Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Pair trawling for herring.

The white fish was getting scarce, so with the Girl Margaret, being rigged for trawling as well as seine netting, we decided it was time to change over to the mid water pair trawling for herring, and as the fishing trawler "Alliance" from Campbeltown was a suitable neighbour for us with a similar sized engine, the pair team of Girl Margaret and Alliance was born.

I had never been to the pair trawling, or herring fishing before, so this was a completely new experience for me, but as all trawling methods have the same technique it was going to be easier for me to pick up the job than it was for the Campbeltown crew to learn the seine net, so I did not see any problems there, it was only the fact that we would be working as a pair team that worried me.

The nets used have a much bigger mesh than the bottom trawls, as you can see in at the start of the video above, of mid water trawls being hauled, and the herring catch coming aboard, the video also features clips of some disasters at sea, and "purse seine" fishing boats mentioned in earlier posts, entering port laden with fish.

The other parts of the gear were the same idea other than the tons of chain hanging from the foot rope of the net that aided the wing of the deep net to stretch fully when being towed at speed through the water at the required depth.
The other boat had had the same setup and therefore when one net was shot out (shot by the first boat to come across a spot of herring) the other boat came along side and took a wing, then both boats separated to a distance that kept the mouth of the net open, and run enough wires out to meet the required depth of the spot of herring that had been sighted.
The net was towed between the two boats,while the skippers watched in their net monitors, at the spot of herring being towed straight into the gaping net about to engulf them.

Job done and the gear was hauled back, but once the net broke the surface the two boats had to come together and pass the wing of the net back on to the boat that shot the net, so all the herring would go down the bag and safely into the cod end. (Not an easy task in rough weather as men had to jump back and forth to assist with hauling the net and boxing the herring.)
The boat that shot the net would take the all herring aboard unless there was too much for one boat to handle, therefore more jumping back and forth would take place and the remaining herring landed onto the deck of the other boat, to be boxed in their hold.

The jumping from boat to boat was more to share the workload between the crews, as the profits made from our spoils were shared equally, so it was only fair that the work should be shared.

Our pair of boats were varnished rather than the normal paint jobs you see today, a throwback from the early days of the ring netting boats which were tied up for the lean months, and scraped back to the wood, then had several coats of varnish lovingly brushed onto them by their crews who took great pride in seeing the finished article sailing from port at the beginning of the new season shining like a new pin.

The decks were varnished too which made them quite slippy at the best of times, but when the herring was coming aboard, and their scales, slime and spawn were mixed with the salt water running down the decks, you could barely keep your feet.

The first tow went according to plan, and it was the Alliance who spotted the shoal, so it was their net that went into the water, so when it was time to haul, and the boats came together, I was the first to jump aboard eager to observe my first sighting of herring coming out of the water.
The herring fishing is carried out during the night,and when we hauled the net through the power block (as seen in video) the deck lights were shining all around the sea beside the boat and the Girl Margaret was standing off at a safe distance watching the proceedings, and trying to spot the cod end though the glow to see if the shoal was as big as we had surmised from the sonar soundings.

As the net neared the boat you could see the sea sparkle silver with the scales being threshed through the mesh by the bulk of herring running down the bag, and as it entered the radius of the deck lights, the sea around the boat shimmered silvery from the bag solid with fish.(hence the name "silver darlings" when refering to the herring)

The next job was to get them aboard and into the hold, which meant on the Alliance, landing them on deck above the manhole that leads into the lockers where some of the crew would be standing by to spread them evenly throughout the hold, while we on deck would keep filling the cod end and emptying it constantly until all the fish were aboard.

On man at the winch heaving the cod end aboard, and ME standing forward ready to pull the gun, (a metal catch rather than just a knot) that secured the opening of the cod end once it had swung aboard above the manhole, other men standing aft, held up boxes at the side of the boat, taking care that none of the fish splashed back over the low gunnel's of the boat, designed more in the style of the old ring netters.

