Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cold, hard winters.

This being the last day of 2009, and with Scotland going through one of the coldest spells of weather for some years, my mind started wandering back to the first winters of my working life as a commercial fisherman.

I had started work during the warm summer months, long days working almost round the clock with only a couple of hours of darkness in our part of the world, a couple of hours to grab some sleep before it all began again, the hard slog of catching fish for a living.

If I thought the long hours of summer was to be the worst part of the year, then I had another think coming when the harsh winter of 1964 set in.

It began with hard frost in early December, with no let up all that month, getting colder each day, with ice forming on the river during the night, being broken up every morning when the fleet set sail, but also getting thicker, and more difficult to break as each morning brought temperatures well below zero, with little thaw during the day.

This being my first winter, and my sixth month at sea, my hands were still in the process of hardening up, so each time I was out on deck gutting my hands became so numb that all feeling left them, but as we had to keep on working, every deed was almost automatic, and no thought was given to how cold we really were.

It was only when we stopped for a break, a cup of tea or a quick bite to eat did the feelings return to my hands, with very painful consequences.

Firstly, as the blood began to flow to my fingertips the pain was equivalent to placing your hand into a furnace, burning and tingling with the hot blood rushing back to my extremities, making me double up with pain, and wondering how I could stop this agony, but there was nothing I COULD do but grimace and bear it every time we had a chance to heat up.

Once the blood began to flow freely again it showed up all the places where I had cut myself during gutting, my hands being so cold that I never felt my knife slice into my thumbs, or the sand from the fish wear away the skin between my fingers.
(The sand coming from inside the stomachs of haddocks from the shells they ate)

All my years at sea I had permanent cuts on my thumbs where the knife had left its mark, but as the years went on my hands were like leather so I never felt any pain.

That first year, at the end of the day when my hands dried out, they became hard, with the salt water drying into them, but in the morning they were tight and very sore to the touch until they got soaked again, so when we were hauling in the mooring ropes I could barely touch them, using my arms from the wrist up instead.

I would stand with my hands in a basin of water on the way to the fishing grounds to try and soften them, thinking it was better than the method used by the old sea dogs, which was urinating on their hands every time they went to the toilet, the toilet being whatever sea we were on at the time.
If only we had the sense to be less manly, and use hand lotion that done the job properly, and was used by the younger generations years after, who thought nothing of it.

The drying out of the hands was just like tanning cow hides, and by the end of the winter I could stub a cigarette out on the palm of my hand without leaving a mark, and the cold having no effect on them whatsoever, but that didn't stop me slicing my thumb.

It was well into the new year before the ice began to thaw, with thick flows of ice coming down the river being our next problem, as it cut into the wooden hulls of our boats, so we had to take great care when we sailed down the river, with the crews standing around the deck with poles trying to shove the ice clear as we edged slowly out to sea.

Sometimes even the mooring ropes were so iced up we could not coil them until we ran sea water over them, and on some of the coldest days even the salt water froze on deck with the spray from the waves turning to ice as soon as it hit the deck.

The fjords in Norway used to freeze during these winters, so whether it's down to global warming or not, that we don't get so many harsh winters I don't really know, I only know that the modern world seems to find them harder to contend with than we did, even though they are not so harsh, regardless of all its new technology.
Then again perhaps it because they rely too much on the new technology that they can't cope.

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

My return to Ayr.

ObanImage via Wikipedia

We managed to scrape a wage in the three remaining days, but as expected we changed back to the seine net that weekend, and as one of the crew had packed up the skipper sent me to Ayr in the boats van to try to recruit a good seine net fisherman thinking it would speed thinks up on deck, especially if we found ourselves among the expected big hauls of whiting that was being had up the west coast of Scotland.

It takes about five hours by road from Campbeltown to Ayr when you are driving your own transport(an hour less if you drive a fast car)but the journey has some beautiful scenery, which helps to make it more pleasant, making the trip seem to pass quicker.

On my arrival in Ayr I headed straight for the harbour to catch up on the news, only to be told that the Olive Tree had been sold suddenly, with the crew being given no notice whatsoever.
My uncle, rather than spend money on the boat had been made an offer from an Irish fisherman, and realizing that I had no intention of coming back, decided to accept.
The deal was completed in no time at all, and the Olive Tree had already sailed for its new port by the time I arrived giving me no time for a last look, and the next time I was to set eyes on her was in Peel, on the Isle of Man about ten years later.

She looked completely different with her new tripod replacing the thick foremast, giving ample room on deck for the trawl winch and gallows I had suggested, plus a few other small improvements around the deck, and a new, more powerful engine.
Her name had been changed too (to what I can't remember)but there was no mistaking the lines of her hull, and the wheelhouse that had taken me through so many adventures, and introduced me to the life I had chosen as my occupation.

It was a lucky break for me in the fact that I new one good man I could rely on who had been made redundant by my uncles unexpected move, and so after contacting "Davy," and spending a night at home, the two of us journeyed back the route I had just came over the day before.

The Girl Margaret, and crew were lying alongside the quay ready to sail as soon as we arrived, and in no time at all we were sailing down Campbeltown Loch, round the Mull of Kintyre,and up the west coast to chase the whiting that had been reported by other seiners working among the islands on the rugged west coast of Scotland.

The first day proved pretty fruitless with big hauls coming aboard but most of the catch thrown back because they were well undersize, so we moved further north in the hope that we would come across the shoals that had been reported.

The skipper was one of these guys who thought he was better than he really was, having big ambitions above his station, and expected to compete with boats who's skippers were far more experienced than him.

There is no harm in being ambitious, but it was the arrogant way he went about it that I did not like, and a thing I had noticed about him during our spell at the herring, which had led to some of the crew packing up then, and being replaced by other Campbeltown men who thought the same as I did but were just glad of the job.

My temper had been held in place a few times, but when he asked me to pack the fish a different way in the hold which was not only unnecessary, but totally stupid, and would have made it almost impossible to land them in any sensible order, I gave him a piece of my mind.

I pointed out the flaws in his ridiculous idea, added a few other things that had been gnawing at me, and after a good clearing of the air, normal service was resumed on deck, and in the hold, but I was becoming very unhappy with the setup, and almost dreaded the thought of coming in among the big hauls of whiting that we were heading for.

Even though Davy was a great deckhand, it would take more than the two of us to handle catches like that, with the other two deckhands never going above their own slow pace, so as fate would have it, our winch packed in just as we had the last coil of rope to come.

This meant hand hauling both sides of rope until we reached the net, trying to keep them even, and as many fish in the net as possible.

All went well enough, but it meant us steaming to Oban (the nearest port)to get an engineer down to fix the problem as quickly as possible so we could continue with our trip.

We were told it would take a day, so as most fishermen do we headed for the pub where a good dram was had by all, but things got heated when I tried to explain what was needed from all the crew if we were to hit these big shoals.
It's the wrong thing to do when drinking as the brain never thinks in a logical way, so the Campbeltown men took offence at my suggestion that they speed things up a bit, and me telling them they had been at the job long enough to know the urgency of the work in hand.

