The first time I had heard of the fishing vessel LITTLE GROWLER, was in a story written a few decades back when Tim Coleman put together the finest wreck finding and fishing series in the NEW ENGLAND FISHERMEN during the 1992/1993 time period.
I had been following Tim's stories during that time, and couldn't wait for the next installment which was almost every week of another new shipwreck story off New England. As you will come to read, they were discussed by Tim, who by that time had spent countless hours not only researching shipwrecks, but also in going out with many of the most noted captains from Rhode Island to Massachusetts to locate and fish these sunken gems. Mind you, they were, as most of these offshore wrecks saw little if any fishing pressure since this was almost a decade prior to the "color by numbers" GPS chart plotters that made it much simpler for the non-professional fishermen to find and get over a wreck.
For a moment, let me digress and mention how this all started.
During the later 1980's, Tim had become noted for compiling information on shipwrecks in New England, and eventually came out with what was essentially the first "dead-on" wreck numbers book in 1989, Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles:
Being a south shore of Long Island wreck hunga, I eventually started paying closer attention to Tim's wreck and bottom fishing stories in the NEW ENGLAND FISHERMEN, taking notes and keeping info of wrecks he wanted to know more about... and then the ultimate, finally locating these wrecks. During this particular wreck series, he wrote about the fv LITTLE GROWLER that went down south of Nomans in 23 fathoms.
The story of the sinking itself, was eerily similar to other commercial fishing tragedies that had occurred during the 70's, 80's and early 90's as a number of lobster boats, scallopers and draggers ended up sinking. While a few were of steel, the vast majority were wooden vessels built pre, during and a few years after World War II. The LITTLE GROWLER was one such vessel, built during the war, and by the time of her sinking, she had already undergone four decades of commercial fishing off the New England shores.
There was also something else which Tim did in those issues of the New England Fishermen...he placed clues of shipwrecks to look for in the comments section of the publication with the fishing vessels name, date of sinking, and a rough latitude/longitude location. Then at one point he made what was essentially a "master wreck hunting" list which ranged as far west to Montauk Point, to east of Cape Cod Massachusetts.
Goodie-gumdrops I said, and most who hunt for wrecks felt this was a windfall, but in fact as I and many of you who do go out there looking, it was akin to chasing a needle in the haystack unless you have done some pretty detailed detective work in researching yourself on where these actually went down.
The list which I posted years earlier and which Tim later mailed me a copy, was for wreck hunga's, a treasure trove of "looks for's" and "we have to find this one." In fact and to briefly mention in this part of this discussion, since the time Tim Coleman posted his list from a few decades back, the majority of these vessels, have been located and fished upon. Some also have also been verified that in fact, they were the sunken commercial fishing vessel in question.
Go over and scan the list for a moment and see which vessel is listed on this list.....and this is where the next part of the story begins..........
BROTHERS II - SUNK SEPT. 82'
CAROL & DENNIS - AUGUST 72' - MONTAUK
ELMO aka TOOTHFAIRY - OCT 88' - MONTAUK
FAIR WIND - 55' - NOV 80' - DEEP NANTUCKET
FOUR BROTHERS - JULY 85'
JOSHUA B - AUG 61' - MONTAUK
MANDALAY - APR 62' - MONTAUK
NORTHERN DAWN - 1956
SUSAN FRANCIS - APR 88'
ANDREW & ALLISON - JAN' 87'
ALLEY CAT - NOV 81' = SOUTH OF BLOCK ISLAND
BARBARA CHRISTINE - 59' - NOV 80' - S/W NANTUCKET
BETSY C - APR 59' - WEST SIDE COXES LEDGE
BRENDA LOUISE - UNK - NOMANS
CLARA T - FEB 54' - BLOCK ISLAND
DETERMINED - 76' - NOV 80' - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
DOROTHY & BETTY - JAN 49'
DOROTHY & MARY - NOV 61' - NANTUCKET
DOREEN LEE - SEPT 68' - SOUTHERN MASS.
