Tuesday, 29 September 2009

No rest for the wicked.

Caledonian MacBrayne ferry MV Saturn passes fr...Image via Wikipedia

Harbours are normally known as safe havens for boats and shipping of all kinds, but sometimes things can go wrong in these places too, depending on wind direction, and the way the harbour is built, be it on a river or a walled area in a bay, or inlet of many shapes and sizes. There has to be an entrance, and with that entrance, you have to take into consideration which way winds and tides are going to affect them, some being closed during gales that blow from certain directions, making the so called safe haven a dangerous place to be if there is no protection across the entrance.

Ayr was one of the harbours built on a river with the main dock for the fishing boats, on the actual flow of the river, with one fairly large dock built to one side away from the flow to accommodate the larger cargo vessels, where coal and timber were the main freights.
The fish market was built in the sixties down along the berthing facilities where, when a heavy fishing was to be had around the waters of the Firth of Clyde a large fleet of boats would land their catches. Boats from the north east coast of Scotland all the way down to the South Firth (the South Firth being the Firth of Forth) would gather at Ayr for the cod fishing in the spring, when these large fish would come into the warmer, shallower waters to spawn. Likewise in the summer months a good hake fishing was to be had in the waters between the Ailsa Craig and the Mull of Kintyre, which also attracted a large fleet of boats mainly from the North East around the Moray Firth area.

When these large fleets were in port, after landing their catch, you could almost walk from one side of the harbour to the other, all the way down the length of the pier, so you can imagine what it was like when a North Westerly wind blew strong gusts straight up the river, creating a large swell, and sometime a strong spate to contend with, turning a peaceful river into a torrent, that rocked the fleet every way imaginable, damaging some in the process.
The North Westerly wind was the worst wind you could wish for in Ayr as it blew right into the harbour with no breakwater across the mouth to prevent the seas from raging in.
When the fleet was in danger of doing severe damage some of the boats would run for Troon, (a better harbour which has now taken over as the main fishing port on the Clyde)leaving the rest to battle, standing by with engines running all night,keeping an eye on the mooring ropes in case they broke, which happened often, and with the wind easing at dawn,and the seas calming, the boats left for another heavy days fishing, with very tired crews.

Even in port, rest was never guaranteed, we could have dodged at sea but we would still have to stay on watch, or we could all have gone to Troon, but by the time we all shifted and got moored up it would have been time to leave for the fishing grounds again.
This did not happen too often when the harbour was full, but many a night during the winter, when there was just a few local boats, we had to stand watch all night in Ayr harbour, because old habits die hard was the motto of the skippers, and while they were tucked warm and cosy in their beds at home the crews slept aboard,ready to face the day ahead even if they had been up all night.

It wasn't just heavy fishing and gales that kept us from our bunks, we had a short but happy time ashore when we got the chance, and in my younger days the only sleep I sometimes had was the couple of hours it took to get to the fishing ground, (if it was not my watch) making the most of my shore leave in one way or another. (of which I would rather not go into)(if it was my watch I had no sleep, sleep being a luxury anyway.)

One calm night on returning to the boat early enough to grab some sleep, after a few drinks, I turned into my bunk which was in the aft most part of the cabin with three other crewmen sharing the same cabin, (but not the bunk, you'll understand. Six bunks to this cabin)

They were fast asleep as I crept aboard, as not to disturb them, and managed to reach my bunk in the dark, climbed in, pulled the covers over me and began to drift into a deep sleep. Ahhh just the job.......... suddenly BANG! CRASH!.... the boat rocked violently, and before I could gather my wits about me, one of the crew jumped out of his bunk, not fully awake, shouting, WE'RE SINKING.....WE'RE SINKING, as he made a dash for the steps leading to the galley and safety. Alan, the youngest member of the crew somehow, through fear of drowning, and being wakened out of his sleep to this nightmare managed to creep in between the legs of the first man, reaching the galley well ahead of us all, taking the steps two at a time.
I, watching from my bunk, and the nearest to the point of impact, rubbed my eyes in disbelief, at the scene I was witnessing, and thought, well if we are sinking I am last ashore, but at this moment I don't see, hear or feel any water gushing in.

By the time I reached the galley the other three were standing on deck, looking at the boat that had just rammed us in the stern, smashing the planks beside our stern post and splitting our mizzenmast in two,as its bow hit it full on, but thankfully, all the damage was above the waterline.

The "UTOPIA" had come in late, and tried to moor up behind us, but when the skipper went to put the boat astern to slow it down, the gears jammed, and we were the only thing left to stop it.
Damage surveyed, and excitement over, we all turned in again, my plan of a decent sleep hit on the head again, and when sailing time came a couple of hours later, a quick repair job was done, enough to let us carry on fishing until it could be repaired properly.

