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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  1. Great story! Although I love the ocean and when I lived in Florida spent every spare minute close to it-- I do not like boats. I remember back in the 50s watching the Andrea Doria capsize and sink (on TV) and perhaps that is part of my fear of boats. I only want to be far enough out in the water so I can swim to safety if need be. Loved the story though. I can enjoy the thrill of danger without being near it. :)

  2. I loved the story. I had been on a sinking boat. It's a small boat, though, the one used by local fishermen in our town. It's run by a simple motor and can carry only a very limited weight. We were on our way to an island but we sank, and it happened very fast. Luckily, all of us in the boat knew how to swim, even my cousins who were just little kids at that time. That was a very memorable experience. LOL.

    I had been through many near-death experiences, and luckily I'm still here to read your wonderful stories. I nearly fell off a cliff on a mountain climbing adventure; I escaped a vehicular accident with blood all over me, lucky to find out it's not mine; had been in a 50-50 life-and-death case in the hospital when I was young. But the worst is the boat incident, as I also worried about the other passengers who are all my relatives.

    But still, I get enough rest, ergo, I'm not wicked.^^

  3. Maybe this is what you did to deserve it! LOL
    In your own words:
    "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 brethern household" Tut Tut LOL

  4. Hi anonymous,I did agree with you, as I started by saying "perhaps my question would have been answered if I thought about the things I got up to ashore" lol.
    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. Cheers.

  5. Donald this was an amazing story and I can only imagine the ones you haven't told or forgotten hope you kept a journal.

    Dorothy from grammology

  6. I hope i can visit Ayr and Troon.. I receive a hundred of calls from Scotland everyday :)

  7. Great story. And you tell it so well...
    I love everything about the ocean...