Thursday, 2 July 2009

Wooden boats and iron men.

Although the sea, and the fishing is in my blood, I don't go near the harbour very often when the boats are landing their catches, as the call of the sea is so strong sometimes, it leaves me with a strong urge to attempt going back even though I know I am not fit.
On Sunday afternoon, however I found myself at Troon harbour where the boats now berth between trips, as the fish market is now based there having been moved from Ayr a few years ago.
The fleet has been cut drastically too since I last sailed, due to the unnecessary rules brought out by the European Union, supposedly for the benefit of the fishermen, but has done more harm than good, which is not unusual of any ruling brought about by them.
The whole structure of the boats have changed since my day, utilizing every inch of deck space, while becoming broader and higher to accommodate a safer working environment and labour saving machinery, plus the fact that most of them are being built of steel now instead of wood.
While leaning on a railing that surrounded harbour, my mind went into another world as the familiar smells of my past began to invade my brain bringing back memories, good and bad, of my years spent at sea.
I studied each boat, and as my eyes lingered over the net drums, shelter decks and other modern equipment that made the job so much easier than it was in my day, a saying I heard one of the old sea dogs come away with when I was young sprang to mind, "In my day it was wooden boats and iron men, now its iron boats and wooden men" and even though in these days there were few steel boats his words ring true of every new generation that comes along, having the benefit of more modern inventions than the previous one.
When I was young the boats appeared to me to be big and capable of anything the weather threw at them, and we were fearless every time we ventured out on another trip regardless of the weather conditions, having full trust in our boat, crew and skipper, while still having respect for the mighty ocean that could eliminate us in one foul wave.
Standing looking at them that Sunday afternoon, I realised just how small and vulnerable they were when I knew what they went through in comparison to the peaceful setting of the safe haven there were in now, and I am sure that most of the holidaymakers standing gazing onto the same scene as me, thought that the fishing held romance and adventure without realising the true horrors a raging sea can hold.
I knew, because I had experienced it many times, and although I had relayed the saying (jokingly) of the old sea dog down to some of the young boys that I trained, I also knew that regardless of what the boat was made of, it still took men with strength, courage and hearts of steel to man them, because as another saying goes "as long as men go down to the sea in ships" lives will always be lost no matter how safe or big you think your boat is, as the sea is more powerful than any of them as many a sailor has learned to their cost.
No matter how modern or how large you vessel is you still have to give the sea the respect it deserves, because just one small mistake can mean life or death and no matter what kind of vessel you are on, or how many people are on it with you, if you are miles away in the middle of nowhere, you are on your own with little hope of rescue.
The Titanic was an example of how disastrous things can turn out when you get too confident of your abilities to conquer the sea, and its these sad lessons that we should always remember when we DO go down to the sea in ships.

By the time I left the sea, more and more boats were of this new design pictured above, built of wood or steel, with not much to see from the outside but with plenty changes under the sheltered decks.

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  1. Another interesting episode. Thanks, Donald.

  2. This is a very powerful post. Memory can be our best friend or worst enemy can't it?

  3. The mind can drift to fascinating places. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Outstanding post

  5. A lovely memory post, thanks for sharing.My father has Alzhiemers, but take him to Harwich harbour and his memories are vivid.The fishermen and their catch of shrimps hold fond memories for me.The call of the sea is strong.

  6. I was engulfed by a sea story again.. :)