The job is hard enough when you get sleep, and when your night is disturbed by gales, you can accept that, or if you stay ashore until sailing time its your own fault, but when you try to be good, and turn in at a decent time, expecting to waken up refreshed, and your slumber is disturbed by a boat ramming you in the stern, you have to wonder, "why God," what did I do to deserve this.
Perhaps my question would have been answered if I thought about the things I got up to when I was ashore.
I was no angel, I smoked, drank alcohol and had many girlfriends around the ports we used to call in at, I was rough, tough and ready for anything, and ME brought up in a brethren household.
Tut Tut no rest for the wicked.
Its a true saying.
I get plenty rest now, so there's hope for me yet.

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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Lives at sea should not be put at risk by stupidity.

Severn class lifeboat in Poole Harbour, Dorset...Image via Wikipedia

The Olive Tree was looking like new, just off the slip, with her fresh coat of paint, as if she was trying to impress me, and wanting me to stay this time.
Its crazy, but boats sometimes seem to have their own personality, and like certain females attract a mans affections by the way they look, their attributes (in a boats case the equipment aboard)or in the Olive Tree to me, the years we had been together, and the adventures we had been through.
New adventures lay ahead for me and the Olive Tree, but would the bond between us prevent me from straying to one of the many new or younger models of fishing boats that were beginning to take her place?

The first day back at sea after my two weeks as a safetyman driver, and what could have been classed as a holiday in comparison to what lay ahead, only brought a sense of excitement, rather than trepidation, although the excitement that lay ahead was brought about not by our doing, but by the inexperience of someone else.

Being our first day back we decided not to stray very far, so we steamed over to the "HOLY ISLE" area of "ARRAN" where there is deep water with the chance of good fishing on a day such as this.
It was sunny with a slight breeze blowing from the south west which had been constant all weekend, but the forecast told us it was to strengthen to force 9 as the day went on, so we thought if we could get a day in here, we could go to Ayr and land our catch and let tomorrow take care of itself.

Sure enough the fishing was good, and after two hauls my uncle pointed out a small boat in the distance that had been bobbing about close to the ferry lane that runs between Ardrossan (on the mainland,) and Brodick (on Arran.)
The next time we shot our gear, it took us closer, and we could see a man waving at us, but thinking nothing of it we just waved back, as small vessels of this kind sometimes ventured this far out to try a spot of sea angling.

As we were towing, the ferry passed close by it, and we could see the man waving more frantically, so once the gear was aboard, we decided to go for a look, as the wind was beginning to freshen, as forecast.

When we approached the small craft we could see the look of desperation on the mans face, and we heard him shout, "Thank God." I've been here all night,that ferry nearly ran me down, and never even seen me."
We edged as close as we could without doing any damage so we could attach a tow rope, and as soon as it was fixed the man almost begged to come aboard our boat.
The sea was starting to rise, and the little boat was bobbing about quite ferociously, but as soon as he got the chance the man grabbed our rail and somehow struggled aboard.

It turned out that he had bought the boat in Ardrossan, and had left on the Sunday to sail round to the east coast, by way of the "Mull of Kintyre" up through the Inner Hebrides (small islands off the west coast of Scotland)to the Caledonian Canal, out through the Moray Firth into the North Sea, and down to Montrose, which is half way down the east coast of Scotland.
The main problem with that was, other than the fact that the boat was only about fourteen feet, and he had no food, other than a thermos flask, and a few packets of crisps, he only had a road map, (YES A ROAD MAP) to guide him all that way through treacherous tidal currents at the Mull, and in-between the islands all the way up to the canal, not accounting for the wind that was freshening to gale force as we towed his little boat behind us, or any other hidden obstacles or drawbacks on the way, such as the engine failure he was now faced with only a couple of hours from his departure point.

He still never saw the error of his ways after we pointed all these things out to him, and when we informed him we were taking him to Ayr, (just under two hours steaming) he had the cheek to ask if we would take him back to Ardrossan, which would have been very inconvenient for us, but never bothering about us he was quite annoyed when our course never altered and we headed for Ayr.
Instead of thanking us he moaned of the inconvenience to him, until I lost my rag, and shouted. "Do you realize that we have just saved your life" "If we had not come along you would be sinking now, with not even a life jacket to save you" "Its just as well your engine broke down or you would be getting swamped at the Mull by now" pointing to the waves breaking with white water by this time..

After my outburst it seem to bring some reality back into his life, and he began to talk about hiring a lorry to transport his boat to Montrose, and as I looked over our stern his little boat was beginning to take on a lot of water, between the speed we were towing it, drawing its stern down into the waves and the rising seas.
I sort of giggled as I thought to myself, if I don't point out to my uncle what is going on he won't have a boat to worry about.

We got him safely back to Ayr and the next the next day the boat was lifted out of the water, until it was picked up for transportation the following week, probably at less cost than it would have sailing it round (especially when you take his life into consideration) and the fact that it would only take hours by land compared to over a week by sea in that little boat.
I shudder to think what happened to him once he got it seaworthy again, as the North Sea is one of the last places an inexperienced person should be carrying out, self taught, seamanship.

