The White Ship – Portuguese fishing schooner

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Here’s a fabulous piece of film following the crew of a Portuguese schooner fishing off the Grand Banks in the middle of the last century, complete with footage of dories stacked on deck and being rowed and lifted aboard, and the fishermen themselves hauling long lines, gutting fish, getting lost in fog and even attending the funeral of a fellow crew member.

The commentary feels a little over-cooked for our times – whoever wrote it may have been reading a little too much Hemingway – and the screen is a little fuzzy, but what it shows is priceless for anyone with an interest in this aspect of maritime history and the boats involved.

I’m grateful to the excellent Mal Nicholson, owner of the Humber supersloop Spider T (of which more soon!) for letting me know about it.

PS – The really good news is that several of these Grand Bankers are still alive and being renovated and restored by the Portuguese as Jay Creswell tells us in his comment below. Don’t miss what he has to say…

18 thoughts on “The White Ship – Portuguese fishing schooner”

  1. "No warmth, no women, no summers at home since you were 8 years old…" I thought the commentary only made the film even more priceless. A great find.

    Thanks Gav.

  2. I thought you'd like it!

    Eight years old – that means kids taken from their homes for months at a time in the summer to do horrible shipboard jobs such as cleaning and gutting fish. It doesn't bear thinking about, does it?


  3. Magnificent. Tells it truely, not the sanitized romantic version but the brutal truth of survival in a hostile environment to provide for their families.

  4. However, there is more, far more than just the White Ship

    First off, the second of three near identical steel-built fourmasted Portuguese dory schooners built in the mid-to-late 1930s is undergoing a massive restoration and will be back at sea this summer

    Her name is Santa Maria Manuela … the same vessel that features in the White Ship. She worked under sail into the early 70s, then became a motor vessel and was not withdrawn until the 1990s

    There are two further sisters … Creoula and Argus

    Creoula was restored not long after she was retired in the 70s and is a magnificent ambassador for Portugal.

    Argus, immortalised in the Alan Villiers book Quest of the Schooner Argus, was sold of, again in the 1970s to become a dude sailing cruise ship in the Caribbean

    Was rescued by the Portugues by being bought at auction in Aruba late 2008. Was towed back to Portugal early last year and is lying in Aviero, awaiting restoration

    In about two years, three at the outside, all three sisters will once again be gracing the Atlantic … powerful four-masted Grand Bankers

    The restoration of SMM can be followed on a superb blog. Just type santamariamanuela blogspot into Google and the site will come up. There is a link into the separate site for the Argus, and another for Creoula, etc, etc

    This is truly inspirational stuff. The chances of four 30s built Grand Bankers of the same class surviving to this day is tiny, and their restoration even more unlikely.

    But the Portuguese are doing exactly that. It is an inspiration to anyone who loves sailing ships

    Finally, I'll go rake out some references that will give further footage of Portuguese Grandbankers at their work … in the 1960s!!!

  5. As promised, more footage on the White Fleet.

    Go on You Tube and type in… os solitarios homens dos doris…It will take you to a six part 1964 National Geographic special about the Potuguese White Fleet on the grand banks. It follows the Schooner Jose Alberto on its trip…..You can't get this video anywhere as I have searched for it for years…It is spectacular

  6. this is great info on teh White Fleet.

    Does anyone have resources for the names of all the ships in teh fleet from the mid 60's?

  7. i´m looking for 2 things if anyone can help me…

    1- footage of an 80's fil by Francisco Manso called "Epopeia do bacalhau" filmed on a fishing season aboard the fishing vessel "Antonio jose fagundes"

    2- original plans from the schooner "Argus" before it became "polynesia", they are very difficult to find if anyone can get them in any kind of suport i would apreciate it.

    i'm not egoist so if anyone is interested in material about creoula or santa maria manuela i can gladly provide it, thanks

  8. Gavin don't take this the wrong way but not all of them were forced and they were called "verdes" it means green, it's like a grommet or a rookie, there was no school to learn, the ship was also a school for that job, and for some the only life they could aspire to, those were hard times… many of those kids were orphans, or very poor and on the ship they had bed and food, and received good money for working, they also grew as men in that environment, many of them are still alive and the truth is they miss those times, the portuguese social history is very complex and particular in certain cases like this one, we were a very poor country until the 70's and 80's, life wasn't easy on anyone before that…

  9. GAZELA was built in 1883, major restoration in 1901 in Portugal. With wooden hull, she was built to "cod fish" off the Grand and George banks, but it from a different era that CREOULA and her sisters.

    GAZELA's webpage is:


  10. Im looking for my dad who was on a fishing boat who came to St Johns, Newfoundland in the mid 70's. His name is Francisco Rosa. Please if anyone knows of him, contact me at….I know he lived in Lisbon, Portugal.

  11. I was the writer and producer of The White Ship- a National Film Board of Canada production. Check with the NFB website re ordering disks of their productions. My initial research was based upon a book The White Fleet – can't remember the author. I had to use a different title – for copyright reasons! There is a small community- Ilhavo- near to Aveiro in Portugal where there is, or was, in 1999 a museum devoted to the Portugese Grand Banks cod fishery. Glad you en joyed the film . It was made back in 1965 – that's FORTY SIX six years ago now: and I had NOT been reading Hemingway before writing the narration!

    Rex Tasker

    PS Any DVD you order from the NFB will be sharp. unfuzzy and unstretched!

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