Tuesday, 3 November 2009
During the few weeks of the hake fishing I managed to spend the weekends at home, returning to join the Girl Margaret by sailing from Ayr on the Alkaid on a Sunday night, and jumping aboard the Girl Margaret at sea when we met up on the Monday morning at the fishing grounds.
It was an easy enough task in calm weather but in rough seas you had to be extra careful to time your jump on the up surge of the boat, and pick your spot to land on the deck, because if you mistimed it, and jumped on the down surge, you would be more than likely to land in the water. It was tricky anyway you looked at it really, but I was lucky enough to judge my moments correctly, and always managed to find a firm deck beneath me every time.
By the end of August, the hake was beginning to move back to deeper waters, and the catches were getting smaller, while the weather was getting rougher.
The last week of the hake fishing we landed our midweek catch in Ayr, but as the wind was blowing strong from the west come Thursday night, the skipper decided it was wiser to land in Campbeltown, and not risk the rough seas we would have to entail if we headed across to Ayr.
The fish would be sent by road to Peterhead market as the market in Campbeltown was poor owing to the lack of buyers, and of course it meant me spending my first weekend, away from home for a long time.
I could have travelled home by road, but the very thought of the journey there and back filled me with dread, plus the fact that playing the family man was beginning to wear a bit thin, I am sorry to say, and the little break in Campbeltown seemed to come at the right time.
I had a good weekend ashore, and rather than being stuck on the boat as I expected, I was shown great hospitality in the home of one of the crew, where I could bath and have all the comforts of home before hitting the town on the Saturday night.
Money was sent home to keep my house and family, and a quick phone call seen everything else was fine, telling my wife I would be home the following weekend, but as it turned out this was not to be.
With the hake fishing almost finished, the skipper decided to leave early on the Monday morning and head round the Mull of Kintyre, to the sound of Gigha, where he had heard a good fishing of whiting was to be had.
Now this was one move I had been dreading, as this crew working among large fish was bad enough but trying to clear up boxes of small fish was going to be a tremendous struggle with the speed they gutted at,and if the reports were true we were in for big hauls.
The first haul that came aboard was a full lift, about twenty boxes, but it was a mixture of various small fish that had to be hand picked into boxes then gutted.(the undersized fish thrown back, along with the pout fish, a fish that fetched no money)
They were that slow getting the work done that most of them had still to be gutted by the time the next lot came aboard, which was about the same kind of bulk, and the crews I was used to would have had them all gutted and packed in ice and ready for the next lot to come aboard.
Seeing that this way of working was only going to cost us money I suggested to the skipper that we round the smaller fish (land them ungutted which meant less money but at least we had the chance of getting the deck clear) and just gut the larger ones.
He agreed, so the work went a bit faster, but instead of just small whitings coming down in the baskets rounded there was all sorts of fish among them including the pout which should have been thrown away.
Double work as I had to pass them back up to be sorted properly or we would never had got them sold.
By the end of the day we had fish on both sides of the boat lying in boxes with mud from the seine net ropes splashing onto them waiting to be gutted and although they were away from the heat of the engine they were beginning to get soft.
It was well after midnight by the time we got everything cleared, iced and boxed, and we were sailing in two hours again, to start all over.
I gave the crew a good lecture before we turned in for the little sleep we would catch, telling them if this continued it would be a waste of time catching any fish.
When you are used to good crews it is very hard to take, seeing the job being abused in this way, and the catch taken so light-heartedly, the fishing was no place for lack of commitment.
The next day the fishing was poor, and for once in my life I was glad, maybe I could knock them into shape when I had less work of my own to concentrate on, so I went through every stage with each and every one of them, showing them how it should be done, until finally they got the message, still not as good as the crews I was used to but a vast improvement.
We were all clear when we tied up at the same pier on Gigha as we had done the night before, but this time it was much earlier,and as I said the work was all done, so I was looking forward to a good nights sleep to ease my aches and pains.
The navigation, and deck lights were no sooner switched off when the noise of a car engine came roaring down the road that ran along the top of the small wooden jetty we were lying at, and stopped at an abrupt halt not far from the boat.
The crew of the Girl Margaret were well known by all of the small community on the island as they had lain there many a time during there prawn and herring days, and had given fish to most of the islanders at one time or other.
Today was a special day though, as we soon found out, when the young man who was driving the car jumped out and shouted, "come on ashore boys you are all invited to the wedding."
Before I knew it we were all hustled ashore, and although had managed a wash we were still in our sea boots, and working clothes (plus three days growth on my chin) and being driven back along the road the car had come from.
On the way a bottle of whisky was produced from under the drivers seat, by the driver while speeding along this narrow road, and passed around to get us in the party mood, as the wedding ceremony was passed, but the celebrations were about to begin.
No policemen were stationed on the island, and when they did pay a visit they had to come by ferry, which meant, before they reached the island everyone knew of there imminent arrival, giving the islanders plenty time to get their unlicensed cars off the road and conceal anything else they cared to hide from the law.
This gave our driver the freedom to drive on the roads in this drunken state without fear of being caught, and whisk us away to the reception we were all invited to.
Our first stop was the pub, which was the front room of someones house that had at one time been turned into a bar with all the bottles of spirits, and barrels, or bottled of beer you could wish for.
Everyone from the island was there it seemed, knocking back their choice of drink, and most of the women were shoving half bottles of spirits into their handbags, to drink later on at the village hall where the party was really getting going, band and all, but no bar.
We went with the crowd who were all dressed up in their wedding outfits, while we were in our fishing gear, sea boots and all to dance and drink the night away.
If we were seen to be standing without a drink, one was shoved in our hand, presumably coming from the handbag of one of the women, and if we were standing still too long we were hauled onto the floor by one of the same women to dance a jig up and down the floor, our rubber boots sticking on the polished wooden floor as we tottered our way through the dance laughing and joking in a real party mood, but it mattered not what we wore among them, in the terrific atmosphere created by these friendly islanders.
A good time was had by all as they say, and as daylight was breaking we were driven back to the boat by the same young man who fetched us the night before. He was much drunker, but so were we, and how we got back without going off the road I will never know, but make it we did, safely onto the boat and straight out to sea, where the gear was shot two hours after leaving the wedding reception.
This was another time I was glad that not much fish was to be had as it gave us time to sober up and recover from our night of celebrations with the islanders of Gigha, a friendlier folk you could ever wish to meet, but, as another saying goes "there is a time and a place for everything," and that certainly was the place, but the time? NO!
We only had a couple of hauls and headed back round the Mull to land our catch onto a lorry in Campbeltown, with our night of celebrations kept quiet from the wives of the crew, after all we were on a fishing trip, a fishing trip and an island community I will never forget as long as I live.
Aye the job, and being away from home had its good points after all. Not many but a few.
The top picture is the Island of Gigha off the west coast of Scotland, bought by the islanders not so long ago with the help of lottery money added to the millions raised by themselves.
next picture is the jetty we lay at that night, mainly used by the ferry when it visits,