This was one lucky man, escaping certain death if his engine had not broken down, and for the grace of God who must have guided us there that day, so when he shouted "thank God" when we picked him up, he just might have been thanking the right person, as he never got round to thanking us.

Even experienced seamen get caught out sometimes, but they give themselves a fighting chance by having all the correct equipment aboard, Radio, check with forecasts, and coastguards, and an added protection the fishermen have is each other,as they are always in contact, working near each other, and are usually first on the scene should anyone need assistance.

The fishing boats are all over the sea, and have saved many a life by being near to the scene of what would have been a tragedy had they not been there.
If the fleet is cut down to the numbers the European Union would like, more lives could be lost at sea than there are now, something that the landlubbers in that Union never think about, having never done anything more exciting that get stuck in a traffic jam on the way to their warm cosy office.

Anyone going to sea should, at all times take the utmost care, learn as much as they can about the area they are sailing in, take proper charts to determine depths and rocks, as the sea is one of the most dangerous places to be in any weather, and although we have a great lifeboat service in this country, we should not have to call them out through sheer stupidity, and put other lives at risk needlessly.

This boat was not the first boat I towed in, (the stupidest, YES,) and not the last, but how many other adventures, would I share with the Olive Tree, as the new generation of boat began to enter the harbours and hearts of fishermen?

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

An Air Traffic Controller works approach contr...Image via Wikipedia

Well, just as you will have guessed, the sea was calling me back, so on my day off on the Sunday I went round to my uncle's house and told him I was ready to come back, but I thought I would have to work a weeks notice at the airport.
"No problem" was his reply,"the boat will only be on the slip for a week, so we will be ready to start when you are."
Great, I thought, one more week, then back where I belong, at sea, where no two days are alike, and never a dull moment. If only I had known what lay ahead of me that last week, I might have realized that the job at the airport, though boring, had some scope to throw up the unexpected after all.

The job was classed as a "safetyman driver" because the drivers had to gain a first aid certificate, as there was always the risk that one of the technicians might get an electric shock when attending one of the radar stations that were situated at out of the way places, and the driver being the only person within miles, being skilled in first aid, could mean the difference between life or death.

As my new boss was a friend of my father-in-laws, I had already phoned him to hand in my weeks notice, before I walked in to start my back shift at 3pm on the Monday afternoon, but Alex had not informed the other three men of my leaving, as one of them approached me to join their union.
"Nah! I don't think I'll be here long enough for that" I said. "What, do you not like the job?" he asked. "Ach its too boring for me, I'm off back to the fishing." I replied.
"Oh well, you won't need to sit your first aid certificate either then" he said.
They still let me out with the technicians though, and it being my second, and last week, I new I was not going to be polite to the toffee nosed people I had to carry in my van.

The Monday went past without much going on, and other than delivering weather charts between the buildings that held the air traffic controllers, and the tower, plus another building a few miles up the road at Gailes, which needed the charts also, my shift was spent puffing away at my out sized pipe as I contemplated next week, and some real action.

Tuesday afternoon was to be a bit different though, and as soon as I walked in I was sent to the tower to pick up two technicians, and convey them to a station that contained computerized equipment, where a section needed replacing.

You will have picked up by now that in the early seventies, the weather charts were hand delivered, and not faxed, or sent by any other technological means, and that the computers were much larger than they are today, hence the reason that the section needing replaced here needed two men to carry it, more for it's size rather than weight.

The station was right in the middle of Royal Troon Golf Course, so I thought, as the two men lifted the computer part into my van, that at least I will be out for a while today, and as it was nice and sunny, and near the sea, it would make a pleasant change from sitting waiting, and waiting, doing nothing.

Off we set, the computer part on the floor, with a technician on either side of it staring down, with not a word said between anyone, until we got off road and onto the golf course.
The road on the course was just a sandy track full of holes and bumps, and as I was driving a plain ordinary Bedford mini bus type thing, that jerked and bumped on a smooth road, I had no chance of keeping it steady along this track.
No matter how slow I went trying to avoid the unmissable potholes, I still could hear the computer section sliding, and bumping on the floor behind me.
I looked in my mirror to see the two men sitting watching this slide and bump, just as one of them said aggressively, " Try and keep this van steady, or you will break the computer component."
Well it was like a red rag to a bull, "If I go any slower we will be stationary, I would like to see you making a better job of it," I retorted.
These guys were not used to the drivers speaking back to them, so we drove in silence until we reached the station, where they lifted the part out, and entered the wooden hut like structure the computer was housed in, while I turned the van.
No sooner were they in until they were back out again, muttering away as they lifted it back on board, and sat theirselves down again.
"You broke it, its no use" one of them said to me.
Steam coming out of my ears, I shouted back at him, "I broke it? You two morons, sat in the back and watched it dance all over the floor and never lifted a finger to guard it, so if anyone is to blame, its you pair."
"I will report that outburst to your boss when we get back." he said, "You do not speak to US like that."
"Oh, so you think you are better than me do you?" "Well let me tell you this, just because I am driving this van does not mean I do not know what I am talking about," and went on to tell him that I was a fisherman, who could skipper a boat, take a marine engine apart, and put it together again, and two thickos like them would have no chance of getting a job with me. "You should have been seeing that no harm came to your equipment, instead of just staring at it, and maybe the next time you had better do that, instead of watching it bounce around"
It was great to get that off my chest, and let them know that they had never impressed me, AND why.
We returned to the tower where they replaced the broken part for a new piece, and this time when we got off road they lifted it up, suspending it between them, and this time it was fixed into the computer in full working order.
Nothing more was said, and no report went in about me, not that it would have mattered, as I relayed my story to Alex anyway, and all he said was that it was about time they were put in their place.

