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The Virginia and Joan II


Thursday, November 12, 1936

Six Perish When Gill Netter Hit Heavy Gale
Virginia and Joan II Believed To Have Gone Down
Somewhere in Ipswich Bay Tuesday-
Body of Cook Only One Recovered
Captain Austin Wonson, Was One of The Youngest Skippers of This Port — Crew Young Men

Six Gloucester men went to their doom sometime Tuesday when the 55-foot auxiliary gill netting boat Virginia and Joan II, Capt. Austin Wonson, believed heavily loaded with pollock, was unable to withstand the onslaught of the _____ mile an hour gale in Ipswich bay.

The craft, it is believed was returning from the fishing grounds off Isle of Shoals, near New Hampshire, across the bay into Annisquam river to her wharf here, when she went to bottom. T____ against death experienced by the men was indica___ ing of one body late yesterday forenoon by the L___ Edna Fae, Capt. Hercules Ryan, 11 miles northeast of Thacher’s island. No other bodies had been located today, nor has any trace of the tragedy been uncovered in the wide and long search made by Coast Guard patrol boats and Coast Guard planes and local fishing craft, many of whom ___ hunt all day yesterday to no avail. Search for the vessel resumed early this afternoon by the Coast Guard.

The drowned include:

Capt. Austin E. Wonson, skipper, 25 years, single
Earl Gerring, engineer, 30
Harold W. "Connie" Fairweather, cook, 36, married tow children, body recovered
James E. Jacobs, 38, married, children
Richard Frost, 25 years, married, one child
Frederic L. Thompson, former local jeweler, 48, married, two children. He was the uncle of the skipper and only a passenger in the trip.

The city was plunged in gloom yesterday as the news spread of the terrible disaster. All were well-known in the community and the fact that the tragedy left four widows and five fatherless, lengthened the shadows of regret.The gill netter which like most of the fleet of 32 boats out of this port, has been doing well the past few weeks. Pollock has been in abundance and commanding a good price. The men had been averaging between $70 and $80 per man for several weeks, it is said.

Capt. Wonson had fished apart from the bulk of the fleet, setting his net around the Isles of Shoals. Shortly after 2.30 o’clock Tuesday morning the craft let port to lift her gear. It was learned yesterday that 28 boxes of nets had been lifted, and a second set placed in the water to fish for another load for Wednesday’s trip. The netter is believed then to have set sail for Gloucester by way of Annisquam river, shortly before the noon hour Tuesday, when the gale from the northwest descended upon their frail craft, which was probably well down into the water with her load of fish. What actually occurred after that is a story that was carried to the ocean’s bottom by the crew. It is surmised that her load was too great under the conditions of wind and sea, and that without freeboard to protect her, she shipped water and was carried under before she could make the river entrance.

That the men had realized their grave position before the end came was noted in the fact that Fairweather when found had a life preserver on, and was without oilskins or rubber boots. The netter had not dory or small boat due principally to the fact that it lacked room for such a craft on deck, and that to tow her astern would slow her speed. Fishing by themselves some 10 miles distant from the fleet probably prevented other craft from noting their plight and hastening to their rescue.

Although not engaged in seeking the missing netter, the Fae, Capt. Ryan, was engaged in lifting her nets yesterday forenoon about 11 o’clock when Capt. Ryan from the pilot house saw a body floating on its back about 20 feet off the bow, from the northwest down to the Fae’s nets. The skipper hooked onto the body and immediately recognized it as that of Fairweather. He brought it to port, arriving here about 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon at Pinkham’s wharf, East Gloucester, where it was viewed by Dr. Ira B. Hull, medical examiner, who pronounced death due to accidental drowning. Dr. Hull was unable to tell just how long the body had been in the water, nor as to what degree the man had struggled to keep himself alive. When found, the body was rigid, its hand on the hips, and encased in a life preserver. Fairweather is known to have been a strong swimmer.

Fears for her safety first expressed by 9 o’clock Tuesday night, when the craft was five hours overdue at the Gloucester Sea Foods company, the former Booth Fisheries site at East Gloucester. The Coast Guard at Dolliver’s Neck was notified by Roland R. Wonson, owner of the draft, and father of the skipper. The patrol boat 158 with Boatswain’s Mate George A. Tardif in command, left her local bast at midnight and spent the next 18 hours in search of the missing craft and crew, returning to this port at 5.30 o’clock yesterday afternoon. The patrol boat Harriet Lane, Chief Boatswain Charles M. Fedderson commanding, left about the same hour and continued searching until 6 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Two Coast Guard planes from Winter Island, Salem, coast Guard aviation base, patrolled the area in which the craft was believed to have gone down. Lieut. Commander Frank A. Leamy, base commandant, flew the Fokker amphibian Victor 112, taking off at 10.05 o’clock yesterday morning, and returning at 3.35 o’clock in the afternoon, while the Gurmmond amphibian Victor 139, flown by Lieut. Perry S. Lyons, made two trips, one from 8.40 to 11.30 o’clock in the forenoon, and the second from 12.15 to 1.05 o’clock in the afternoon, during which flight she was in contact with the Edna Fae, the netter that located Fairweather’s body.

The Virginia and Joan II was launched at Kennybunkport, Maine, Sunday afternoon, June 3, 1934, being christened by the Misses Virginia and Joan Wonson, daughters of the owner, and for whom the craft was named. She measured 55 feet long, 13 feet beam and 5 feet draft, and at first was powered with an 80 horsepower Cooper-Bessemer Diesel engine, but within the past year, an Athas Diesel was substituted for the other. This was her third season in the pollocking game, and Capt. Austin Wonson, who had previously made a splendid record in the Virginia and Joan, took command of the new boat.

Capt. Wonson was an extremely tall and rugged skipper, had despite his years, proved himself a real "killer" in the gill net fishing industry, starting when he was but 15 years of age, and learning the art from such highliners as the late Capt. Herman Tysver of the netter Enterprise, and from Capt. Axel Weiderman of the Mary A. He leaves to mourn his loss his parents, and two sisters.


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