Wednesday, 5 August 2009

It was a freezing cold December morning.

Although I have many tales to tell of my seafaring days, I wonder just how many I can relay to you before you get bored, as what might seem interesting to me, might have the opposite effect on my faithful readers.
NOW! "Faithful" That brings memories of a newly built boat arriving at Ayr three days before Christmas, and our last three days fishing of 1968. Ah There is nothing like a good Christmas story in the middle of the year, and your right, this is nothing like a good Christmas story. Ha Ha.

The "FAITHFUL" was a boat, also based in Ayr, that worked the seine net alongside us through all kinds of weather, supporting us if need be, while we were close at hand for them if they ever got into difficulties, and needed assistance, which was more often than you might imagine.
The "OLIVE TREE" had been launched in the middle of 1959, and although 9 years old was considered fairly new, but the Faithful had seen better days, and had now been replaced with a new boat, also called "Faithful."
It was Monday, on a freezing cold December morning when both the Olive Tree, and the new Faithful set out on the day of its first fishing trip, and as there was big fishing of haddock off the Heads of Ayr, we left port late in the morning (6am) with only half an hours steaming ahead of us.
It was a lovely crisp morning with calm seas, when the sun rose above the hills, bright golden rays projecting through the low lying clouds that dispersed as the sun climbed above them, just as I threw the dhan over the side to begin our days fishing. What more could a man ask for, a perfect morning with the aroma of the bacon being fried in the galley, wafting past our nostrils, kindling up our appetites for the feed that would set us up for the day ahead.
Breakfast past, and the net up with our first haul of the day, bursting to the surface as the giant ball of fish in the cod end cut through the water creating a big bow wave as we towed it round, broadside to the tide, to begin hauling it aboard.
During hauling, the fish in the bag sank with the weight of them making it more difficult to heave, but after straining and pulling it came alongside with so much fish that it took two fills of the cod end before they were all aboard.
This continued for the rest of the day, the Faithful incurring teething troubles with his new ropes and nets having to break them in, and set them up to the specifications required for maximum efficiency, but managing to extract good hauls of fish from the large shoals beneath us.
We all worked with our bare hands then, and between the hard graft and the salt water our hands were like leather allowing us to feel no pain or discomfort while carrying out our chores, so when we cut our self when gutting the fish, we never knew about it until we washed our hands, noticing the blood flowing from the wounds once all the blood, guts and scales from the fish that covered our hands up to our elbows, was removed.

Hard graft all day, with two lifts coming aboard every haul, gutting constantly, only stopping to shoot, and haul another load aboard, until dusk began to fall signaling the end of the fishing part of the day, but not thee end of the day. The boat had boxes of fish on each side of the wheelhouse, and on the foredeck, still to gut as we entered the harbour, and after we tied up we spent hours gutting before we had everything cleared up ready for landing to the waiting fish buyers.
The Faithful's crew had long gone, having had a successful day, but not nearly as good as ours, but finally, tired and weary after landing, and taking on empty boxes for the day ahead we turned in for the night.

Now, haddock eat shellfish that lie on the bottom of the seabed, which are plentiful around these waters in winter, hence the large shoals of fish, but when it comes to gutting them, the food they have eaten has turned to a rough sandy mixture in their stomachs, chaffing between our fingers, wearing away the skin with the constant friction, but all this goes unnoticed by us until the morning.
Speaking from my point of view, when I woke up next morning my fingers were sticking together by the new skin trying to form between them, having been worn deep into the flesh, and the tips of my fingers were thin and red raw, but the palms of my hands were still leathery, although tight with salt dried, and ingrained into them.

Another day of the same lay ahead, so we all steeped our hands in salt water to take the tightness away, and free the forming skin between our fingers, before we let the mooring ropes go. Steaming into a strong breeze made the cold air cut into our faces, and as we crossed the harbour mouth we knew we were in for a tougher day than the last, as the sea began to break over the bow.
Sure enough a good fishing was to be had again, but between boxes sliding about with the heaving of the boat, having to jam and stow the full boxes we never got round to clearing before the next load came aboard, and the pain of the grinding sand between our raw fingers, the day grew more horrendous with each haul.
The Faithful was having better hauls owing to the fact that his gear was now set up correctly, and between us we landed over two hundred and fifty boxes of haddock that night, but we still had one more day to go before the ordeal was over.
The next morning was the same, sore hands, sore backs and still weary, not fully recovered from the last two days of heavy fishing, punching into a strong cold wind, rumbling about all day, gutting from first thing, until finally when I pulled the cod line for the last time, leaving me standing knee deep in haddocks, my uncle popped his head out the wheelhouse window with a wry smile on his face and said "I think we will call it a year."
Music to my ears, I thought, with relief spreading through me, happy that it would soon be all over, but overjoyed that a big pay packet would be waiting for us in time to buy some Christmas presents.

The new Faithful's first week, our last week of the year, another two hundred and fifty boxes landed between us, and a good Christmas and New Year during the break that lay ahead, giving our hands time to heal, and bodies time to recover, before it all began again.

Call it foolishness or love for the job, who cares, I miss the adventure, and would go through it all again if I could, but sadly my health won't allow it, and the best thing I can do is relive the moments, while sharing them with you.
Thanks for encouraging me to indulge in my never dying passion for the sea.


  1. Funny the things that capture our hearts and keep pulling us back in time. Good read Donald.

  2. I was with you on this trip Donald...going through every motion and emotion, the pain and the joy...I understand fully the longing to relive these times as my passion was horses and would also like to relive the great times spent with them.
    Keep writing and sharing these wonderful stories of nostalgia...they are enthralling and a joy to read

  3. Donald, you must never believe that you could have anyone bored with your beautiful visuals and exciting words. I simply place myself within the content of your story and it takes me on the journey with you...that is what good writers do; they have their readers captured in a sea of adventure riding along on waves of "words".

  4. I really love to read about your "foolishness or love for the job" Donald... As you are really able to make everyone part of the story you tell ;)

  5. My jaw dropped when I read about what happened to your hands and the need to continue with tough fishing for consecutive days still even if the skin of your fingers haven't fully recovered yet. Not considering the body pain. Whew! And I complain of the short-term discomfort whenever salty seawater gets into my eyes.

    Your tough experiences at the sea show your deep passion in fishing, aside from the idea that it is you profession, as they didn't discourage you to continue being in the middle of the action.

    "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger."