Tuesday, 27 October 2009

This was a new kettle of fish. (nice pun)

Davaar_Island at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch.
We sailed down
Campbeltown Loch at one o'clock on a beautiful Monday morning, the darkest hour before the dawn, as they say, the familiar lights of the marker buoys flashing on and off guiding us down the channel, and rounding Davaar with its powerful lighthouse beaming and shimmering, silvery across the rippled sea.

Davaar was the Island at the mouth of the Loch, and helped to shelter the Loch and harbour, sights and scenes I had come to know so well during my fishing career on the Olive tree, having had to use it as a safe haven many a time.

This morning was special though, I was on a strange boat with a crew I knew only from socializing with them ashore, which is completely different from working with them, and a new layout of working platform, plus the synthetic ropes to conquer (a story for another day) before I could settle down to a new routine.

An hour out to sea and daylight was beginning to break, the fishing grounds for the hake were close to Campbeltown, and as the first rays of sunlight appeared over the eastern horizon, we were ready to shoot the gear for the first haul of the day.

Not only was the boat new to me but this crew also, and the seine net fishing was a job they hated because it was hard work right from the word go, until the last fish was iced and packed, last thing at night.
During the summer months in Scotland it could mean working at sea from two in the morning until ten or eleven at night, not counting steaming times, and with the long days it could mean lying drifting between the darkening hours, grabbing a little sleep, before the next sunrise, all new and despised by this crew who were more used to trawling or drift netting where sleep was more plentiful and work less so.

The boat was like a new toy to the skipper too and as the first side of rope was almost out, and we reached the time to turn and make our bight to shoot the net, I saw a grin come from his face as he exchanged glances with another member of the crew.
As he turned the wheel hard to port the boat lurched to starboard, catching me off balance, and making me hold on to prevent myself falling on my butt.
The sheer power from the Bodwin engine combined with the higher wheelhouse had made the boat heel over as we turned full speed, and although the Olive Tree had been fast it could not match this power.
I was aware of the skippers tricks from then on and was always prepared for the lurching of the boat after that, but I was glad to see the crew had a sense of humour.

The first catch of the day burst to the surface as we towed the net up ready to haul it aboard with the hydraulic power block, and as we placed the sweeps into the wheel the big fat, air filled bellies of the large hake could be seen floating all the way down the bag.
As we hauled away we watched as they slid down to the cod end, which bulged and filled, as they packed in.
The cod end was swung round and emptied into the deep pound, situated above the engine room, and as it was brim full we started gutting the big fish straight from there, and throwing them onto the forward deck to be washed, a procedure common when working with big fish, while working with smaller types they would be boxed first, making it easier for the crew to work with.

Although the crew were good steady workers they were not going fast enough for my liking, them being used to the more relaxed pace of the jobs they had become accustomed to, which put more work onto me, and after the gear was shot again, we still had plenty to do, in the hour and a half before it was back up again.
It was when we reached the bottom of the pound I noticed the fish were getting warm, some beginning to stick to the deck, and it was then I realized one reason for their fish being condemned the week before.
Between the heat from the rising sun, and the searing heat coming up through the deck from the 500 horses the Bodwin engine was throwing out,the slow pace of the crew,(another reason for condemned fish) the fish were beginning to cook on the deck before we reached them.
I managed to salvage them all, but two large hake, and then went down into the hold to box and ice them as the cook washed and threw them down to me,the two others by this time needed at the rope bins to guide the ropes in a neat pile ready for shooting again.

I just managed to box and ice the catch when the net was up again, big silver bellies floating all the way to the cod end once more.
This time we boxed all the fish as quick as we could, and at last I saw some haste from the crew after I pointed out the cost to our pay packets if we allowed the fish too much time on deck.
Their gutting got faster but not as fast as I was used to, so it meant more work for me, but I took it in my stride and the day went on much the same, me gutting, shooting gear, boxing and icing in the hold, taking a spell at the bins now and then, non stop until the last haul was aboard.
I was used to it but I was also used to the workload being shared a bit more evenly, and never had time to think about my athletes foot throbbing inside my sea boot until it was time to rest and eat something, before grabbing some sleep.