The next day, my afternoon was spent running around with charts, but at least I was getting out, and the weather was still nice, so I was quite happy when I was sent to Gailes, which was just outside Irvine, a nice little run up the coast.
I was driving one of the smaller vans, and being a safetyman driver, had a large first aid kit in my van, as did all the vans used by us. All the vans connected to airport duties at that time had yellow painted roofs, the remaining parts painted black, but we all knew which van was ours..... or so I thought.
I had a lovely drive up to Gailes, and parked the van right at the door, so I could just nip in, and out, then be on my way again. As the building was on private ground, and had a long driveway, we sometimes left the keys in the ignition, knowing there was plenty people about, including security, who would see no harm came to our vans, which gave us peace of mind.
While I was standing at the desk, waiting to hand over the charts, another man came in, did what he had to do, and nipped out before me.
I was only about a minute behind him when I went out to my van, and thought, that's strange someone has moved my van, as it was sitting on the other side of the drive from where I had parked it, but when I jumped in to move away there was no key in the ignition.
I went back in to inquire if the person who moved the van had left it in here, but no, was the answer, so I went back out to search the van. It was then I noticed that there was no first aid kit in the back, and then it dawned on me, THIS WAS NOT MY VAN!
The guy who had nipped in when I was standing at the desk had the same type of van as me, and of course, as he worked for the airport, although in a different department, his van was identical to mine, except for the first aid box, so he had ran back out, jumped into the nearest van and drove off not noticing that it was not his, or that he had the key to his van in his pocket.
As he had taken his key with him, I had to wait at Gailes until he could be contacted, before he returned with my van, and to pick up his own.
Sitting about waiting again, I thought, and I am getting paid for it, so I went out and enjoyed the sun until he came back.
Is this week is going to be full of incidents, I wondered as I drove home that night, smiling to myself, perhaps there could be some excitement in this job after all.
No it was not to be, because the next afternoon (Thursday) as soon as I walked in the door I was told to go to a radar station, well outside the grounds, and wait for the technicians who were in the process of dismantling it, as it was to be updated. The man I replaced had sat in the van for eight hours, with nothing to do but eat his sandwiches, and drink tea, until it was time to replace the driver.
No! I thought is the only fun I am getting today going to be talking to the tower over the two way radio?
I still had the same trouble with my radio, as just like the absence of modern technology regarding the weather charts, and computers, the radios were atrocious for static interference.
After the crackle crackle on the radio, and my mad dash across the runway, never knowing if it was safe to go or not, I arrived at the radar station, and sat there for three hours, until the technicians went back to the tower to finish their shift, but I had to return right away with their replacements, where I sat until my shift was over.
That was how I spent my last days as a safetyman driver, dicing with death as I crossed the runway (with or without technicians) completely bored to tears, with a longing to feel the spray of the sea on my face once more.

Before I left I thanked Alex for giving me the chance to experience working ashore, and now I knew what it consisted of I would be sticking to the fishing.
To my surprise he told me he didn't think I would last too long as he knew my love for the sea, and how different the life he offered me was in comparison, but he did think it would have taken me longer to realize it.

Shore life over, the extra large pipe was dumped and the "Players plain cigarettes" placed back in my pocket, ready for next week and new adventures.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

I played chicken with an aircraft.

:en:El Dorado International Airport :en:runway.Image via Wikipedia

AH! The first day of a new working life, no need to rise so early, waking up in my own cosy bed at home, able to watch my son as he lay sleeping peacefully in his cot, wife at the window to wave me me off after cooking me a big fry up for breakfast. I could get to like this I thought.
I set off in the car for what was a twenty minute journey to the airport on an Autumn morning, the sun was shining, and all seemed good with the world. I had my pipe in my pocket, and a pouch full of tobacco, the pipe taking over from the eighty cigarettes I used to smoke during the long days spent at sea. With me spending more time at home I thought it would be healthier for me, my son and my wife if I gave up the cigarettes, so I bought a pipe with an enormous bowl, thinking that with me being a heavy smoker I wouldn't need to fill it so often.

