Monday, 4 May 2009
Years before I left school I had already made up my mind that the fishing was going to be my next step in life and follow the traditions of my mothers family. My last year at school could not go past quickly enough and every spare minute was spent at the harbour in Ayr where two of my uncles worked their boats from. The "Sustain" belonged to an uncle through marriage and I was promised a berth with him when I left school so I thought I had no worries on that scale but as it turned out he sold the boat and went as crew on my other uncles boat before I got the chance to take up his offer, but not before my first sea trip and my first gullible lesson in life.
One Saturday evening, the Sustain was lying at the pier so I went aboard to have a chat with "Smithy," a wily old sea dog who came from the east coast but was spending his last years fishing out of Ayr, going home every two weeks or so. The smell in the fo'c'sle (forecastle or accommodation at the front of the boat rather than a cabin aft) was heavy with fish, diesel, sweaty socks and stale food and in the enclosed space with the swaying of the boat made me feel quite nauseous. Smithy got on to the chat and asked me if I was still keen to go to the fishing and with eagerness extruding from my very soul I assured him how keen I was to leave school and start as crew on this very boat. With a glint in his eyes that, at the time did not register with me he told me that I would have to begin as cook, and work my way up to deckhand, and some of my tasks would be to clean the fo'c'sle and wash dishes, nodding to some dirty pots and plates that was lying beside the sink. "Aye I know" I said, "well" said Smithy "let me see how good you are going to be by practising on that lot." Keen to impress I rolled my sleeves up and proceeded to wash all the plates and scrubbed the blackened pots Smithy had used for his meals over the weekend until they sparkled, then swept the floor for good measure to impress even more.
Smithy examined my work when I finished and praised me on how good a job I had done as he put the pots and dishes away in their lockers saying "AYE that's a good start, you'll do fine as a fisherman."
It was when I was on my way home on my bike feeling pleased with myself, that I realised that I had been duped into cleaning the fo'c'sle and washing Smithy's weekend dishes to save him the bother. I felt foolish to begin with, but laughed out loud with admiration when I realised just how wily he was, and thought to myself, that I would have to be more wary when I started the sea, and try not to get caught out like that again. It was a lesson learned and one of many, that this young schoolboy would have to go through before he became a successful fisherman.
My first trip to fish, was on the Sustain one evening after school when they were going out for a late tow at the prawns which only lasted about four hours but gave me an insight into what was around the corner for me. There was a swell rather than rough seas and although I wasn't seasick I felt very green but tried not to show it and kept away from the nauseating smells that came from the engine room and the fo'c'sle, by standing at the front of the wheelhouse drawing in the fresh sea air. After a couple of hours, once the gear was back on board with the prawns and fish to take my attention I was fine and as we made our way back to port I was even more keen to leave school and get to sea, but by the time I DID leave school as I said, the boat had been sold and Smithy went to the puffers (Small coasters that served the islands of Scotland) to work out the rest of his life before pension age. That was not the last of him though and the next time I saw him will be in my next story and is well worth waiting for.
Top Ayr harbour with the type of boat I started on. Right. A Puffer beached to unload its catch on an island. Note the flat keel for this purpose.
Left.A Puffer at the locks in the canal.