It never came to fists but I could see that there was never going to be any harmony aboard this boat again whether drink was involved or not, and that the crew were never going to get any better.

The winch was fixed, or so we thought, because after only two hauls the next day the same thing happened again, so it was back in to Oban to find out what was causing the problem.

On the way ashore after boxing the fish we had caught, I decided I had, had enough, and went into the wheelhouse to tell the skipper that I was packing up, and would be taking the first train out of Oban when we berthed.

He knew my reason without me telling him, but with his arrogance he did not want to accept the fact that I was packing in during a trip, and threatened me by telling me he would see to it that I would never work at the fishing again.

How arrogant is that I thought, he really has got well above his station, so I left the heavy atmosphere behind me in the wheelhouse, and packed my gear ready for a quick departure on our arrival in Oban.

He had plenty time to replace me with another man from Campbeltown before the repairs were carried out, and Davy thought he would see the trip out, but packed up at the end of it, realizing how bad things had become on board without the experience needed for the job.

The Girl Margaret never made a success after that and was taken off the skipper who went back to the prawns with an old boat, plugging away at what he knew best, with a crew that worked their own way, at their pace, which was good enough for the prawn fishing.

Me, well I had a lovely train journey home, and could have kissed the ground I set foot on at Ayr railway station late that evening, arriving home unexpectedly to the family I had barely seen in the last months, and now I could be at home to share christmas with them, which was only a few weeks away.

I had no problem getting another berth on an Ayr boat which I am sure my ex-skipper knew at the time of his threat, and I went on to much better things that I will write about in future posts.

The picture above is Oban.

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Monday, 14 December 2009

A wild goose chase.

A satellite image of the Isle of Man.Image via Wikipedia

Although plentiful, the herring in the Clyde was of poor quality, and with the quota system being enforce we had to catch good sized fish to ensure a good wage at the end of the week, so when Monday afternoon came we headed down to the Isle of Man where large herring had been caught the previous week.

It is no certainty that the same shoals would linger, but after an eight hour steam we arrived at the fishing ground off Douglas amid a large fleet of boats made up of purse seiners and pair trawlers, who had already hauled their first nets of the night having been towing during our passage down.

As we steamed through the fleet looking for a spot to shoot we noticed that the boats were lying with their deck lights on dumping what looked like ice over the side, but we knew they couldn't all be doing this as ice was rarely carried by herring boats when they fished near a port where they could land every night.

Before we had time to discuss it or neighbour, the Alliance called us up telling us his net was being shot, and to come alongside and catch the other end, before the spot of herring moved too far.

It wasn't long before we were towing away through the large spot that was showing up on our sonar, but during the tow we were told of the real objects that were being thrown overboard by the fleet.

Over the weekend massive shoals of big white jellyfish had arrived, taking the place of the herring shoals of the previous week, and all too late we had towed right through one of them.
There was nothing else we could do but lift right away, and sure enough up she came full of jellyfish, with a small scattering of herring through them.

In desperation we took lift after lift aboard, landed them on deck to salvage any herring that was among them and with back breaking work threw tons and tons of these white menaces back into the sea.
After hours of unpaid work, daylight began to break, and we could see that all the water around us was thick with jellyfish, lazily drifting along on the tide, creating havoc among the fleet.
There was nothing else for it but to head for Douglas, land the few herring we salvaged, and hope the the masses of jellyfish would drift far enough away during the day.

It was my first time on the Isle of Man, and as it was a lovely sunny day my shipmate Kenny (the same Kenny who was at the house in Tarbert with me when we downed two bottles of whiskey) and me decided we would take a look at what Douglas had to offer.

Plenty of pubs and a casino lined the promenade, and the only problem we had was choosing which one to try first, but as we had to sail later we knew we would not have the time to enjoy too many of the hostelries, so we rushed round as many as we could gulping down a drink, then moving on to another to see if it was better than the last.

By the time we decided to head back to the boat, tipsy but not drunk, we were at the far end of the promenade, with about two miles to walk back to the harbour.

All along the way girls were strolling or siting enjoying the sun, more girls than we had ever seen in one place before, which prompted and amusing remark from Kenny who was renown for his love of the opposite sex, and I must admit I was too.
"Two miles of beautiful women and we have to go back to sea." Was his quip, and it still brings a smile to my face every time I think of him or my first time at the Island.

It did seem ironic to us but after a short sleep we were back out to try and make a wage, and much to our dismay the jellyfish were still thick in the water.
It was back up to the Clyde without casting a net, a quick glimpse of the two miles of women was all we were going to get, and between them, and the promise of large herring, my first trip to the Isle of Man had been tantalizing but ended in failure on both counts.

We only had three nights left to try to make a pay, and with the prospects looking grim, a change back to the seine net was most likely to be our next move.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

We are sailing again.

It might have been the fact that my happiest days at sea were on the Olive Tree, and that this short part of my life on the Girl Margaret, although holding some adventure, while bringing the modernization of the fishing that I desired within my grasp, was not the happy place I wanted to be, hence maybe the hesitancy of continuing with the blog, but with my readers support here goes.

The short periods of time I had at home were not the happiest either, and it was no hardship when I had to return to the sea, and leave my wife and son behind.
So many changes had been made in my life over the last couple of years as I was following my instincts to make a better life for myself, with not much thought of my family.
The sea was my life, and I was selfish when it came to the crunch, choosing the sea above all else.

The second last week at the herring aboard the Girl Margaret saw quotas coming in, meaning we were only allowed to land a certain amount of fish for each nights fishing, and if you were lucky enough to get your quota early in the night it meant you were back in port long before the market opened, where we would sell our catch to the highest bidder.

It happened to us on one such occasion, when we had our quota aboard before midnight, with so much herring that we passed some onto another pair of boats to help them, rather than throw the fish back into the sea dead.

We were only an hours steam from Tarbert, and by the time we moored up it was around 1am, so I thought I had a good nights sleep ahead of me until it came time to discharge our catch, but as usual the boat was spied coming in and two or three folk, even at that time of the morning had come down to see us.

The crew new the folk here as it is not all that far from their home port of Campbeltown, so true to form in these places, we were invited up to one of the men's house for a drink owing to the fact that the pubs were shut.

Only two of us accepted, me of course and another guy called Kenny, who enjoyed a dram even more than me.

When we entered the house I noticed it looked very plain, and it was clear that this man lived alone, (lacking a woman's touch was putting it mildly.)

A bottle of whiskey was produced from a cupboard, which between the three of us was downed rapidly during the conversation about the fishing, (what else) and on seeing the bottle was empty I stood up ready to head back.
No sooner was I on my feet when another half bottle appeared from under the seat cushion our host was sitting on, and when that was finished another was produced.

