From the March 12, 1943 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Capt. John R. Forman of Edgartown was 84 on Sunday, and after dinner, he sat in the living room of the home of his son in law and daughter, Capt. and Mrs. Horace O. Hillman, reminiscing over episodes of an eventful life. The captain has stories of his career as a wrecker and skipper of his famous old schooner Gilde that would easily fill the proverbial volume, and if they could be recaptured in print with half the sparkle and gusto which his conversation gives them, it would be a best seller.

The most lucrative job of salvaging Captain Forman ever had came from the Clara Cowcutter and her cargo of 800 tons of West India sugar. This vessel went ashore on Cape Pogue beach when she took a course on the wrong side of a buoy. She was in charge of a young master who was evidently under the influence of a product made from a source similar to that of his cargo. The mate was the man the Edgartown wrecker had to do business with. He was what was then known as a nurse.

Owners of vessels in those days sometimes handed over command to incompetent sons or nephews, and then placed a reliable old timer as mate to nurse along the young master.

This cargo of sugar, with perhaps molasses and rum besides, was a valuable one, and when the bargain was made, Captain Forman had been promised $750 to free the vessel. Wrecking then was a matter of ingenuity, since vessels were pulled off by a boat’s crew with no other equipment than an anchor and hawser, plus a knowledge of tide and wind.

The Edgartown skipper and his boat crew freed the Cowcutter and got her in a position where she would be in readiness to take advantage of the next morning’s tide and probable weather conditions. Before Captain Forman left that night, he warned the young master not to attempt a departure until after his return in the morning.

His warnings, however, went unheeded, and the next morning, before Captain Forman reappeared to finish his work, the Cowcutter’s master, still in a befuddled state, had attempted to sail. As a result, the Cowcutter was again hard and fast, and Captain Forman and his crew had to take her off the second time.

Captain Forman eventually got about twice the sum originally agreed upon.

Then there is the story of the Katie Berry, laden with 850 tons of coal. This vessel was so far gone into the sand that it was feared she would never come off. Captain Forman bought the gear and rigging, and later the coal. The cargo he purchased for $200, selling a great deal of it at $3.50 a ton.

Rivalry between Vineyard towns in those days was keen, and competition for wrecking work often produced a lot of situations only mildly to be described as unpleasant. The captain has a number of tales of just how the rivalry worked out on occasion.

Captain Forman remembers with relish many tales of his old friend, Captain Zebulon, and his schooner, the Alice S. Wentworth. Once, when Captain Zeb and his vessel were tied up at an Edgartown dock, a summer visitor offered him a drink from a flask. Captain Zeb refused emphatically. “No sir, not me,” he said; “I’d be seeing mermaids back of Nantucket!”

The captain’s home on Fuller street is part of a house he razed and brought over from Naushon. The building was being replaced by a stone house on that island, and the captain, an old friend of R. B. Forbes, then head of the family of that name, acquired the house for removal to Edgartown.

This was fifty-five years ago, and the house, a large one, not only provided the material for his own home, but part of Mrs. Bertha S. Beetle’s present home (after her father, Joseph K. Silva had lost his house by fire), and part of the present Harborside Inn.

When Captain Forman and his wife built their home, that part of the town presented a decided contrast from the thickly-settled section it is today. “You could see all over the Sound,” he says, adding that there was something to be seen in those days, before the sailing vessel practically disappeared. As to that, the captain remembers when things were somewhat different in the harbor, too.

“Nowadays, you go down to the wharf,” he says, “and there’s nothing but a couple of fishermen. In those days, there were plenty of vessels.” The captain’s voice conjures up a buoy scene as he tells of ships, sailors, carpenters and other waterfront workers of those days, with the squealing of blocks and kindred sounds of, to most, a forgotten past.

The captain’s schooner has been gone some twenty-five years, and his old boat house, once at the foot of Daggett street, is part of the Kenneth G. Currier property on Pierce avenue. A great grandfather, he is trim of appearance and erect in bearing. His faculties are excellent, and the sparkle in his eye as he draws from that keen memory, belies the eighty-four yeas that have gone before.

Compiled by Hilary Wall