Little Italy Early Sicilian Fishing History Part 1 – Memories of Little Italy’s Grape St Fishing Fleet By Tony Di Bona

Memories of Little Italy’s Grape St Fishing Fleet
By Tony Di Bona

I was born and raised in the area of Columbia and Kalmia St in Little Italy’s community. It was saturated with Sicilian fishing families which lived within a zone from Beech to Laurel Streets. This was the “meat” of the neighborhood and everyone worked and knew each other in San Diego’s thriving fishing industry. The area was solid with fishermen which were primarily from Sicily. From Sicilian towns like Aspara, Mazzara, Castellammare, Porticello and Trapani came the families that brought their expertise that developed the fishing waterfront area along Harbor Dr. The majority of this influx and development occurred between the 1920’s to 1980 when the demise of the tuna industry took the small boat community along with it.

My story begins with my fascination with the life at sea from stories as told by my older brother, Dominick and my father, Mario. I would often go to the embarcadero with them and listen to the sea tales from the men on the boats.

As I grew older (13yrs) I finally got to go fishing with my uncle Leo D’Angelo on his small 40 foot market boat, the Girolamo D.. It was equipped to fish for Albacore, Sea Bass, Halibut and Barracuda. At that time, in 1953,the Grape St piers (there were three of them) were the home for the market boat fleet. The market boats were an assortment of unique vessels from 30 to 50 feet in length that provided fresh fish for local fish markets including restaurants.

The fleet was operated by the Sicilian families that lived a few blocks away in Little Italy. A short walk to the piers was all it took to be at your boat.

It was an exciting place to be. Nets were on the docks being repaired and there was a familiar Sicilian dialect that could be heard from one pier to the other. Discussions of when and where the next fish run would occur and the techniques used was always absorbed by my young ears. One could get quite an education in “Fishing 101.”

Our boat was equipped like many of the others to carry a live bait tank for Albacore and then to convert to net fishing when the Albacore season closed. The piers were buzzing with activity as providers of ice, and provisions would bring their trucks down to the boats to unload orders. Next to the piers was the fuel dock. Everything was conveniently positioned to take care of our needs.
The smells of diesel, tar pitch from the piers, and at times a Petri “stogie” as it was puffed by a fisherman mending his nets was all in the air. Of course, the Sicilian chatter made one feel he was in the “old country”.

Uncle Leo’s boat would stay out approximately 2 weeks and visit places like San Martin Is, Guadelupe and several Baja California coastal bays. They were pristine and remote and captured my fascination. I couldn’t wait till the next trip.

Now , whenever I visit the piers, I still see the magnificent fleet of boats, men mending nets and hear their chatter. I can only imagine the smells now as the area is almost abandoned and closed off.
The appendix lists some of the boats and families that the piers were once home to. Included are some photos that were generously shared by Capt. Mike Mc Korcle of Santa Barbara who has an incredible knowledge of the history of the boats. In fact, he even helped me trace the whereabouts of my uncle Leo’s boat. It is now sitting in Berkley Marina converted to a yacht.
Appendix 1 lists some of the boats and families followed by some photos of typical vessels that populated the piers.

I am working on a followup of the history of some of the vessels; how they were lost, where they may be today and even their radio call letters. Since VHF was not the adopted mode short wave AM radio was widely used to communicate especially on the popular frequencies of 2638 KHZ and 2738 KHZ. 2182 was the Coast Guard Frequency.

Appendix 1 The Boats of Little Italy
The Families and Their Little Boats

Vessel Owner Rmks
Balboa Zollezzi Small Tuna Boat
Joann Marie Petrino “Cottone” Sanfillippo
Galaleo Cresci Known as the “Old Men’s Boat”
Amelia Corraro
Roma Leo D’Angelo/Mario Di Bona 1940
Louis Paulo Giacalone
Rose Tano Sardina
Nina Pete Piranio
Nina Ann Frank Navarra
Cape Zeffarano Frank Crivello
Lu Anna Bompensario
Vincenzo Mario Tarantino Red Boat
Giusapina D’Aquisto (related to Bomp)
Maria Joanna Frank Cordeleone Albacore
Maria Josette Nick Cordeleone Albacore
Girolamo D Leo and Jerry D’Angelo
Lococo Bros Frank Lococo
Lococo Sons Pasquale, Frank, Pete and “Uzzo” Giovanni
Unione #1 Busalacci
Unione #2 Tony Giacalone
Angelina Tony and Joe Giacalone
Carmella Joe Tarantino
Dante Frank Sanfillipo
Virginia Rose Leonard Ingrande
Example De Maria pre 1940
White Star De Maria ½ Ring
Grace L Jasper Frontero
Leonardo M Orlando—Canepa Sister to Dante
Rosalia Madre John Bompensario
Clara Marie John Mangiapane Small Tuna Boat
Alpino Matt Bompensario
Patty Joe Carlo and Vito Sanfillipo G st Marina

The finger piers at the foot Grape St were hosts to the fleet of proud little vessels of San Diego’s Little Italy Community. The docks were daily hangouts for the fishermen who roamed the seas from Mexico to the coastal So Cal waters off of San Diego.

There would be nets piled on the docks with men mending damaged nets from the prior trip. Many of the boats would be engaged in gill netting for Halibut, Sea Bass, and Barracuda,. During the Summer months the rush was on for the prized Albacore. Usually July 4 th would signal the start of the fishery within our region which extended from Guadalupe Is to as far north as Monterrey. Only the brave ones would venture past Pt Conception and the often rough weather to chase the Albacore.

Now fishing in Santa Barbara
Capt Mike McKorkle’s Pie Face
Boat ran aground and was lost
The Dante at the Grape St Pier
Presently at G st Fish Harbor
The Roma- Owned by my father Mario and Uncle Leo D’Angelo 1940
The St Rita and Joanne Marie at the Grape St Pier -1950
My Uncle Leo’s Girolamo D stern end at the Grape St pier area

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