It was daylight when we set off back to the boat to land our catch very drunk but able to manage the work that lay ahead of us, and by the time the landing was over and the hold filled with boxes again the drink had almost worn off.

The cook had our dinner ready for us, and once it was scoffed, we had two hours sleep before setting off to try for our next nights quota, which did not come so easily this time.
Maybe it was punishment for the night before, but it took us all that night, into daylight hours, taking four tows, before we reached our quota.
No rest for the wicked, ran through my head as we finally set off for the market, with no intention of anymore drink that week.

Well my intentions were good at least.

There is no denying the hospitality of the people in these ports, which is second to none, but sometimes it is better to refuse, rather than be sociable type of person I am, or glutton for punishment as the case may be, because sleep is one thing you can never catch up on no matter what you may think.

After another poor nights fishing, and word of herring at the Isle of Man, another adventure loomed.........or so I thought.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Aches, Pains and other ailments.

My journeys home were becoming less frequent, as the best opportunity to get there was hitching a lift on one of the Ayrshire herring boats that would be working in the same area as us, heading home at the weekend,and returning to the same area on the Monday evening.

As the herring fishing spanned almost all of the firth of Clyde, the chance of these lifts were few and far between, but one night, after dodging about looking for the elusive herring, we found ourselves over nearer the Ayrshire coast, and as daylight was almost upon us we thought it was going to be a fruitless venture with not one net having been shot all night,and no herring being spied by our modern equipment.
We were just about to head for Campbeltown when the skipper of the Alliance called us over the radio to come alongside.

We had been separated by a couple of miles in our search for the herring, trying to cover as much ground as possible, and with still nothing to be seen we headed over to find out what he wanted to say that could not be said over the radio.
The skipper of the Alliance was due to retire, and hand the running of the boat over to his three sons who had followed in his footsteps, but he had come up through the ranks in the days before sonars, and fish sounders, and knew how the fishermen of old found spots of herring.

When we drew alongside he shouted to us that he was going to shoot here as there was plenty herring beneath us, and the reason he did not tell us over the radio was to keep other boats in the area from converging in on us, and getting in among them before us.
The fish did not show up on the sonar, (which scanned a vast area,) perhaps because they were too deep or where they were lying, maybe next to rough ground, but they were now showing up on our sounders that only showed what was directly beneath the boats.

It was a beautiful calm moonlight night when the Alliance shot his gear, and once we had towed through the spot twice we lifted our nets to find we had been successful in our quest for the silver darlings.

Another reason why they are called silver darlings is because when at night if the shoals come close to the surface, they disturb the phosphorous in the water, making the water glow white, which was one of the signs the crews looked for in the days before sounders, plus the herring gulls diving in among them, attracted by the same glow, some of the signs the skipper of the Alliance would have been brought up to look for.

There was enough herring to fill the hold of the Alliance, and this time when they came aboard I managed to keep my feet on the rubber matting we had lain down after my last escapade.

Once the hold was full, and the net stacked, daylight had broken, so it was decided, as the fish were on the small side, that the Alliance would head to Ayr with the catch to try and fetch a better price, and the Girl Margaret would head back to Campbeltown, meeting up with us at night again.

They all looked at me and said almost in one voice "Aye and Donald can get a wee spell at home with his wife."
I thought I would have to wait and land the catch before I would be allowed home for a couple of hours, but no, as soon as the ropes were tied to the quay, they told me to head off and make the most of my time in Ayr, which I did.

My wife was very surprised when I arrived home unexpectedly, as there was no mobile phones in these days, but she prepared a meal while I steeped in a hot bath of pine radox crystals, which was very relaxing having been deprived of the luxuries of home for a couple of weeks.

Bath and meal over we retired to bed, not just to sleep because with my son being at school it gave us a little time to ourselves before he came home.

I did get a quick nap before he came home, and just a little time to spend with him before it was time to head away again.

On the way back across to meet up with the girl Margaret, I felt an itch over my body, and thinking it was the heat in the fo'c's'le, I took off the clean woolen polo neck jumper I was wearing, but the itch only got worse.

By the time we met up with the Girl Margaret my body was all red blotches, but I had no time to bother much about it when I jumped aboard because we had spotted a shoal of herring right away.

The gear was shot from the Girl Margaret, and after towing through the shoal three or four times we lifted to find enough herring to fill the Girl Margaret, and half fill the Alliance.
It was a cold night and I had to put on my jumper again, but once we filled the hold of the girl Margaret I jumped aboard the Alliance to give them a hand to spread the catch evenly across their hold, doing my job of opening the cod end first.

We headed back to Cambeltown this time and as I worked up a sweat the itch returned with a vengeance, making me shed clothes, until I was stripped to the waist, which covered my body in herring scales, but at least they cooled it down a bit.

I was still itching after we landed,and after spending the most uncomfortable night I ever had at sea, I decided the best thing to do was to head to the nearest pharmacy to see if they could help me as I was not registered with the local doctor.

After asking me a load of questions, of my allergies, any drugs I might be on (prescribed drugs I'll emphasize in case you get the wrong idea) he was still puzzled until I remembered and mentioned the "pine radox bath" I had the afternoon before.

"That could be it" he said, "have you ever used the pine crystals before?" he asked.
"No that was my first time" I said, so he gave me a cream and a green liquid to cover my body with, to see if that would cool me down a bit. (Well it was cleaner than herring scales)

It turned out that I was, and still am allergic to these pine crystals, and most probably any other pine mixture on the market, so from then on I stayed well clear of anything with the hint of pine in it never wanting to go through that experience again.

The fishing is bad enough when you are feeling fine, but its the worst place to be when something is ailing you as you are so far away from land, comfort and cure.

It was only an itch I had that time, but I did endure toothache once, when I was still on the Olive Tree, which was a thousand times worse, and resulted in cutting the trip short to get the offending tooth, plus the abscess removed along with it, with a dentist standing by, arranged ship to shore, through the Seamans Mission.

All so dramatic, but most welcome when you have had to endure the severe throbbing in your mouth for hours on end with no respite, and the thumping of the boat into the seas adding to the agony as it thumped in rhythm with the throbbing of my tooth.

If only I had been a landlubber I would have had this out by now, was my only thoughts as we punched our way through heavy seas, until finally land was spied, the harbour reached, and the dentists chair a welcome sight, even the needle held no fear as all I wanted was the pain to go away.

It was all over in no time, the dentist showing me the tooth with the abscess attached, telling me he pulled both out together which was unusual as they liked to get rid of the poison first, rather than attempting the dual extraction, but it had gone well, and I strolled into the nearest pub on the way back to down a whiskey. (purely as an antiseptic of course. Ahem!)
I swilled it around the gaping hole left behind, another two for luck, and it was back to the boat and away to sea again, the pain of the toothache gone, but another hard trip ahead of me.

