Wednesday, 22 July 2009

I saw the tail of a shark flail within the codend.

Head of a basking shark.Image via Wikipedia

While writing about basking sharks last time, another incident concerning them sprang to mind, so I thought I would share it with you, and try to install some humour to the post this time in contrast to the sad story previous.

We were on the last haul of our two day trip, with a good catch in the hold, and everything, including the weather had been perfect all the way through, so our spirits were high when the net came up for the last time, as we knew we were heading home with a good pay coming, and the opportunity to grab a couple of hours in our cosy beds at home before we had to set off again.

When we towed the net up ready to haul it aboard the cod end burst to the surface again, although there didn't seem to be as much fish in it as the previous hauls.
Not giving it much thought we continued heaving the wings of the net until we reached the bag leading to the cod end, and on seeing a large black area further down my heart sank as I thought we had torn the net, which would have meant me having to spend most of the time mending it on our way ashore.
As we carried on the suspected hole in the net seemed to be moving down instead of coming out of the water, until we saw the tail of a large shark flail madly as it tried one last desperate attempt to escape.
At first I was relieved that the net was OK, and then I realised that this shark must be over fifteen feet long, and was going to cause us plenty trouble before we could release it from the net.
When the cod end came alongside the tail of the creature reached far above the safe lifting rings we used to judge, and lift our catch aboard, so we had the problem of whether to attach a rope around the cod end and let it slip down far enough to bring up the end, allowing us to reach the cod line, which we then could open, and let the shark AND all our fish away, or heave everything aboard from both ends using our two derricks, saving our valuable catch but having the problem of what to do with the shark.
My uncle decided on the latter, and after a tremendous struggle we finally managed to heave everything aboard, releasing our catch on the deck, and the shark, which covered most of our side deck.
It was practically lifeless, so we worked around it getting the catch cleared up, tidied, and scrubbed the boat in preparation for landing, then set about the problem of the shark.
At one time shark fishing was a profitable industry, so my uncle decided we would land it to see how much it was worth now, and as was usual, when something untoward happened in a fishing port, a large crown had gathered on the pier.
My uncle had called ashore to alert the buyers and salesman of our uncommon addition to the evening sales, and of course the word spread like wildfire, creating this crowd, who, normally got in the way of any task we were carrying out, but this time they were going to come in handy for once.
We tied up alongside the pier on our starboard side, with the shark lying along the deck on the port side, in full view of all the spectators, and as we landed our fish it was quite amusing to hear the remarks of some, as they tried to guess the size and weight of it and others, discussing the ferocity of these creatures, (basking sharks being harmless with no teeth) but little did some of them know that they would have a better chance to guess it's weight and ferocity when we came to land it.
By this time the local newspaper "THE AYRSHIRE POST" had arrived on the scene with a photographer in tow who immediately began to snap away, getting some good pictures of our basking shark. while the reporter attempted to interview us while we weighed our catch, and ran back and forth into the market, breathless, carrying seven stone boxes at a time, in preparation for for the sales.
We turned the boat around, putting the port side to the pier to make the discharging of this monster easier, and with a rope around it's tail, engaged the winch and began to heave it up towards the harbour wall, but our landing derrick wasn't high enough to clear the wall so the shark had to be lowered again until we figured out another way to deal with it.
One rope round it's head where it would grip, then lead it down to it's tail and tie it round there, then attach the hook to the middle of the rope, would solve the problem and with the crew pulling it ashore it would land on the pier no bother...........we thought.
Success, it lifted and cleared the wall no problem, but we didn't bargain for the shear weight of it as we tried to pull it towards us. We managed to pull it about two feet before it swung back, nearly pulling me and the other two crew into the water, so as it swung, suspended at the top of the derrick we utilized some of the the men from the crowd, adding another then another until there was enough helping hands (about ten) to finally land this beast.
The struggle over, and the salesman ready, the potential buyers rallied round to view this object that was on offer, but much to our disgust no one even bothered to put a bid in, and just wandered round it nonchalantly to get a closer look, then strolled off again. It was then that we knew our next task would be to dispose of it on our way back out in the morning.
We did get our picture on the front page of the local newspaper that weekend with our tale of woe to go along with it, but the reporter never got to know about the last twist of the tale, ( no pun intended)
We had an old Polish man aboard (Frank) who had been with us for years and had even sailed with my grandfather, settling in Scotland after the war, but he wasn't the brightest button in the box, and when it came time to tow the shark back to sea to dump safely where it would not be caught again, he supplied the last amusing part of the story.
The rope was still around the shark, so it was just a case of tying the end of it to the boat, pulling it gently off the pier until it was safely in the water, and setting off.
I jumped ashore and let our mooring ropes go, then threw the rope attached to the shark aboard, where it was caught by Frank, then I jumped back aboard and began to coil the forward mooring rope when I heard Frank shout to my uncle "OK Alex, away ahead." Its a good job my uncle looked out of the wheelhouse window before he did so, because Frank was standing with the other end of the rope wrapped around his hands, instead of tying it to the boat.
Not realising that he was about to be pulled overboard with the weight of the shark holding fast to the pier and the forward surge of the boat, he thought it was just a case of holding the rope in his hands and letting go when we reached the place it was to be dumped.
Ah! If only the newspaper new the full story, I thought as we headed safely out to sea with the shark securely tied to the boat and Frank safely down below out of the way.
We would know the next time we caught a shark to let it go, as it would have been better to release it along with the other fish saving us a lot of hassle, even though it's carcass might have caused a problem for some other poor fishermen.
The only consolation for our trouble was making front page news in the local paper, which brought us neither fame nor fortune, but would have made a bigger splash if Frank had got his way. (pun intended)

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  1. Another engaging story Donald of your fishing days and I loved it :) And no matter that you didn't become rich and famous from the first page article, as it is still a possibility when your writings get published :)

  2. You certainly do set a mood. This post reminds of when I lived in Florida. It wasn't uncommon to see sharks hanging on the docks and people having their pictures taken with them Keep writing Donald.

  3. If only this post, the whole story of your breathtaking endeavor, appeared in the paper's front page! I enjoyed reading your story (as always). Fishermen do have very unique experiences in the sea. I have friends who had sea urchins as part of their project. They asked for assistance from fishermen in taking samples from the sea. As my friends found it so hard to distinguish which sea urchin was male or female, they said the fishermen can tell which is which the first time they see it based on the length and thickness of the spikes. They had acquired such a skill from fishing. And now as I read your post, I was reminded of how small a sea urchin is compared to a shark.. (lol) Whew! You did have big catches. A stench, a shark. I remember saying your last story can be a better version of "Jaws"; I think I'll give this one a movie title "Shark Tail" from DreamWork Animation's "Shark Tale" in 2004. :)

    Another interesting post from you, Sir. Two thumbs up!^^

  4. Don't you wonder how big that shark has grown to be in the tales of all those who came to see it? I bet it has reached 25 feet in some of the "I remember when..." stories!