When I arrived at the office where the fleet of cars and vans I was to drive were stationed I was met by my new boss, another Alex, as it happened (my father-in-law's friend.)
He introduced me to the three other men who shared the same shift as me, and told me they would keep me right as to what my duties were to be.
The first job was to take all the cars, land rovers and vans in turn and check them for petrol, oil etc, which took just over an hour, and as we had to dash down one of the airplane taxiways my first journey was taken with one of the other drivers to show me, not only how to get there but how to negotiate the taxiway by radioing the control tower for clearance.
On approaching the taxiway, or runways that we had to use either by crossing or driving up and down on them, we had to get permission from the tower just in case a plane was about to land or take off.
My new workmate duly did this and after some crackling on the waveband decided the traffic controller had given his permission to proceed, so off we went, fueled and oiled, and returned going through the same process with the tower on the way back.
That was my training for this part of the job so minutes later I found myself sitting beside the taxiway calling the tower for clearance. SAFETYMAN FOUR TO TOWER, I shouted through the mouthpiece, CLEARANCE TO PROCEED DOWN TAXIWAY THREE, crackle crackle you crackle to crackle crackle ready. Gosh, I thought, or words to that effect, what did he say? Then with a quick look about to see if any planes were coming I floored the accelerator and drove as fast as I could down the taxiway hoping I would not meet an airliner taxiing towards me, if I did I could just drive under the wing, there's plenty room,I thought; it might be a bit upsetting for the pilot, seeing a van careering towards him, but who cares its not my fault that the radio is crap, here goes.
Fortunately Prestwick airport was quiet at the beginning of the seventies, with only a few passenger flights, cargo flights, the odd air force flight and some training flights, and as it was still fairly early I managed to complete another two journeys without mishap, and with no comeback from my workmates or the tower.

Time for a tea break I was told; tea break, I thought, we have only just started and now we are stopping for TEA! This was too easy, and when Alex came in to see how I was getting on, I was sitting with a mug of tea, and the big pipe filling the room with smoke while the other three men were sitting eating sandwiches and biscuits (cookies in America.)
"Did you not bring a piece with you Donald?" Alex asked, and without thinking or batting an eyelid I replied "Ach I'm only out for eight hours, I'll get my dinner when I get home."
Alex laughed, " eight hours is your shift, you get breaks here, you are not at the fishing now"
The other three guys just looked at me in a strange way, and I can only wonder what they were thinking about this arrogant clown with the extra large pipe, that was sitting in the corner billowing smoke, between emptying water from the bottom of the large bowl that was in danger of extinguishing the tobacco from inside his pipe, who thought eight hours was just a short stint.
I got through the day fine though, having spent it with one of the other drivers, as I learned my way in and around the grounds of the airport, and also leaning where and when to call the tower for clearance, but it still baffled me how they could understand the controller over all the interference that came through the radio during the conversations.

The next day I was on my own, and after the fuel run, (having the same trouble with the radio, but getting away with it) my duty was to drive the technicians to any outpost of the airport that had become faulty, which could mean anywhere within the bounds of the airport, or some of the radar stations situated well outside the grounds.
As I was on standby I had to sit and wait for the phone to ring before I could move, while the other three men got on with their duties, and if nothing went wrong my shift would be spent in the office, waiting, and waiting. Good job I brought a piece with me today I thought as the first two hours went past uneventful, thats where the tea and piece came in handy, helping to pass the time, rather than fill my belly. Another two hours passed before the phone rang, "safetyman driver required to tower to pick up technicians" was all the voice said, at least I could make that out I thought as I set off.
Now, to get to the tower where the technicians were stationed meant driving up the runway, so as I called the tower for clearance the voice replied crackle crackle to run.....crackle after crackle crackle. "Aye you were not very clear there tower" I retorted, as I have a short temper, (something to remember for a future post) "there is too much interference coming through!"
Above the crackling I could make out that he was annoyed because he had to repeat himself, and having noticed already that they, and the technicians seemed to think they were a cut above the safetymen drivers, I shouted back "still can't make you out through these crap radios, so I'll just proceed." I heard the radio crackle into life again as I engaged the gears to do my usual foot to the floor trick, and with the sound of the controller crackling in my ear shouting, I could just make out a NO! crackle crackle landing... I moved forward about two yards onto the runway just in time to see a large aircraft descending rapidly from the sky, luckily, before I had time to gather any speed, which allowed me enough time to turn and hightail it out of there just as the plane hit the runway.
Crackle crackle bloody crackle crackle report you crackle came the voice over the radio, "I TAKE IT I AM OK TO PROCEED NOW" I shouted back, and floored the accelerator before he had time to abuse me anymore. If I ever meet any of these people I will give them a piece of my mind I thought as I arrived safely at the tower. Nothing was said as the two technicians lifted a fairly large computer panel into the back of the van, then jumped in and told me the destination, which meant going back down the runway. OH NO! here we go again, I thought but strangely enough this time the controller came through loud and clear, and this continued for the rest of my shift, although I was only out once more.
What a boring day I thought as I made my way home at least I had some excitement playing chicken with the aircraft, now not many people can say they have done that, which brought a smile to my face.