There is more to consider than the dangers of a storm, or the other dangers the fishing holds for those who dare go down to the sea in ships, but it is comforting to know that there is the backing ashore, between the lifeboat crews, and coastguards, to the Seamens Mission pastors who are on hand to assist us when ever they are needed.
Needed they are, all to often, as the sea is one of the most dangerous places to be, be it calm or stormy weather, and no amount of praise is high enough for those in all the rescue services who risk their lives for us.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Pair trawling for herring.

The white fish was getting scarce, so with the Girl Margaret, being rigged for trawling as well as seine netting, we decided it was time to change over to the mid water pair trawling for herring, and as the fishing trawler "Alliance" from Campbeltown was a suitable neighbour for us with a similar sized engine, the pair team of Girl Margaret and Alliance was born.

I had never been to the pair trawling, or herring fishing before, so this was a completely new experience for me, but as all trawling methods have the same technique it was going to be easier for me to pick up the job than it was for the Campbeltown crew to learn the seine net, so I did not see any problems there, it was only the fact that we would be working as a pair team that worried me.

The nets used have a much bigger mesh than the bottom trawls, as you can see in at the start of the video above, of mid water trawls being hauled, and the herring catch coming aboard, the video also features clips of some disasters at sea, and "purse seine" fishing boats mentioned in earlier posts, entering port laden with fish.

The other parts of the gear were the same idea other than the tons of chain hanging from the foot rope of the net that aided the wing of the deep net to stretch fully when being towed at speed through the water at the required depth.
The other boat had had the same setup and therefore when one net was shot out (shot by the first boat to come across a spot of herring) the other boat came along side and took a wing, then both boats separated to a distance that kept the mouth of the net open, and run enough wires out to meet the required depth of the spot of herring that had been sighted.
The net was towed between the two boats,while the skippers watched in their net monitors, at the spot of herring being towed straight into the gaping net about to engulf them.

Job done and the gear was hauled back, but once the net broke the surface the two boats had to come together and pass the wing of the net back on to the boat that shot the net, so all the herring would go down the bag and safely into the cod end. (Not an easy task in rough weather as men had to jump back and forth to assist with hauling the net and boxing the herring.)
The boat that shot the net would take the all herring aboard unless there was too much for one boat to handle, therefore more jumping back and forth would take place and the remaining herring landed onto the deck of the other boat, to be boxed in their hold.

The jumping from boat to boat was more to share the workload between the crews, as the profits made from our spoils were shared equally, so it was only fair that the work should be shared.

Our pair of boats were varnished rather than the normal paint jobs you see today, a throwback from the early days of the ring netting boats which were tied up for the lean months, and scraped back to the wood, then had several coats of varnish lovingly brushed onto them by their crews who took great pride in seeing the finished article sailing from port at the beginning of the new season shining like a new pin.

The decks were varnished too which made them quite slippy at the best of times, but when the herring was coming aboard, and their scales, slime and spawn were mixed with the salt water running down the decks, you could barely keep your feet.

The first tow went according to plan, and it was the Alliance who spotted the shoal, so it was their net that went into the water, so when it was time to haul, and the boats came together, I was the first to jump aboard eager to observe my first sighting of herring coming out of the water.
The herring fishing is carried out during the night,and when we hauled the net through the power block (as seen in video) the deck lights were shining all around the sea beside the boat and the Girl Margaret was standing off at a safe distance watching the proceedings, and trying to spot the cod end though the glow to see if the shoal was as big as we had surmised from the sonar soundings.

As the net neared the boat you could see the sea sparkle silver with the scales being threshed through the mesh by the bulk of herring running down the bag, and as it entered the radius of the deck lights, the sea around the boat shimmered silvery from the bag solid with fish.(hence the name "silver darlings" when refering to the herring)

The next job was to get them aboard and into the hold, which meant on the Alliance, landing them on deck above the manhole that leads into the lockers where some of the crew would be standing by to spread them evenly throughout the hold, while we on deck would keep filling the cod end and emptying it constantly until all the fish were aboard.

On man at the winch heaving the cod end aboard, and ME standing forward ready to pull the gun, (a metal catch rather than just a knot) that secured the opening of the cod end once it had swung aboard above the manhole, other men standing aft, held up boxes at the side of the boat, taking care that none of the fish splashed back over the low gunnel's of the boat, designed more in the style of the old ring netters.

The first lift swung over the rail, and once it stopped swinging about and settled I bent down and pulled the gun, "SWOOSH" tons of herring spilled onto the deck taking the feet from me, as my boots failed to grip the deck that had become slippier than an ice rink, sending me flying along the deck on a sea of fish, scales, and water running up inside my oilskins, and only a couple of feet of gunnel to stop me being washed over the side.
I managed to grab hold of the stay that helped secured the foremast, just as the sea of herring thinned enough to let me feel the deck beneath my body again, giving me some control over my destiny.
Gathering myself together I slithered back to my position, soaked to the skin, to hammer the gun shut and throw the cod end back for another fill.
Up she came again, and by this time I could hardly keep my feet to get near the gun, so owing to the fact, that I was already covered from head to foot in scales, water and muck of all sorts I took my boots and socks off and carried on for the rest of the procedure in my bare feet, and each time the cod end opened the herring would swoosh around my feet and up around the legs of my jeans, covering everything in thick scales, but at least I stood firm on the deck with every lift, until the net was empty, and the hold full to the hatches with good quality herring.

We had filled one boat, so we headed off to Tarbert at the north end of the Kintyre Peninsula, on the north side of the Kilbrannan sound where we had been fishing, allowing me an hour and a half to get cleaned up before we started to land.

We all had a good laugh at the nights events, happy in the knowledge that for one nights fishing we already had a decent weeks wages secured, and the problem of the slippy varnished deck would be solved by placing a long rubber mat across the deck where men would be standing.

The Girl Margaret had no such problem as the varnish on her decks had been well and truly rubbed clean with all the work at the seine net, and her gunnel's were twice the height of the Alliance's, so when it was our turn to take the herring aboard the following night the job was much easier.

We had the boat laid out in a way that when the herring came aboard they ran through the manhole onto a chute directed at a table where the crew would be standing with boxes at the ready to be filled, and stacked in the hold,(see video)which made it easier to land the herring, also it kept them in a better condition, as there was not the pressure put on them as they lay pack together the way they were in the Alliance's hold.

Although the Alliance was a fairly new boat she had been built in the style of the old ringers, with a fo'c's'le (which is forward) instead of a cabin (which is aft,) giving her a large hold, but with less headroom to carry out the task of direct boxing, the way we could on the Girl Margaret, having to settle for carrying them in bulk to port, and shovel them into boxes during landing, all leading up to a lot of unnecessary work, also there was the problem of the slippy decks, and very low gunnel's.
From then on if it was possible we carried the herring, which pleased William from the Alliance, who jumped at the chance to get aboard our boat especially nearing meal times as we had a great cook aboard, and you were always guaranteed a slap up feed after the herring was stowed away and we headed to the market.

