Friday, 8 May 2009

My first real taste of the sea.

A trawler leaving the port of Ullapool, north-...Image via Wikipedia

As I am delving into my sea adventures I had better go back a bit to how it all came about.
I have explained why there is salt water flowing through my veins and told about the first time I went to see how the fishing worked on the SUSTAIN, but I haven't said much about my first experiences on the OLIVE TREE.
Long before I left school I knew I was going to be a fisherman but with the SUSTAIN being sold and the OLIVE TREE having a full crew, I walked through the school gates in 1964 for the last time with some trepidation, wondering what was going to kick start my career but thinking I had the whole of the school summer holidays to contemplate it. I could not legally start work for another four weeks yet anyway as my fifteenth birthday always fell mid summer break so I thought I would have to wait until then at least, before I started to look for a berth on any of the local boats.
One week after leaving school, having settled down to relaxing with more of the same, my mother broke my illusion by telling me that a berth was coming up in a fortnight "and guess what boat it is" she gleamed. Thinking it was too good to be true, that it could be the family boat, I started to name some of the other boats I would have liked it to be but before I could reel out too many her enthusiasm got the better of her and she blurted out "NO! Its the OLIVE TREE."
I might have given you the impression that I took to the sea like a duck to water (or a seagull more like) but this was not the case as I was about to find out.
I decided to go to sea with them the following week and learn as much about the job as possible before I had to do it in earnest, so it was at 2am on a Monday morning with the wind howling from the south west that I left Ayr harbour to experience my first real taste of the sea.
The boat lurched and heaved tossing this way and that as we punched our way to the fishing grounds, not straying too far from our home port due to the unseasonable bad weather and with my stomach being totally unused to this pounding, I sat at the galley door to try and get accustomed to it as I gulped intakes of fresh, sea air between lumps of ocean crashing down around me. This continued for about an hour and a half until we finally slowed down to start fishing and as I moved away from the door to let the crew out on deck I had to hang on for dear life as the boat pitched and rolled even more because we were just lying with the engine idling until we began to shoot the gear. I took my position at the galley door again as the crew went about there business on deck, walking forward as the boat dived into the large seas that were roaring towards us and just ducked their heads as the sea crashed and sprayed all over them making me wonder how they could even keep their feet without being washed overboard, never mind walk and work without holding on.
Once the gear was in the water and the winch started, to begin the seine net process of fishing, the boat, towing through the wind, with the ropes at the stern slowly being dragged in, we steadied enough to allow me to stand without holding on, and, on seeing this my uncle (the skipper) asked if I knew how to make a pot of tea.
Keen to prove my worth, I took a step inside the galley and reached for the teapot he was holding out but as soon as the fumes from the engine, combined with all the other nauseating smells hit me, my stomach reacted immediately, sending me scurrying out to the rail of the boat where I brought up the contents of my guts and spewed them into the sea, continually wrenching until there was nothing left to come out.
Anyone who has ever been seasick will know that it did not end there, because my brain obviously did not know my stomach was empty and kept trying to get me to bring up stuff that just wasn't there, making it feel as if my guts were turning inside out. I lay, half kneeling and half standing, depending on the way the boat was heaving, and between the wrenches of my stomach I gazed with hatred at the seagulls bobbing quite happily up and down in the water without a care in the world,spreading their wings and gliding over the breaking crests with ease, looking at me with scorn as I wrenched again, bring nothing up that they could pounce on and eat.
When the net came up and the small amount of fish landed on the deck, the process for the next haul began again, and took the same course as the first, with me lying a green wreck on the side deck absolutely no use to man nor beast, but when the net came up again my uncle decided that it was too rough to be fishing for so little and announced (much to my delight) that we would head back to shore. We were running before the sea which made the passage slightly less violent so I thought I would attempt the galley once again and this time I managed to make it to the wheelhouse without any need to rush for the open deck again but my stomach never recovered for about twenty four hours after that. My uncle thought it was quite funny and told me he had to suffer that for six months before he stopped being sick. SIX MONTHS! I thought, will I ever be able to survive that? I jumped ashore to tie the mooring ropes and felt the pier move with a gentle sway, before it dawned on me that my brain was still playing tricks with me and the pier was NOT moving, it was my equilibrium trying to adjust to the Terra Firma beneath my feet again.
I went home that night and wondered if the fishing WAS going to be my choice of work and fell into a deep sleep with the thoughts of the day running through my dreams but with the salt STILL in my blood when I awoke, rested and refreshed ready to go through it all again. Thankfully that was the only time I was seasick and I went from strength to strength working my way up through the ranks rapidly, having earned my first two weeks wages before I was legally registered to work, giving me at least two weeks wages tax free.
Before I end this post I will try and explain the nauseating fumes I experienced in the galley that contributed to my seasickness.
The galley as you all should know is where the food is cooked on a boat and this one was just off the deck attached to the same casing as the wheelhouse, which is situated above the engine room. The red hot exhaust from the engine runs up through the galley right beside the cooker and out through the roof of the galley where on a stormy day salt water pours down evaporating on the exhaust which mingles with the diesel fumes coming up from the engine room, mingling with the smell of old fish, food and stale cigarette smoke that lingers behind when the crew go on deck.
My uncle new what was going to happen when he handed me the teapot that stormy day and it was his way of putting me to the test to see if I was going to be up to the job. He knew how dangerous the job was, and would rather I had chosen something safer, but the sea was in my blood and I eventually proved my worth. He successfully put his own son off, of making the fishing a career years later, by similar methods and HE went ashore never to return again but carved out a good career ashore.
Sometimes when I was being battered by seas far off shore, I would wonder who had done the right thing, my cousin or me, but deep down I knew no mater what the sea threw at me, the thrill and adventure it gave me could not be found on shore, and so, I continued, to gather up the stories that hopefully you will enjoy in future blogs.

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  1. Splendid post Donald! You really do have a way of transporting me there. I am glad that was the only episode of sea sickness you encountered. Awful stuff that is. To hear you tell it, I know that you made the right choice of careers. Your love of the sea comes through in the way you tell it. I enjoyed reading this today.