It was only the middle of the day and I was finished work, so I thought I would go to the harbour to see what was going on.
The Olive Tree was lying at the pier, and the crew were preparing her for the slip at Girvan where she was to get a quick paint before my uncle took charge of her again, so having plenty time on my hands I donned some old oilskins and gave them a hand.
It was good to be working at something worthwhile again I thought, even though I had only been away for two working days, both of which, the Olive Tree had been ashore, and not fishing.
My uncle tried to talk me into coming back, but as I had only been working ashore for two days the lure of a nice breakfast, and a cosy bed was enough to refuse him for now, even though I never thought much of my new job.

The next day after the fuel run was complete, Alex shouted me into his office, and with a smile on his face brought up the matter of me playing chicken with the aircraft.
"You will have to be more careful" he said, "do you realize that if you as much as scratch one of the vehicles you will have forms and more forms to fill out, with diagrams of the accident to explain, and then I have a report to fill out, all a lot of work for very little"
If one of these things land on me I won't need to worry about filling in forms I thought.
"Ach its these radios" I said "you cant make out what they are saying, and I have no patience with these morons on the other end."
He was very understanding with me, probably because he knew me and what my nature was like, and me being new to the job, but I don't think he would have been so lenient with any of the other blokes, even though he was a proper gentleman.

I managed to survive the first week but I was at the harbour at every chance I had, staring out to sea, remembering my adventures out there, and wondering if being a landlubber was what I was really cut out for, or, was that the sea I heard in my ear calling me back again?

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Sunday, 6 September 2009

"Graham" the Gannent.

Northern Gannet on <span class=Helgoland" style="border: medium none ; display: block;" width="300" height="373">Image via Wikipedia

This is just a story I made up one night I was babysitting, and after mentioning it to "sashindoubutsu" who also has a great blog http://www.snappingpanda.blogspot.com, she inspired me to write it in here. Just a story to keep you occupied until my next post on Wednesday, and one you can tell your children, or grandchildren on a cold winters night when you tuck them up in bed.

It is dedicated to my loving partner Pat, who I missed for 38 years until she came back into my life, making it possible to write the stories I now place on the Internet for all to read should they so wish.

Donald was so used to the various seabirds that flew around him when he was fishing that he never gave them much thought.
Sometimes some of the large hake Donald fished for in the summer months would escape from the net, and with the air in their bellies they would float on the surface allowing Donald and his crew to retrieve them after the net was hauled aboard.
Each fish counted, as being so large they were worth a lot of money, especially when the buyers from Spain and countries far away came to purchase them.
As soon as the big hake drifted clear of the net, the small fulmars would scurry round it, pecking at the belly to feed on the liver, and as one pierced the stomach, another would grab the liver, and gobble it down, costing Donald and his crew lots of money, because the big hake, having no air to keep it afloat would sink to the bottom before Donald could maneuver the boat close enough to rescue it.
Sometimes they could scare the fulmars away by shouting and waving their arms, but, the poor fulmars, being so hungry ignored the crew and more often than not the large expensive fish would sink from sight.
Being a kind hearted person Donald took the attitude of "live and let live" and would sometimes throw the insides of the fish he was gutting towards a sad looking fulmar swimming alone, all wet and hungry on the stormy sea that was whipped up by the strong summer breeze.

During the day as the fish came aboard it attracted the seagulls who snatched the food out of the fisherman's hands before they had time to release the guts into the water, or jump all over the deck, stealing fish here and there when the crew were otherwise engaged, or dived in flocks, pouncing on the guts that had the chance to hit the water.
The crew hated the seagulls as they were thieves who stole from them, but they had a soft spot for the little fulmars who tackled the large hake ten times the size of themselves, just to get a bit of food,all because the evil seagulls chased them away from the easy gotten food thrown away by the fishermen.

Another seabird was the graceful Gannet who flew around and around circling high above the boat when the net was being hauled, diving straight into the water at the speed of a bullet when they spied the small shiny fish swimming out of the net deep beneath the waves, catching their supper before the greedy seagulls could get them.

The Gannets have sharp eyes that can spot the fish clearly even though they are so high in the sky, and the fish are so deep in the water, but as they get old their eyes get damaged, owing to the speed they hit the water, and by keeping their eyes open as they swim deep down under the waves to catch their food, which eventually leads to blindness.

The Gannets came to nest on The Alisa Craig, an island in the middle of the waters Donald fished, and each day as the net came up the Gannets would dive deep to catch enough food to carry back to their babies tuck warmly in the nests high up on the cliff face, hungry mouths wide open waiting until their parents caught enough fish to return and feed them.
Every day each year during the summer months Donald witnessed this amazing sight, not realizing the damage the older birds were doing to their eyes, until one day he heard a thump on the mast high above the deck, and on turning round saw a Gannet landing in a clump right on top of a box of fish.
"Whats going on here" Donald said aloud as he walked cautiously towards the stunned Gannet, and thought he was hearing things when the Gannet spoke back to him saying, "please help me Donald, my name is Graham, I am old now and my eyesight is so bad that I failed to see the mast of your boat, and crashed into it." "I have two hungry children waiting to be fed, and I am all they have left." "My wife drowned only last week, caught up in a fishing net as she dived too close to the fish in the net, her eyesight failing her to." "This was to be our last year here before we flew south to a warmer climate where we planned to retire and reminisce about our happy memories of our life together up here in Scotland." "Alas it is not meant to be, but if I can only feed the children until they are old enough to look after their self, I can then fly south and spend my last days alone, happy in the knowledge that, at least I saw my little ones fly from the nest,strong enough to look after their self."