One such night the cook shouted down the hold to us when we were under way and readying the boxes to land, (around five in the morning, as we worked during the night, as I said) asking what we would would like for breakfast,( herring, kippers, or bacon and eggs etc.)

Thinking on my usual time of heading to market at the seine net, late afternoons, I jokingly shouted back "a fish supper would be great", William laughing and agreeing with me, but expecting bacon and eggs to be waiting when we reached the galley an hour later.

When we sat down a large plate of fish and chips was placed before us, the white fish having come aboard among the herring, and the cook taking us at our word, had prepared a brilliant dinner for us to consume in the early hours of the morning.

I must say even at that hour it went down a treat, but the next time the cook asked us what we wanted for breakfast we made sure it was breakfast we ordered, as the fish supper lay heavy in our stomachs during landing, giving us both bad indigestion. Punishment maybe for trying to take the mickey out of our wily old cook.

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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Island wedding.

During the few weeks of the hake fishing I managed to spend the weekends at home, returning to join the Girl Margaret by sailing from Ayr on the Alkaid on a Sunday night, and jumping aboard the Girl Margaret at sea when we met up on the Monday morning at the fishing grounds.
It was an easy enough task in calm weather but in rough seas you had to be extra careful to time your jump on the up surge of the boat, and pick your spot to land on the deck, because if you mistimed it, and jumped on the down surge, you would be more than likely to land in the water. It was tricky anyway you looked at it really, but I was lucky enough to judge my moments correctly, and always managed to find a firm deck beneath me every time.

By the end of August, the hake was beginning to move back to deeper waters, and the catches were getting smaller, while the weather was getting rougher.

The last week of the hake fishing we landed our midweek catch in Ayr, but as the wind was blowing strong from the west come Thursday night, the skipper decided it was wiser to land in Campbeltown, and not risk the rough seas we would have to entail if we headed across to Ayr.
The fish would be sent by road to Peterhead market as the market in Campbeltown was poor owing to the lack of buyers, and of course it meant me spending my first weekend, away from home for a long time.
I could have travelled home by road, but the very thought of the journey there and back filled me with dread, plus the fact that playing the family man was beginning to wear a bit thin, I am sorry to say, and the little break in Campbeltown seemed to come at the right time.
I had a good weekend ashore, and rather than being stuck on the boat as I expected, I was shown great hospitality in the home of one of the crew, where I could bath and have all the comforts of home before hitting the town on the Saturday night.

Money was sent home to keep my house and family, and a quick phone call seen everything else was fine, telling my wife I would be home the following weekend, but as it turned out this was not to be.

With the hake fishing almost finished, the skipper decided to leave early on the Monday morning and head round the Mull of Kintyre, to the sound of Gigha, where he had heard a good fishing of whiting was to be had.

Now this was one move I had been dreading, as this crew working among large fish was bad enough but trying to clear up boxes of small fish was going to be a tremendous struggle with the speed they gutted at,and if the reports were true we were in for big hauls.

The first haul that came aboard was a full lift, about twenty boxes, but it was a mixture of various small fish that had to be hand picked into boxes then gutted.(the undersized fish thrown back, along with the pout fish, a fish that fetched no money)

They were that slow getting the work done that most of them had still to be gutted by the time the next lot came aboard, which was about the same kind of bulk, and the crews I was used to would have had them all gutted and packed in ice and ready for the next lot to come aboard.

Seeing that this way of working was only going to cost us money I suggested to the skipper that we round the smaller fish (land them ungutted which meant less money but at least we had the chance of getting the deck clear) and just gut the larger ones.
He agreed, so the work went a bit faster, but instead of just small whitings coming down in the baskets rounded there was all sorts of fish among them including the pout which should have been thrown away.
Double work as I had to pass them back up to be sorted properly or we would never had got them sold.
By the end of the day we had fish on both sides of the boat lying in boxes with mud from the seine net ropes splashing onto them waiting to be gutted and although they were away from the heat of the engine they were beginning to get soft.
It was well after midnight by the time we got everything cleared, iced and boxed, and we were sailing in two hours again, to start all over.
I gave the crew a good lecture before we turned in for the little sleep we would catch, telling them if this continued it would be a waste of time catching any fish.

When you are used to good crews it is very hard to take, seeing the job being abused in this way, and the catch taken so light-heartedly, the fishing was no place for lack of commitment.

The next day the fishing was poor, and for once in my life I was glad, maybe I could knock them into shape when I had less work of my own to concentrate on, so I went through every stage with each and every one of them, showing them how it should be done, until finally they got the message, still not as good as the crews I was used to but a vast improvement.

We were all clear when we tied up at the same pier on Gigha as we had done the night before, but this time it was much earlier,and as I said the work was all done, so I was looking forward to a good nights sleep to ease my aches and pains.

The navigation, and deck lights were no sooner switched off when the noise of a car engine came roaring down the road that ran along the top of the small wooden jetty we were lying at, and stopped at an abrupt halt not far from the boat.

The crew of the Girl Margaret were well known by all of the small community on the island as they had lain there many a time during there prawn and herring days, and had given fish to most of the islanders at one time or other.

Today was a special day though, as we soon found out, when the young man who was driving the car jumped out and shouted, "come on ashore boys you are all invited to the wedding."

Before I knew it we were all hustled ashore, and although had managed a wash we were still in our sea boots, and working clothes (plus three days growth on my chin) and being driven back along the road the car had come from.

On the way a bottle of whisky was produced from under the drivers seat, by the driver while speeding along this narrow road, and passed around to get us in the party mood, as the wedding ceremony was passed, but the celebrations were about to begin.
No policemen were stationed on the island, and when they did pay a visit they had to come by ferry, which meant, before they reached the island everyone knew of there imminent arrival, giving the islanders plenty time to get their unlicensed cars off the road and conceal anything else they cared to hide from the law.

This gave our driver the freedom to drive on the roads in this drunken state without fear of being caught, and whisk us away to the reception we were all invited to.

Our first stop was the pub, which was the front room of someones house that had at one time been turned into a bar with all the bottles of spirits, and barrels, or bottled of beer you could wish for.
Everyone from the island was there it seemed, knocking back their choice of drink, and most of the women were shoving half bottles of spirits into their handbags, to drink later on at the village hall where the party was really getting going, band and all, but no bar.

We went with the crowd who were all dressed up in their wedding outfits, while we were in our fishing gear, sea boots and all to dance and drink the night away.
If we were seen to be standing without a drink, one was shoved in our hand, presumably coming from the handbag of one of the women, and if we were standing still too long we were hauled onto the floor by one of the same women to dance a jig up and down the floor, our rubber boots sticking on the polished wooden floor as we tottered our way through the dance laughing and joking in a real party mood, but it mattered not what we wore among them, in the terrific atmosphere created by these friendly islanders.

A good time was had by all as they say, and as daylight was breaking we were driven back to the boat by the same young man who fetched us the night before. He was much drunker, but so were we, and how we got back without going off the road I will never know, but make it we did, safely onto the boat and straight out to sea, where the gear was shot two hours after leaving the wedding reception.

