears an equal share of the cost, and shares equally the income with his associates.

As a money-making investment the motor boat is a success. Among its members are men who are as shrewd, conservative and as careful in their transactions as those who will be found in the big banking institutions of the city. They know the possibilities of a fishing boat, they know just how many pounds of fish can be secured at a certain place in a certain time and they can tell to the fraction of a cent just about what they will receive when the sales are made.

The market prices of fish from one week’s end to the other are carefully considered, the amount which each boat is likely to bring in per day, and profits and loss are as carefully reckoned as is the cost of maintenance and the cost of keep of each fisherman.

So well have these fishermen studied the business and so carefully have thy planned that they are pretty well informed as to how much is to be gained in a week or a month, and they work and save accordingly.

The man with a small boat, with one partner, who secures from $3 to $6 a day, up to $6 and sometimes $8 a day, is regarded as a successful fisherman, but there are others who, with larger boats and a more complete outfit, make in the neighborhood of $10, $12, and sometimes $15 a day. The weather, the market, the running prices for ground fish have much to do with the success of the men, and success is based entirely upon the amounts of American cash secured for their work and the fish which they bring in.

The barometer of a fisherman’s success is the time of the year, when the more successful lay off for the winter season and sails away for ------. If he begins to talk about it early in October and begins then his preparations for the holiday, that fisherman has been successful.

If the fisherman waits until November before he begins his preparations for the holiday trip his business is immediately suspect down as being bad but there are many who can’t relinquish the work for a trip ashore. But there are dozens of the little "kicker fleet" who have money in the banks and who possess realty about Boston. Of the latter it should be mentioned the Buchilacci brothers, Jack and Antonio, who were among the very first who started business with a motor boat. At the first they were laughed and jeered at and pointed to as daft. Their success however, was so pronounced that their rivals soon found it necessary to possess a motor boat.

They soon realized that they could get to the fishing grounds and could stay longer than by using sails for propulsion. Joe Lucido, who was the third motor fisherman, is regarded as one of the wealthiest Italians in Boston’s fleet. It has been announced he will become the "king" of the "kicker fleet" and his chances are excellent.

* Salvatore Ciaramitaro

 

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