Sponge Fishing (continued)
Even in fifteen and twenty fathoms the bottom can be clearly seen and examined. The sponges, when found, are hooked up by the armed pole, and as soon as the schooner's deck is filled she sails away to a “ranche" where she deposits her now evil smelling load in a "crawl”, or enclosure of wattles in shallow water, where it remains for a fortnight, during which the crew are fishing for a fresh cargo. On their return all hands enter the “crawl" and beat out the now rotted fleshy part of the sponge, which, when first gathered, presents the appearance of a round mass of dark india rubber freely perforated. When the fleshy part has been thoroughly removed and the marketable skeleton washed, the heap is laid on shore in a secluded spot, while the lot that has taken its place remains on the "crawl", and the schooner starts again for the sponge banks. At length, enough has been gathered and cleaned to load the vessel, when the sponges are sorted by the crew into glove, reef, lamb's wool, grass, etc., and each kind separately strung in rings of from one to two dozen. In this way they are sold by auction in the sponge exchange, when the first step of the preparation for the consumer is carried out by the sponge merchants. The sponges are exposed to the sun to improve the colour. They are then clipped of all irregularities, and pieces of shell or rock removed by the clipper, and once out of his hands they are, so far as the Bahama sponge merchant is concerned, ready to be pressed into bales and exported."
Bahama sponges are classified into eleven different kinds. The bath sponge - the fine, large lamb's wool or honeycomb sponge - is found in certain localities. This is very valuable and finds a ready market. Other kinds of sponge include the reef, the boat, the velvet, the yellow, the hard head, the grass, and the common or glove sponge. With the exception of the velvet sponge, none of these kinds is of much value from a commercial point of view. Some of the coarser kinds of sponge find their way into the stables.
Very seldom are new sponge grounds searched for. Sponge fishermen seem to prefer the old and familiar beds, and consequently these, after a time, become worked out. Undoubtedly, in these waters may be discovered vast new sponging beds, which may prove to be valuable sources of future wealth to the islands.
Most people are under the impression that the use of sponges is confined to toilet and surgical purposes. This, however, is far from being the case. Many of the coarser qualities are gradually being utilised in other ways. In America, for instance, sponges have been used for stuffing beds and furniture. Probably, in the near future, the cheaper kinds of sponge will be utilised for a variety of purposes little dreamt of now.