This was another time I was glad that not much fish was to be had as it gave us time to sober up and recover from our night of celebrations with the islanders of Gigha, a friendlier folk you could ever wish to meet, but, as another saying goes "there is a time and a place for everything," and that certainly was the place, but the time? NO!

We only had a couple of hauls and headed back round the Mull to land our catch onto a lorry in Campbeltown, with our night of celebrations kept quiet from the wives of the crew, after all we were on a fishing trip, a fishing trip and an island community I will never forget as long as I live.

Aye the job, and being away from home had its good points after all. Not many but a few.

The top picture is the Island of Gigha off the west coast of Scotland, bought by the islanders not so long ago with the help of lottery money added to the millions raised by themselves.

next picture is the jetty we lay at that night, mainly used by the ferry when it visits,

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Tuesday, 27 October 2009

This was a new kettle of fish. (nice pun)

Davaar_Island at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch.
We sailed down
Campbeltown Loch at one o'clock on a beautiful Monday morning, the darkest hour before the dawn, as they say, the familiar lights of the marker buoys flashing on and off guiding us down the channel, and rounding Davaar with its powerful lighthouse beaming and shimmering, silvery across the rippled sea.

Davaar was the Island at the mouth of the Loch, and helped to shelter the Loch and harbour, sights and scenes I had come to know so well during my fishing career on the Olive tree, having had to use it as a safe haven many a time.

This morning was special though, I was on a strange boat with a crew I knew only from socializing with them ashore, which is completely different from working with them, and a new layout of working platform, plus the synthetic ropes to conquer (a story for another day) before I could settle down to a new routine.

An hour out to sea and daylight was beginning to break, the fishing grounds for the hake were close to Campbeltown, and as the first rays of sunlight appeared over the eastern horizon, we were ready to shoot the gear for the first haul of the day.

Not only was the boat new to me but this crew also, and the seine net fishing was a job they hated because it was hard work right from the word go, until the last fish was iced and packed, last thing at night.
During the summer months in Scotland it could mean working at sea from two in the morning until ten or eleven at night, not counting steaming times, and with the long days it could mean lying drifting between the darkening hours, grabbing a little sleep, before the next sunrise, all new and despised by this crew who were more used to trawling or drift netting where sleep was more plentiful and work less so.

The boat was like a new toy to the skipper too and as the first side of rope was almost out, and we reached the time to turn and make our bight to shoot the net, I saw a grin come from his face as he exchanged glances with another member of the crew.
As he turned the wheel hard to port the boat lurched to starboard, catching me off balance, and making me hold on to prevent myself falling on my butt.
The sheer power from the Bodwin engine combined with the higher wheelhouse had made the boat heel over as we turned full speed, and although the Olive Tree had been fast it could not match this power.
I was aware of the skippers tricks from then on and was always prepared for the lurching of the boat after that, but I was glad to see the crew had a sense of humour.

The first catch of the day burst to the surface as we towed the net up ready to haul it aboard with the hydraulic power block, and as we placed the sweeps into the wheel the big fat, air filled bellies of the large hake could be seen floating all the way down the bag.
As we hauled away we watched as they slid down to the cod end, which bulged and filled, as they packed in.
The cod end was swung round and emptied into the deep pound, situated above the engine room, and as it was brim full we started gutting the big fish straight from there, and throwing them onto the forward deck to be washed, a procedure common when working with big fish, while working with smaller types they would be boxed first, making it easier for the crew to work with.

Although the crew were good steady workers they were not going fast enough for my liking, them being used to the more relaxed pace of the jobs they had become accustomed to, which put more work onto me, and after the gear was shot again, we still had plenty to do, in the hour and a half before it was back up again.
It was when we reached the bottom of the pound I noticed the fish were getting warm, some beginning to stick to the deck, and it was then I realized one reason for their fish being condemned the week before.
Between the heat from the rising sun, and the searing heat coming up through the deck from the 500 horses the Bodwin engine was throwing out,the slow pace of the crew,(another reason for condemned fish) the fish were beginning to cook on the deck before we reached them.
I managed to salvage them all, but two large hake, and then went down into the hold to box and ice them as the cook washed and threw them down to me,the two others by this time needed at the rope bins to guide the ropes in a neat pile ready for shooting again.

I just managed to box and ice the catch when the net was up again, big silver bellies floating all the way to the cod end once more.
This time we boxed all the fish as quick as we could, and at last I saw some haste from the crew after I pointed out the cost to our pay packets if we allowed the fish too much time on deck.
Their gutting got faster but not as fast as I was used to, so it meant more work for me, but I took it in my stride and the day went on much the same, me gutting, shooting gear, boxing and icing in the hold, taking a spell at the bins now and then, non stop until the last haul was aboard.
I was used to it but I was also used to the workload being shared a bit more evenly, and never had time to think about my athletes foot throbbing inside my sea boot until it was time to rest and eat something, before grabbing some sleep.

When I lay down, every bone in my body was aching, and my foot red hot with pain, I thought to myself "this was supposed to be easier with all the mod cons, not harder" but it was not long until I was sound asleep, helped by the gentle swaying of the boat as we drifted on the tide. (not that it was needed.)
The watch during the three hours drifting had been shared by the other members of the crew, an hour at a time, allowing the skipper and me a full three hours.
At least I had been spared taking a watch, perhaps they had appreciated my hard work after all.
The Bodwin engine droned away all night but the noise faded into oblivion along with my pains, and in no time at all it was all go again.
The big fish came aboard from the start and all I could see were pound notes, with every fish that passed through my hands, which was every fish we caught, as I gutted most of them, and boxed them all, but all the crew could see was hard work.

We had less hauls the second day as we were heading to Ayr market to land, giving me a chance to grab another hours sleep after the decks were cleared during the three and a half hours steaming time.
The market at Ayr took place between the hours of five in the evening til seven in the evening, two hours in all, but it gave us ample time to get some good hauls in then go and land.
Land we did, the biggest catch of hake landed from one boat, at one time ever in Ayr,(at that time) and not one fish condemned.
The buyers knew I had changed boats and knew my fish would be in good order, hence the top prices that night, which put a smile on all our faces, and renewed my strength, plus the fact I had laid my hands on the cream the skipper ordered (ship to shore)for my athletes foot.

I had no time to visit my wife, but managed a couple of drams before grabbing another nap, and after covering my toe in cream, did just that.

The next two days ran along the same lines, with the crew going at a steady pace and me breaking my back, but the cream was working a treat even though the crew weren't, and the weather was perfect.
We landed a bumper catch on the Thursday night again, and after loading up with boxes and ice, I left the crew to moor up while I went to fetch the "docket," a statement of the prices and what we had made for our catch.
I was handed a bottle of whisky along with the docket, and told it was for smashing the port record, a big contrast to the previous week when they had half their catch condemned.
I couldn't hide the grin on my face as I held it aloft on approaching the boat, where the roar could be heard the length of the pier from the crew when I told them the news.