Donald, although amazed at the talking Gannet, understood, telling the Gannet that he too was retiring, in just two weeks time, and that he had a nice sixty foot motor cruiser all loaded up ready to take him south to a warmer climate where he could sail around the warmer parts of the ocean and enjoy his retirement, but he would feed the Gannet every day until he stopped working.

True to his word, Donald kept a look out for Graham the graceful dad, and grampa Gannet, making sure he had enough food for, not only his young ones but enough to feed himself too.
The day Donald retired Graham came to the boat one last time, and told Donald that the young had flown the nest, and the only food he would need was enough to give him the strength to fly south, giving him about six weeks to accomplish this.

It was then, Donald reminded Graham that this was his last day at the fishing and as early as next week he was taking off on his new adventures.
Graham, sad that he would never see Donald again, thanked him for all his help and flew back to Alisa Craig, and the empty nest vacated by his last two children, who were by now off hunting their own fish along with their older brothers and sisters, of whom, some had children of their own.
The large family were too busy foraging for food to feed their self and their young that they forgot all about their graceful dad, and grampa Graham.

Too blind and too old to catch much fish on his own Graham became quite weak, living on the few meagre scraps left behind once all the other birds had fed, until the day came when they all had to fly south before winter set in.

It was six weeks since Donald had left, and as the other Gannets began to take off, bellies full of fish and enough strength to last them until they reached their destination in the warm climate of another country, Graham tried one more dive as he spotted through his misty eyes a fish swimming near the surface.
Sploosh! Straight into the water he went for one last meal before his long flight, but all he came up with was one small fish, not enough to give him the energy to fly all the way south, and the only hope he had now was to catch something on the way.
When he surfaced, through tear filled eyes, he watched the flocks disappear into the distance as he placed the little fish between his beak, saving it,knowing it would be needed later on during his long journey.

Owing to that last dive, all the other birds had flown far ahead of him leaving him to struggle on alone, thinking, "if only Donald had retired a few weeks later."

He was a brave Gannet though, and battled on south becoming weaker and weaker as the miles went past, until nearing the equator, with his little fish eaten days ago, and now on his last legs, he spied through tear covered eyes, blinding him even more, something shinning in the water beneath him. A fish he thought,if I can catch this I might just get enough energy to last me the final miles to retirement.
The sun was high in the bright clear sky over the equator, which made his target sparkle and shine so strongly that he thought he could not fail.

Woosh! he dived down at speed just like the old times, but on approaching the shiny object, realized that it wasn't a fish after all but the sun reflecting on the bald patch of a mans head, all too late though as he crashed onto the deck of a boat.

Stunned and dazed, as he slowly opened the hazy eyes that had failed him so often in these latter years, he thought they were now playing cruel tricks on him when the vision before him cleared.
It was Donald, he had landed on Donald's boat of all places, and no, his eyes were not playing tricks on him as he soon realized, because the familiar comforting voice of his old friend rang in his ears as he rallied once more on the deck of Donald's boat.

Donald recognized him right away, and speaking in a soft voice said "I think its time we cracked open a tin of sardines before you get any worse Graham."
Once again Donald had come to his rescue, and as the boat continued south, Graham became stronger with the tinned fish Donald fed him with. As the days passed, and Graham had recovered all his strength, Donald told him that although he was now strong enough he had not to go off on his own again, and that they could travel the rest of the way together, keeping each other company along the way.

One night a fierce storm blew up, with hurricane force winds screaming through the rigging, whipping up gigantic seas, but the skill of Donald kept them afloat as they dodged through the huge waves that crashed around them.
All of a sudden the sky went black as the light was hidden by an enormous wave that towered above them, "save yourself" Fly away" Donald shouted to Graham as the sea burst over the small craft smashing it to pieces, but Graham owing so much to Donald stayed with him until the bitter end.

End it was, Donald's body was found floating among the wreckage of his boat, with a dead Gannet drifting nearby on the by now calm sea two days later.

None of them had fulfilled the dream they had set out to achieve of retiring to a warmer climate, and both of them perished just a few days away from reaching their goal, both of them had kind hearts, but that never saved them from the stormy sea.
All these years battling against the elements, both Graham and Donald, only to perish so close to their dream by the cruel sea that gave Donald and Graham so much pleasure, and had been the source of sustenance throughout their lives.