When I lay down, every bone in my body was aching, and my foot red hot with pain, I thought to myself "this was supposed to be easier with all the mod cons, not harder" but it was not long until I was sound asleep, helped by the gentle swaying of the boat as we drifted on the tide. (not that it was needed.)
The watch during the three hours drifting had been shared by the other members of the crew, an hour at a time, allowing the skipper and me a full three hours.
At least I had been spared taking a watch, perhaps they had appreciated my hard work after all.
The Bodwin engine droned away all night but the noise faded into oblivion along with my pains, and in no time at all it was all go again.
The big fish came aboard from the start and all I could see were pound notes, with every fish that passed through my hands, which was every fish we caught, as I gutted most of them, and boxed them all, but all the crew could see was hard work.

We had less hauls the second day as we were heading to Ayr market to land, giving me a chance to grab another hours sleep after the decks were cleared during the three and a half hours steaming time.
The market at Ayr took place between the hours of five in the evening til seven in the evening, two hours in all, but it gave us ample time to get some good hauls in then go and land.
Land we did, the biggest catch of hake landed from one boat, at one time ever in Ayr,(at that time) and not one fish condemned.
The buyers knew I had changed boats and knew my fish would be in good order, hence the top prices that night, which put a smile on all our faces, and renewed my strength, plus the fact I had laid my hands on the cream the skipper ordered (ship to shore)for my athletes foot.

I had no time to visit my wife, but managed a couple of drams before grabbing another nap, and after covering my toe in cream, did just that.

The next two days ran along the same lines, with the crew going at a steady pace and me breaking my back, but the cream was working a treat even though the crew weren't, and the weather was perfect.
We landed a bumper catch on the Thursday night again, and after loading up with boxes and ice, I left the crew to moor up while I went to fetch the "docket," a statement of the prices and what we had made for our catch.
I was handed a bottle of whisky along with the docket, and told it was for smashing the port record, a big contrast to the previous week when they had half their catch condemned.
I couldn't hide the grin on my face as I held it aloft on approaching the boat, where the roar could be heard the length of the pier from the crew when I told them the news.

The neck was screwed open as soon as my feet touched the deck, it was downed among the five of us rapidly, before we hastily adjourned to the pub where we celebrated until closing time. (ten o'clock in these days)
A carry out was purchased to drink on the boat, but as the clock neared half past eleven, I took my leave and headed home in a taxi to spend a couple of days with my family before it all began again.
The Girl Margaret left Ayr and headed back to Campbeltown in the early hours of the morning once the crew had sobered up enough to sail, and I rejoined them this time at sea on the Monday morning, having hitched a lift on another boat, "The Alkaid," a boat from the east coast who fished our waters during the hake fishing, and who's crew travelled back and forth from home to Ayr by car, leaving their boat in Ayr over the weekend and left for the same fishing grounds I was headed for to start all over again.

(Try as I might I cannot find a suitable picture of a boat like the "Girl Margaret", But "The Wanderer" pictured above, a boat I sailed on in later years is the nearest I can get, although it is bigger than the Girl Margaret, but the same design.)

Bottom picture) Davaar Island, at the mouth of Cambeltown Loch

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. Through your words I can imagine being out to sea doing backbreaking work hours on end. It's a hard life you chose Donald. Good story.

  2. I am serious about that book, Donald... :-)

  3. Donald, when you think back at the strength you had in those days isn't it amazing as to what we can do when we are young.

    And the love for the sea you must have is amazing...I really enjoy reading your stories..keep em up...

    Dorothy from grammology

  4. Making you a member of the crew is probably the wisest move they have ever done in their entire fishing career. LOL. You're obviously an asset to the team, and with all your skills you made a fortune for yourself and the rest of your fishing classmates.^^ You're very determined and hardworking.

    You sure really love fishing to go through all the adventures at the sea, as it was no easy task. I don't think I can work well with just a few hours of sleep each night. Maybe I can stay at the sea for long but all I would do in the boat is pure leisure and when it rocks me to sleep the better. LOL.

    Life is full of choices and I'm glad you made the right one when you joined that crew (I hope so LOL). It's a matter of taking risks, and doing what you think is for the better. There is no such thing as trying, it's either you do it or you don't.

    Your first trip sounded great and adventurous except for the ill feet LOL. Nice post as always, Donald.

  5. It's a great story and beautiful two photos, Donald! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Must have felt a bit like scoring the winning goal in a big game... There are heroes in every arena of life.

  7. Another fascinating story Donald and I bet the bottle was dry in seconds!