DUTCHESS - AUG 81' - NOMANS
EC NEWELL MAN - UNK - EAST OF MONTAUK
ELIPITCAL - UNK - DEEP NANTUCKET
EUGENE & ROSE (CABLE) - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
FILLET - UNK - DEEP EDGE SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
GREAT ISLANDER - SEPT 87' - SOUTHERN MASS.
HARRY GLENN - UNK - NANTUCKET
JENNY & JACKIE - AUG 82 - NOMANS
JOANNA- UNK - SOUTHERN MASS.
LITTLE GROWLER -OCT 83' - NOMANS
LITTLE SAM - AUG 58'
LOBSTA 1 - SEPT 78' - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
MARDI GRAS - SEPT 72'
MARYANN - UNK -SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
MAIDEN CREEK - KNOWN - DEEP MONTAUK
MISS JENNIFER - UNK - BLOCK ISLAND
NORDSTRUM - UNK - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
NORTHERN LIGHTS - NOV 84' - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
OLIVE M. WILLIAMS - UNK
OUR LADY OF FATIMA - JUN 81'
NATHANIEL PALMER - APR 45 - BLOCK ISLAND
PAT & JUDY - UNK - SOUTHERN RHODE ISLAND
POCAHANTUS - UNK - SOUTH OF COXES LEDGE
PONCE DE LEON - NOV 56'
PORTUGAL - MAY 65'
ROBERT E - DEC 78' - MONTAUK
R.W. GRIFFIN - JULY 58'
SAINT JOHN - AUG 73' - SOUTHERN MASS.
SCROD - AUG 77'
SKIMMER - UNK - SW GROUNDS
SOL E MAR -MAR 90' - NOMANS
SOUTHERN CROSS - UNK - SOUTHERN MASS.
SPIRIT OF 76 - UNK - COXES
STAR OF THE SEA - FEB 60' - SOUTHERN MASS.
SUE C II - UNK - NOMANS
TOSCIN - JUN 71'
UNITED STATES - DEC 78'
VALIANT LADY -UNK - MONTAUK
WIND BLOWN - 1984
WINSLOW - UNK - MONTAUK
ZERDA - SEPT 82'
The Google search engine is not only an incredible researching tool, but also provides those searching for information to do something else...that is, connect with those who may provide other information beyond what was written and cached within Google's unending collection of inputted data.
Tim's Southern New England wreck list was found a few years back by someone who did do some searching for something about her family and their ownership of and in a vessel that was listed above, the fv LITTLE GROWLER. What she passed along to me is one of the most interesting stories in this "genre" in researching shipwrecks, with the story prior to and thereafter, the sinking of a commercial fishing vessel, and the link that brought us together, the late Tim Coleman.
As for the connection, the person who passed along this personal story, Deborah Avitable, wished to know one thing about the sinking of the LITTLE GROWLER when she contacted me.....
what happened to the crew....did they make it alright....survive?"
Her story, which I have pieced together.
My dad Albert Avitable, inherited some money around the 1975/1976/1977 time period. His friend/lawyer, I think his last name was Gavin, from Weymouth Mass., introduced him to the "investment"...of being a 51% silent owner. The "51%" part, was in how the shares were divided on selling the catch. The Captain, crew, boat and a manager, whom also ran a sister ship out of New Bedford shared the rest.
I don't know who he bought the boat from since I was in high school at the time. I do remember going to New Bedford with him and seeing it in the water preparing to go out. I thought it sounded like a wonderful way to work going out to sea for a few weeks and make a bunch of money. I thought a girl should be allowed to go!
In digging through some papers I have a small amount of info about the dates in question.
I found the Growler Corporation filed with the state on June 1, 1977. The principle address was Solveig's Boat Settlement in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The articles of organization were filed and an additional filing on Aug 1, 1978, changed the principle address, but the filing was not available electronically so I don't know where it was changed to. There is a date cutoff as well, so these filings may be gone. The Growler Corp., was involuntarily dissolved in 1983. My brother remembered he was driving his 1977 Grand Prix, as far as the year in question. He also said the saying, "a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into".....and it applied to the LG (LITTLE GROWLER)!
