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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  1. You have a way of taking your readers right along with you. Great read. I hope it won't be long until your next post-- I want to know where the story goes next.

  2. I can't wait to hear your next adventure, Donald!

  3. Thanks for stopping by my place and posting the nice comment! ~ jb///

  4. Donald... Just as I am beginning to learn so well about fishing terms, d parts of the boat, sea experiences in general, and loving the journey with you in the sea; you're taking us to the land?^^

    Well, I do know that whatever comes next would get my attention hooked to your stories again, wherever the setting may be. You had my admiration that at an early age you have learned to manage the boat on your own. That was a very challenging job to do, when all the decisions, trouble-shooting, etc etc, depend on your hands. It indeed required skill (lots of it) as one couldn't just do it without understanding and experiencing what you had been through with your Uncle Alex on your early rides before. I'm pretty excited on what happens next to your succeeding posts. The flow of the story might be as strong as the waves you caught in the sea. And I know you're going to fish my interest again because Donald Swarbrick = a good story. Enough said.^^