Wednesday, 13 May 2009

We got the call that they had caught a MINE!

Polish wz. 08/39 contact mine. The protuberanc...

The weather conditions were not the only thing to create the adventurous situations we found ourselves in at sea and if we got too many calm days on the trot we became bored but something else would always crop up to ensure we were not bored for long. There were never two days alike at the fishing, between the weather, other ships or fishing boats near at hand to distract us, a big haul of fish or something more deadly, but exciting none the less.
Debris from the war is scattered all over the oceans (planes, bombs, vessels of various kinds to name but a few) and are a hazard to fishing boats by the fact that they can damage our gear, or if it sticks hard enough (the term we use is "coming fast")we could lose thousands of pounds worth of gear. Worse still, boats like the big side trawlers of the fifties and sixties have been known to capsize with loss of life because of the sudden stop while towing at speed.
Once Decca navigators were installed in fishing boats these objects (fasteners) were marked down on a chart and we could avoid them in the future but before we knew where they were we had to come fast on them first which caused a lot of damage and expense in the early years. Before Decca navigators my grandfathers generation used land marks to pin point them but if it was foggy or the land marks, like telegraph poles he used at one of the fishing grounds were taken away they had to rethink and find new ones. (The way land marks worked was, you steamed until the marks lined up with a certain other mark on the land which gave you the position of the fastener. When you came fast you had to chose these marks for future reference, and each skipper had his own marks.)
One fine day with good hauls coming aboard, we were fishing in the vicinity of the "EXCELSIOR" a fishing boat, skippered by my uncles brother-in-law, when we noticed that he was spending longer than necessary getting his net aboard but thinking it was just a big haul of fish we carried on working until we got the call over the radio that he had caught a MINE!
As our boat was bigger with heavier lifting equipment we steamed over to assist, thinking nothing of it as mines were nothing new to us and when caught were either returned back to the spot they came from "hurriedly", or sometimes by bursting through the net, or the other option was to tow them near shore and dump them, taking the readings of where they were and the Navy would come and blow them up (if still live.) The problem was that we did not know whether they were live or not and once we got alongside the EXCELSIOR we noticed, this one did not have any prongs which was just as well because with the rising swell it was banging dangerously against the side of the boat as it hung inside the net.
We took the weight of it on our lifting equipment with the intention of making it easier for the crew of the EXCELSIOR to cut it free or bind it to the side of their boat and tow it nearer shore, but they had other ideas. As soon as we had the weight they released the net on to us and steamed away to a safe distance to watch as WE struggled with this old rusty explosive remnant of the war.
Once we managed to strap it to the side of our boat, we headed slowly in towards the shore with the EXCELSIOR following at a safe distance astern of us while my uncle contacted the naval divers to warn them of our predicament. After two LONG hours we were close enough and in shallow enough water to drop the mine to the bottom where we then steamed away as quick as possible in case it exploded on impact with the bottom.
We survived without any thanks to the crew of the EXCELSIOR and when we spoke to them ashore they (half jokingly and whole serious)told us that they kept a safe distance so if anything happened to US they would be on hand to report it or pick up the pieces IF ANY, "after all there was no point in us both being blown up." Speaking to the Navy later, they informed us that it WAS live but it was a magnetic mine so it was lucky we were in wooden boats. PHEW! Another day another dollar, another adventure, another lesson learned but one we could have well done without. On saying that fishermen always help each other as most times they are the quickest and nearest option on hand when far out at sea, having to contend with difficult situations, like breakdowns, mines or reporting the consequences when a mine blows up. (AHEM!)Ha Ha.
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  1. Mines! I have to admit that you led an exciting life at sea. I think I will just stick with factory work. :)

  2. My word I would have been a tad nervous! Interesting story.

  3. That's quite an adventure! Nice read.. :)