These dates all fit with my Dads time frame. I do remember I was probably part of the listed organization because I remember going to a Bank in Quincy to withdraw funds. My dads other business was in Quincy. He owned a driving school called Towne Auto. I remember he was worried the bank would question me because of my age. This had to have been in 1978/1979.
This all made me wonder.... why my dad got involved. His family were farmers in Braintree Massachusetts. No sea salt in his blood. But I read an interesting article about the scallop industry in the 70. Seems there were some golden years and I think the investment opportunity for my father came maybe in that peak time. I remember thinking he was a bit bored in everyday life and this was as different as one would imagine!
It seemed like things were going okay for awhile. I remember a story of them being asked to meet a boat at sea and bring in some bales of pot...I know my dad was against any of that. The next day all the electronics were stolen off LG . The Captain thought it was a warning.
I think within and over the next couple years, there was talk of changing to something besides scallops....maybe the price was too low?
Now the sad ending for us with the LITTLE GROWLER. There was a problem that required the LG to be hauled out for repair. I remember they were out working and had to find a yard that could do it. Not sure where they ended up, but not New Bedford as the repair could not wait.
The repair was done and the LG was launched but a "transducer?" was knocked off and the engine room flooded and the LG was hauled out with extensive engine damage. My dads friend headed to the yard to meet with the insurance rep and was killed in a car accident.
That hit my Dad awfully hard and he walked away from the LITTLE GROWLER. I guess there was a loan on the boat because he said me, that he told the bank he was not going to be spending another penny on the boat and they could have it. I was away at college when this all happened, but I remember how sad Dad was losing his friend.
Also he was hard on himself about jumping into something that he could not really do himself. My dad passed away in 1989. I moved to Pocasset on Cape Cod in 2000 and I ended up working at a boatyard owned by Bill Plettner. In his youth he worked in commercial fishing and along the way cooked on the LG. Another guy I met, a well known Captain, Matt Stommell also had some dealing with LG.....small world!
Getting back to answering Deborah's question...."what did happen to the crew?"
The answer was first noted in the original wreck series story by Tim, with the crew being safely picked up by the fv Carolina Girl. But years later in the very last story that Tim wrote to me about wrecks off Marthas Vineyard in Nantucket, he provided further information on the LITTLE GROWLER incident (this story and the pictures will be in another INSIDER WRECK SERIES).
Another of the wrecks are on the south side of the Vineyard, closer then some of the other larger and more noted wrecks off of Nantcuket is yet another dragger, the F/V Little Growler, an 64-foot eastern rig that went down in 130-plus feet of water 10 miles southeast of Nomans Island.
She had 25,000 pounds of fish in her hold when the starboard door of the trawl gear whacked into the hull as it was being pulled abroad. The trawl door ruptured the hull but the bilge alarm did not go off so captain and crew thought they dodged a bullet.
However the Little Growler was taking on water, and by the time the crew became aware of the very real problem, it was too late. They put in a mayday call to the Coast Guard that sent out a helo to drop two pumps, but they could not keep up with the flooding of the 40-year old boat. She went down early in the morning of October 10, 1983 after all aboard were safely picked up by the nearby dragger Carolina Girl.
There she sits today, home to cod in the summer and sea bass in the late fall when some might stop on their migration to deeper water.
When I forwarded Deborah this information, her response was:
Thank you so much!! So glad the crew was saved. It's really something to know the Little Growlers final chapter. An older boat resting in the sea instead of broken up in salvage, is
romantic, but only because no lives were lost . However whomever owned it then, and the crew I am sure, would not think of its demise as the least bit romantic.
This is far from the end of the story though, as least for those who enjoy wreck hunting and then fishing on these little honey holes east or south of the point....that's Montauk and Point Judith.
A number of years back I started doing a little work on one charter boat and fishing with a few captains who had vessels who could make it off to the "motherland" in Southern New England waters. For years I had being doing my homework in not only collecting information via hang logs, dock talking with other captains and Windplot data, but also in going out with these captains and spending the time (and money) to find these wrecks.