The neck was screwed open as soon as my feet touched the deck, it was downed among the five of us rapidly, before we hastily adjourned to the pub where we celebrated until closing time. (ten o'clock in these days)
A carry out was purchased to drink on the boat, but as the clock neared half past eleven, I took my leave and headed home in a taxi to spend a couple of days with my family before it all began again.
The Girl Margaret left Ayr and headed back to Campbeltown in the early hours of the morning once the crew had sobered up enough to sail, and I rejoined them this time at sea on the Monday morning, having hitched a lift on another boat, "The Alkaid," a boat from the east coast who fished our waters during the hake fishing, and who's crew travelled back and forth from home to Ayr by car, leaving their boat in Ayr over the weekend and left for the same fishing grounds I was headed for to start all over again.

(Try as I might I cannot find a suitable picture of a boat like the "Girl Margaret", But "The Wanderer" pictured above, a boat I sailed on in later years is the nearest I can get, although it is bigger than the Girl Margaret, but the same design.)

Bottom picture) Davaar Island, at the mouth of Cambeltown Loch

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Pictures relating to past posts.

Before I stray too far from my Olive Tree days I thought it was time to publish a photo of her to let you see the boat that I started my seafaring days on, and to let you also see how small, but sturdy a vessel she was to take me through so many storms, and provide me with so many adventures.
Although it is not very clear, the boy standing aft is me, and the photo was taken just as we approached Ayr harbour.

Me posing at Inveraray on my way to Campbeltown for a holiday, years after the miserable journey mentioned in my last post.

Me on the "Cutty Sark" the famous tea clipper now berthed in dry dock in London.
You can see me living the dream of being an old sea captain in the days of "yore"

In these three pictures below, you might notice the ropes on the deck.
The picture in the middle is me pretending to throw the dhan away to shoot the ropes at the seine net, with ten coil along the starboard side attached, and a spare net lying in front of me.
I was only posing though as we were on the approach to Ayr harbour once again.

The other two you will note (in Ayr harbour) has less ropes as we were trawling at the time and if you recall I described the two coil aside used by us making it difficult and dangerous when fishing this way when a trawl winch was the way forward.
In one picture the prawns have been landed and we are throwing the few boxes of fish ashore which we caught along with them. The long silver coloured fish on the pier being hake, the box we are holding is cod..
Thats me with the funny hat on and the brush in my hand scrubbing down after landing, you can also see that the Olive Tree is sore in need of a paint, which would mean our trip up through the Caledonian Canal to Fraserburgh was imminent.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Progress beckons.

Loch Lomond from just below Beinn Dubh and Cre...Image via Wikipedia

It was in the summer of 1975 when the "Girl Margaret" sailed into Ayr during the hake fishing, and as I looked on when they landed their catch, my ambitions to upgrade our family boat proved to be the right decision, because the amount of hake they landed for their two days was more than we were catching in a week.

As the fish kept coming out of the hold I had a look around her,and her modern fittings with the hydraulic power block at the stern for hauling the net, hydraulic winch (compared to belt driven) rope bins below the coiler on the fore deck, that gave you more room on the deck once the new style heavy synthetic leaded ropes were coiled into them,( Taking the place of the Manila hemp ropes used by the older boats of the fleet, like the Olive tree) the transom stern where two nets could be laid on, one for shooting and the other ready for a quick turn around in case the other was torn, a whaleback to provide a small amount of shelter from the spray in rough days were all there to be seen on the deck, things I had thought about before they were introduced by someone else.

The wheelhouse was designed to hold the new extra equipment that was being fitted to the modern fishing boats to improve their catching ability, and the Girl Margaret had them all, tinted reinforced windows, and the surrounds finished in formica plus a mess deck in the galley, also finished in formica.

A 500hp Bodwin engine was her power pack, twice the power of the Olive Tree, and when she stared up she burst into life with a terrific roar, so much so that you needed ear mufflers when you entered the engine room.

Their biggest problem was that the men From Campbeltown were used to prawn or herring fishing and had never been to the seine net, which curtailed their efficiency to clear the decks of fish during these large hauls, this being more evident when half of the fish they landed that evening were condemned because they had rotted in the hold during one short trip, and the prices they received for the rest were the poorest in the market that sale.

It was a Thursday evening, and the crews were finished until Monday, where they would head out again to tackle the heavy fishing of hake to be had at that time of year, but after observing from a distance, all these events, and talking to the skipper of the Girl Margaret later, it was to be the Girl Margaret that I would be sailing on next.

The crew went to the pub at Ayr harbour for a few half's before sailing back across to Campbelltown to spend the weekend, and it was there that I met up with them. I knew them from way back, Campbeltown being a second home to me, it being a handy port to lie during storms plus the fact that the fish was to be had not far from there, but the better market prices was at Ayr.

The skipper and crew were somewhat downhearted at the poor reception there fish had received, and as this was their first week at the job, and both landings that week getting the worst results they could have ever imagined, they asked me for some advice, not for a minute thinking I would leave the Olive Tree.

During the conversation it turned out that one of the crew was only temporary, and had only been out for the week, so jokingly they asked me if I was interested in the berth.
Having been pondering about it I said YES much to their delight and surprise, and immediately left the pub and transferred my boots, oilskins etc from the Olive tree to the Girl Margaret saving me carrying them from Ayr to Campbeltown on the bus journey that lay ahead of me the coming Sunday, having had no need to own a car until now.

My uncle was very disappointed when I told him I was leaving and tried to get me to change my mind, but I was adamant, and told him he had the chance to update our boat and never took it, so now I was looking after my own interests, as I had a wife and son to think about now.
After another few drinks with my new crew members I threw their mooring ropes off and waved them away when they left for Campbeltown around midnight, assuring them I would see them on Sunday night in their home town.

I broke the news to my wife when I went home, and told her about the way it would be for a little while, with me not getting home so often, but that money would be sent home every weekend.
With the Girl Margaret being based in Campbeltown it would mean if she was not landing in Ayr I would sleep aboard and only come home when it was suitable, if there was a few days between trips, but in the meantime for the next few weeks I would be home the same as before until the end of the hake fishing, with plenty more money than lately.

She wasn't too happy about it either, but she waved me away at the door when I set out on the Sunday afternoon, suitcase in hand to walk the two miles to the train station, where I caught a train to Glasgow, then a bus which would take me all the way to Tarbert, a beautiful fishing village at the top end of the Kintyre peninsula, then another bus would take me the last part of the way to Campbeltown, all in all a seven hour journey by land, that only took four to four and a half hours by sea.