They do say though, on a clear sunny day near the equator, when the Gannets, old and young, are flying south, a bright reflection can be see from the air, coming from what looks like a motor cruiser, and the smell of sardines floats across the sea as the old Gannets with fading eyesight dive for one last meal.

Maybe, just maybe, although Donald and Graham are dead and buried, their kind hearts are there to carry on watching over the good people of this world.

So if you are ever flying over the equator, or sailing near to it, on a clear sunny day, or floating through a sea of dreams anywhere in the world, watch out for a reflection in the water it might just be them looking out for you......... but only if you are good.

Don't think of this as a sad ending because when a good person dies it means there is another angel in heaven to watch over us.
That's where Donald and Graham are.
Donald is watching over us, while Graham the graceful Gannet is watching over the birds, especially the old Gannets with failing eyesight.

The last part was added for the sake of Tricia.
http://www.thegirlwhowearsmyshoes.com/ Another touching blog.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I headed up the pier to new beginnings.

Fishing vessels in Oban HarbourImage by Eglos via Flickr

Thanks to my uncle Alex's teaching, and my eagerness to learn I became an accomplished fisherman within a couple of years, splicing ropes and wires, mending nets, gutting fish faster than anyone I came up against, realizing, and mastering the responsibility of skipper, long before I left my teens.

At the age of nineteen I was left in charge of the Olive tree when my uncle had to stay ashore for some months, due to an illness, and it was then that I realized the stress and strain, the responsibility of skipper put on you, having to catch enough fish to cover the expenses of the boat, plus ensure wages for myself, and four other men, some with families.

All the decisions were mine, where to go to get the best catches, how to combat the seas,ensure the safety of the boat,and crew, while all the time showing inner strength to instill comfidence in the crew, who knew, although I was good on deck, I still had to prove myself in the wheelhouse.

Two years later, at the age of twenty one, I was left in the same position, with my uncle ashore indefinitely, with the same sad, self inflicted illness.
I managed fine learning something new everyday, and felt a great feeling of satisfaction, and relief when the cod end came up with good hauls, but as the months went on and my uncle showing no signs of returning, even though he was better, I decided to have a discussion with him.

The Olive Tree needed a bit of modernization as it was beginning to show its age, and the lack of a trawl winch was the main thing I wanted rectified, as trawling for prawns, now it had been legalized was fast becoming the main source of fishing among the large fleet of fishing boats that sailed from the many ports in and around the Firth of Clyde.

Seine net men detested the prawn fishing, but we did go to it even before it became legal, trying to make a living when the white fish were scarce, and in these early days the prawns were abundant, which was just as well because, without foreign buyers, the prices we got from the local buyers at the auctions were atrocious.

The seine net fishing still had a big say in our life, plus around seven or eight other local boats, being joined by seine net boats from the east coast when the white fish was more plentiful in our waters.
The majority of the other local boats were herring fishers, and previous to the trawling being allowed, would tie up for around three months of the year, due to a lack of herring, and lovingly scrape and varnish their boats inside and out, until they shone like new. All this time cost money though, while none was coming in, so eventually the got dual purpose deck layouts with trawl winches and gallows installed, which did not interfere with them when they were "ring netting" for herring, allowing them to work all year round, with just a short spell ashore for maintenance.

The seine net boats on the other hand worked all year round even when the fishing was poor, moving farther afield into more treacherous waters in search of the fish that eluded us at times, tieing up for maintenance before the shoals returned.

We did go to the trawling with the Olive Tree, but without the trawl winch and gallows which made the job, not only more dangerous, but less efficient. (gallows being used to bring the trawl doors up clear of the water, allowing easier access for the procedures that followed)

On discussing the way forward with my uncle he did not seem interested in any improvements, or a new boat,and was in no immediate hurry to get back, quite happy to leave me with the resonsibility, but with no improvements forthcoming, and me, now with a wife and son to consider, I decided to leave the job I loved, which would not only force my uncle back to work for his own good, but give me more time to spend with the son whose rapid progress in life I was missing out on.
I owed a lot to my uncle but loyalty was not the way forward, so when other options arose, it was with deep regret I packed my gear, seaboots, oilskin, etc, and stepped ashore with a heavy heart. The adventures of the past years ran through my head and the thought of not having the adrenalin rushes to look forward to cast doubts in my mind before my new life had even begun, but with one quick look back at the boat that had meant so much to me I headed up the pier to new beginnings.

My father-in-law worked in Prestwick Airport as a baggage handler, and his friend was the boss of the Board of Trade drivers whose job it was to convey technicians around the various radar stations, and other devices that was necessary for the safety of the airport where they would maintain or fix any problem that arose.

The drivers were called safetymen drivers for reasons I will go into later, but to get to the point,I, through my father-in-laws friend secured a job in this capacity, which was "supposed" to be the next stage in my life and provide me with a reasonable wage, while giving me time with my wife and son.

I have put inverted commas at supposed, for reasons that I will continue in my next post,and given the fact that my loyal readers will know of my love of the sea it will come as no surprise to them when it is published, but I can promise you there is a very amusing story to come.

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