Due to the distance away from the often fished codfish grounds typically during the summer time of the year, Cox Ledge, going off, looking and fishing south of "Martha's and Nomans" is a risky proposition, both in terms of finding a new wreck, but also in dealing with the weather you could get caught in when fishing on a small boat in this particular area.
Normally there is little need to go further off at this time of the season, as the area around Cox Ledge is productive enough to send everyone home with more than a few fish dinners as Captain Greg Mercurio of the YANKEE CAPTS always tell me when asked....even when the fishing is really good.
As luck would have it, I did get called upon to go out with a certain crew of fishermen I knew who would go out looking in between fishing for cod, sea bass and blackfish on these long range trips out of Montauk. I wish I could say that it was always productive in finding a new spot, but most times you have to realize that wreck locating is like gambling in Atlantic City....you will have many more misses then hits when at the wreck hunting table.
On one trip, we thought we had this one zeroed in. The collected data looked good from the sources I and another captain had put together. At the time, I did not personally know Tim, and knew of no other rod and reel fishermen who may have had the LITTLE GROWLER zeroed in. This was a "roll of the dice", but since we were in the area hitting and fishing some already long located wrecks, the captain scooted over to the area, and started his search.
Hunting for a small wreck barely a tenth of a microsecond long if run over length wise, is tough when using either rough and approximate Loran-C TD's or even with Tim's XX-XX.X lat/lon info that he put in his piece about the LITTLE GROWLERS final resting place. The LG was a 65 foot long eastern-rigged dragger, and one would figure that after over two plus decades of the sea taking it toll upon her wooden bones, she would not only lose much of her relief, but possibly could have a net on her along with wreckage remnants being scattered around the LG.
It was a nice October day and the boat was making its passes as both captains watched the bottom machine and charter plotter which now had zig-zagged trails covering a nice swatch of the ocean where we thought we had the numbers for the LG. I wish I could say "oui" found it, and in speaking French here in using "oui", "we" did miss it....and from locating her a few years later, by a wide margin in distance from the original search.
Someone did find it though, years earlier during the nineties as Tim pointed out to me. When discussing a number of wrecks in the area, he passed along that another envelope was coming along in the mail. Shortly thereafter, and Tim was extremely prompt when working on a wreck hunting and fishing story, the envelope arrived and this picture was included in there, with the note written below the image of the LITTLE GROWLER:
HIs picture, looked much, much better than mine. In fact, due to a computer crash (I have Carbonite now), a few of the pictures I took on these trips are no longer there, one being of the wrecks around this area. I can tell you that the LG is a little junkpile something along the craggy look of the larger DETERMINED to the south west of it, but way bigger then the "bump" in the bottom that the ALLEY CAT was when we last were there.
For those who are all jeweled up in going out there come this spring and looking around and trying to find the LG, much of the information is not accurate:
In fact you will find yourself looking at a good amount of featureless bottom throughout this area (far different then the rock laden area just north of Nomans). I can also pass along that the P&J mentioned in the image, is not in that location. It was also found and confirmed back during the nineties, far from these numbers!
In closing out the story on the LITTLE GROWLER, I have to thank Deborah for passing along this information when her father was associated with the vessel. The other thanks here is to the late Tim Coleman who really did the homework in researching the story on the sinking, and the latter short story with a picture of the LG.
I can add that what you may find on the LITTLE GROWLER, will most likely not be worth the time and effort to fish, especially during the time of the season when fishermen will be out this way.
With a changing ocean off our coast, along with east and northward stock shifting, you will not see a bounty full of cod just waiting with open mouths to swallow up your skimmer baited rigs. In fact we have noticed that most of these wrecks in 20-30 fathom range in this area, are at best, fall sea bass stops and normally during the year, another place to catch decent size choggies.
Big grey submarines, NMFS poster child of successful stock rebuilding in the northeast, dogfish, will abound in numbers that at times will make fishing these little wrecks pretty frustrating. That, I can ensure you, you will catch if you do go out that way to look for and bottom fish at the wrong time of the year in the area where the remains of the LITTLE GROWLER are.