It was a beautiful sunny summers day when I set off, and never having travelled the journey before I looked forward to the views I would get as we drove along the picturesque shores of Loch Lomond, and on down through other scenery of my native land that I had never seen.
My feet were aching by the time I reached the bus station in Glasgow, and in between the toes in my right foot a throbbing sensation began, as I sat in the heat of the bus, at the side where the sun was blazing through the windows, which took the full blast of it, all the way down to Inveraray, our first stop for a break after two sweltering hours.
I had come down alongside the longest Loch in Scotland and never enjoyed one minute of it, and as the bus was full I had to retake the same seat for the next stage to Tarbert, sweltering in the sun even though I only had a thin shirt on, which made the journey seem twice as long as it really was. (which was more than long enough anyway.)
By the time we got to Tarbert the sun was cooling a bit but my toes were throbbing more, and the next and last leg of my journey was no more pleasant than the rest,me travelling through some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland and never enjoyed one moment of it.

I finally reached Campbeltown around 9 o'clock at night, and as the bus drew up outside the pub my new skipper came out to greet me, making sure that he was going to have a full crew in the morning, and that I had kept my word on joining them.

He took me inside, where the rest of the crew were standing and bought a round of drinks, then headed home happy in the knowledge that all was well for tomorrow.
I was taken to where the boat was lying, and shown round by one of the crew before he went home, then turned into my bunk, foot still throbbing, and fell sound asleep tired from my days travelling in the sun.

I awoke with a jump early the next morning with the sound of the big Bodwin engine firing into life, my new adventure was about to begin, and the athletes foot I discovered that was between my toes, about to end.

Top picture (a view of Campbeltown Loch)
Middle pictue (part of Campbeltown harbour)
Bottom picture ( a part of Loch Lomond in all its beauty)

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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

My last sad farewell to the Olive Tree

Try as I might my uncle would not update the Olive Tree, and as the trawling was beginning to take over from all the other types of fishing like the seine net for white fish and ring netting for herring, the design of boats was changing fast.

Trawling for prawns was legalized in the Firth of Clyde and as it was becoming quite a profitable source of income most boat owners were converting to dual purpose winches, and fitting gallows on their quarters, to accommodate the trawl doors used to keep the net open during fishing.
The Olive Tree on the other hand did go trawling for prawns during lean times of the white fish, but the job was made harder and less efficient, by the lack of proper equipment.
This was fine in the early days around the mid sixties when the prawns were plentiful due to under fishing, the prawns being allowed to breed and multiply because there was no market for them in this country.

We used to be able to leave port about an hour before sunrise to shoot our gear close to our home port, and tow away in any direction we cared to, assured that after half an hour to an hour the net would come up with a cod end full of large prawns.
One of the areas where we towed along to, was Ardeer, just outside Saltcoats, a few miles up the coast from Ayr, and where the I.C.I. plant was, a chemical factory that dealt in ammunition and explosives.
Large prawns (crunchers as we called them, owing to their size) could be had up along that shore just outside the three mile limit where discarded cordite from the explosive factory was dumped by the I.C.I. ship that made trips from Irvine to dump it where it was thought to be safe, the salt water rendering it useless.

We would tow for an hour through the area scooping up our treasure of crunchers, but dragged up cordite that had lain on the sea bed for years.
As soon as the cod end was opened and the catch spilled onto the deck, you could smell the air filling with the stench of almond, or marzipan that the cordite extruded on contact with the air again, as it rumbled out onto the deck among the prawns.
We tailed most of the catch then, and as we were only at the job for a few weeks of the year, we never bothered with the rubber gloves the crews on the other boats had become accustomed to using, our hands like leather with working continuously in salt water at the seine net where you had a better feel of things without gloves.
The cordite was harmless in the condition it came aboard in, and as we picked through the prawns it was thrown back over the side, only to be picked up again by the next passing net.
Whether it did the prawns any harm or not I never found out, but the market grew for them with foreign buyers coming over to bid for them raising the prices to a very profitable height, so much so that boats were now being built with trawling in mind first and foremost.

Other forms of trawling became the most popular way to catch other fish, like herring and mackerel, fish that only took to the bottom when spawning, swimming mid water at various depths during their life cycle.
Even white fish that swam mid water had no hiding place because we had discovered ways of catching these species with the new inventions that was entering our occupation every year.

Trawlers had sailed from many ports around Britain to fish the distant waters up off Iceland, and reached fishing grounds that the smaller boats dare not venture, but now with every new improvement, fish that was once out of our reach had become available, and with no need to venture as far as Iceland.

Boats now had instruments in the wheelhouse that could pinpoint shoals of herring or mackerel at any depth within miles of the boat, and could shoot and trawl their nets at the required depth through the shoals, watch in another instrument their nets approaching the shoal, making sure it was at the right depth to go through it at its densest point,or even take all of it, and know almost to the box how much would come aboard, before the nets surfaced again.
Sometimes two boats tow one net between them, others use what they call pelagic gear (nets and trawl doors) that allows them to fish mid water for any kind of fish while using only one boat.
Purse seining for herring and mackerel took its toll on the stocks too with the nets being shot around the large shoal, closed at the bottom into a purse, hence the name of the technique, and captured everything within its miles of coverage.

The fishing took leaps and bounds in the early seventies, with growing demands for the catches, from as far away as Russia, with factory ships lying off the west coast of Scotland waiting for the herring and mackerel to fill their ships before setting out for home where another would take its place as soon as the anchor was lifted.

Other sources of shellfish like scallops and Queenie's were trawled for, species that used to be discarded before, were now being sought after, and being the hunters of the sea the fishermen were there to cash in on every progression.

Little did we know the damage our advances in technology would have on the fish stocks in years to come, the saying "there's plenty more fish in the sea" seemed to be true as day after day millions of pounds worth of fish of all kinds were being landed around our shores.
The distant trawling at Iceland had ceased as Iceland extended their limits, but it did not deter the fleet of newly designed vessels landing more and more fish.
Fish were being caught everywhere, we could even tow over rough ground that used to provide a hiding place, but some of the species that was being hunted now, was feeding for other species.
The food chain of the sea had never been taken into consideration, along with the decimation of the shoals, so unheeded, and unconcerned, without knowing it the slaughter continued.

I was as guilty as the next man,and with no improvements being made to the family boat, I left the Olive tree in 1975 for the last time, to join one of the new design of boat that was taking the place of the old.

I hope I have not bored you too much with the history, but I thought it necessary to explain better my moving on and leaving the Olive Tree behind.

The "Girl Margaret" was to be my next job, a new dual purpose built boat, whose home base was Campbeltown, across the Firth of Clyde from Ayr and to where I am heading for my next post, and hopefully take you with me.

Above is photos of how boats developed, over the years, not much bigger but an entirely better design.

The top picture shows a modern fishing vessel, which can be used for pair trawling or single boat trawling, the working decks completely covered, making the job a lot more safer.

The middle picture shows a trawler of earlier design, with the decks beginning to be covered.

The bottom picture is of a boat built in Nobles of Girvan. One of the first designs to accommodate trawling and ring net combined, others had trawling and Seine net combined. The same design but with different deck machinery.

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