Tuesday, 17 November 2009
My journeys home were becoming less frequent, as the best opportunity to get there was hitching a lift on one of the Ayrshire herring boats that would be working in the same area as us, heading home at the weekend,and returning to the same area on the Monday evening.
As the herring fishing spanned almost all of the firth of Clyde, the chance of these lifts were few and far between, but one night, after dodging about looking for the elusive herring, we found ourselves over nearer the Ayrshire coast, and as daylight was almost upon us we thought it was going to be a fruitless venture with not one net having been shot all night,and no herring being spied by our modern equipment.
We were just about to head for Campbeltown when the skipper of the Alliance called us over the radio to come alongside.
We had been separated by a couple of miles in our search for the herring, trying to cover as much ground as possible, and with still nothing to be seen we headed over to find out what he wanted to say that could not be said over the radio.
The skipper of the Alliance was due to retire, and hand the running of the boat over to his three sons who had followed in his footsteps, but he had come up through the ranks in the days before sonars, and fish sounders, and knew how the fishermen of old found spots of herring.
When we drew alongside he shouted to us that he was going to shoot here as there was plenty herring beneath us, and the reason he did not tell us over the radio was to keep other boats in the area from converging in on us, and getting in among them before us.
The fish did not show up on the sonar, (which scanned a vast area,) perhaps because they were too deep or where they were lying, maybe next to rough ground, but they were now showing up on our sounders that only showed what was directly beneath the boats.
It was a beautiful calm moonlight night when the Alliance shot his gear, and once we had towed through the spot twice we lifted our nets to find we had been successful in our quest for the silver darlings.
Another reason why they are called silver darlings is because when at night if the shoals come close to the surface, they disturb the phosphorous in the water, making the water glow white, which was one of the signs the crews looked for in the days before sounders, plus the herring gulls diving in among them, attracted by the same glow, some of the signs the skipper of the Alliance would have been brought up to look for.
There was enough herring to fill the hold of the Alliance, and this time when they came aboard I managed to keep my feet on the rubber matting we had lain down after my last escapade.
Once the hold was full, and the net stacked, daylight had broken, so it was decided, as the fish were on the small side, that the Alliance would head to Ayr with the catch to try and fetch a better price, and the Girl Margaret would head back to Campbeltown, meeting up with us at night again.
They all looked at me and said almost in one voice "Aye and Donald can get a wee spell at home with his wife."
I thought I would have to wait and land the catch before I would be allowed home for a couple of hours, but no, as soon as the ropes were tied to the quay, they told me to head off and make the most of my time in Ayr, which I did.
My wife was very surprised when I arrived home unexpectedly, as there was no mobile phones in these days, but she prepared a meal while I steeped in a hot bath of pine radox crystals, which was very relaxing having been deprived of the luxuries of home for a couple of weeks.
Bath and meal over we retired to bed, not just to sleep because with my son being at school it gave us a little time to ourselves before he came home.
I did get a quick nap before he came home, and just a little time to spend with him before it was time to head away again.
On the way back across to meet up with the girl Margaret, I felt an itch over my body, and thinking it was the heat in the fo'c's'le, I took off the clean woolen polo neck jumper I was wearing, but the itch only got worse.
By the time we met up with the Girl Margaret my body was all red blotches, but I had no time to bother much about it when I jumped aboard because we had spotted a shoal of herring right away.
The gear was shot from the Girl Margaret, and after towing through the shoal three or four times we lifted to find enough herring to fill the Girl Margaret, and half fill the Alliance.
It was a cold night and I had to put on my jumper again, but once we filled the hold of the girl Margaret I jumped aboard the Alliance to give them a hand to spread the catch evenly across their hold, doing my job of opening the cod end first.
We headed back to Cambeltown this time and as I worked up a sweat the itch returned with a vengeance, making me shed clothes, until I was stripped to the waist, which covered my body in herring scales, but at least they cooled it down a bit.
I was still itching after we landed,and after spending the most uncomfortable night I ever had at sea, I decided the best thing to do was to head to the nearest pharmacy to see if they could help me as I was not registered with the local doctor.
After asking me a load of questions, of my allergies, any drugs I might be on (prescribed drugs I'll emphasize in case you get the wrong idea) he was still puzzled until I remembered and mentioned the "pine radox bath" I had the afternoon before.
"That could be it" he said, "have you ever used the pine crystals before?" he asked.
"No that was my first time" I said, so he gave me a cream and a green liquid to cover my body with, to see if that would cool me down a bit. (Well it was cleaner than herring scales)
It turned out that I was, and still am allergic to these pine crystals, and most probably any other pine mixture on the market, so from then on I stayed well clear of anything with the hint of pine in it never wanting to go through that experience again.
The fishing is bad enough when you are feeling fine, but its the worst place to be when something is ailing you as you are so far away from land, comfort and cure.
It was only an itch I had that time, but I did endure toothache once, when I was still on the Olive Tree, which was a thousand times worse, and resulted in cutting the trip short to get the offending tooth, plus the abscess removed along with it, with a dentist standing by, arranged ship to shore, through the Seamans Mission.
All so dramatic, but most welcome when you have had to endure the severe throbbing in your mouth for hours on end with no respite, and the thumping of the boat into the seas adding to the agony as it thumped in rhythm with the throbbing of my tooth.
If only I had been a landlubber I would have had this out by now, was my only thoughts as we punched our way through heavy seas, until finally land was spied, the harbour reached, and the dentists chair a welcome sight, even the needle held no fear as all I wanted was the pain to go away.
It was all over in no time, the dentist showing me the tooth with the abscess attached, telling me he pulled both out together which was unusual as they liked to get rid of the poison first, rather than attempting the dual extraction, but it had gone well, and I strolled into the nearest pub on the way back to down a whiskey. (purely as an antiseptic of course. Ahem!)
I swilled it around the gaping hole left behind, another two for luck, and it was back to the boat and away to sea again, the pain of the toothache gone, but another hard trip ahead of me.
There is more to consider than the dangers of a storm, or the other dangers the fishing holds for those who dare go down to the sea in ships, but it is comforting to know that there is the backing ashore, between the lifeboat crews, and coastguards, to the Seamens Mission pastors who are on hand to assist us when ever they are needed.
Needed they are, all to often, as the sea is one of the most dangerous places to be, be it calm or stormy weather, and no amount of praise is high enough for those in all the rescue services who risk their lives for us.