The first lift swung over the rail, and once it stopped swinging about and settled I bent down and pulled the gun, "SWOOSH" tons of herring spilled onto the deck taking the feet from me, as my boots failed to grip the deck that had become slippier than an ice rink, sending me flying along the deck on a sea of fish, scales, and water running up inside my oilskins, and only a couple of feet of gunnel to stop me being washed over the side.
I managed to grab hold of the stay that helped secured the foremast, just as the sea of herring thinned enough to let me feel the deck beneath my body again, giving me some control over my destiny.
Gathering myself together I slithered back to my position, soaked to the skin, to hammer the gun shut and throw the cod end back for another fill.
Up she came again, and by this time I could hardly keep my feet to get near the gun, so owing to the fact, that I was already covered from head to foot in scales, water and muck of all sorts I took my boots and socks off and carried on for the rest of the procedure in my bare feet, and each time the cod end opened the herring would swoosh around my feet and up around the legs of my jeans, covering everything in thick scales, but at least I stood firm on the deck with every lift, until the net was empty, and the hold full to the hatches with good quality herring.

We had filled one boat, so we headed off to Tarbert at the north end of the Kintyre Peninsula, on the north side of the Kilbrannan sound where we had been fishing, allowing me an hour and a half to get cleaned up before we started to land.

We all had a good laugh at the nights events, happy in the knowledge that for one nights fishing we already had a decent weeks wages secured, and the problem of the slippy varnished deck would be solved by placing a long rubber mat across the deck where men would be standing.

The Girl Margaret had no such problem as the varnish on her decks had been well and truly rubbed clean with all the work at the seine net, and her gunnel's were twice the height of the Alliance's, so when it was our turn to take the herring aboard the following night the job was much easier.

We had the boat laid out in a way that when the herring came aboard they ran through the manhole onto a chute directed at a table where the crew would be standing with boxes at the ready to be filled, and stacked in the hold,(see video)which made it easier to land the herring, also it kept them in a better condition, as there was not the pressure put on them as they lay pack together the way they were in the Alliance's hold.

Although the Alliance was a fairly new boat she had been built in the style of the old ringers, with a fo'c's'le (which is forward) instead of a cabin (which is aft,) giving her a large hold, but with less headroom to carry out the task of direct boxing, the way we could on the Girl Margaret, having to settle for carrying them in bulk to port, and shovel them into boxes during landing, all leading up to a lot of unnecessary work, also there was the problem of the slippy decks, and very low gunnel's.
From then on if it was possible we carried the herring, which pleased William from the Alliance, who jumped at the chance to get aboard our boat especially nearing meal times as we had a great cook aboard, and you were always guaranteed a slap up feed after the herring was stowed away and we headed to the market.

One such night the cook shouted down the hold to us when we were under way and readying the boxes to land, (around five in the morning, as we worked during the night, as I said) asking what we would would like for breakfast,( herring, kippers, or bacon and eggs etc.)

Thinking on my usual time of heading to market at the seine net, late afternoons, I jokingly shouted back "a fish supper would be great", William laughing and agreeing with me, but expecting bacon and eggs to be waiting when we reached the galley an hour later.

When we sat down a large plate of fish and chips was placed before us, the white fish having come aboard among the herring, and the cook taking us at our word, had prepared a brilliant dinner for us to consume in the early hours of the morning.

I must say even at that hour it went down a treat, but the next time the cook asked us what we wanted for breakfast we made sure it was breakfast we ordered, as the fish supper lay heavy in our stomachs during landing, giving us both bad indigestion. Punishment maybe for trying to take the mickey out of our wily old cook.

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  1. Very interesting. I enjoyed the read. Reminded me of being taken to the docks at Hull early in the morning to see the trawlers bringing in their catch.

  2. Well this was an interesting post...I can always depend on your vivid details to send me on another imaginary journey.

  3. Another great read, Donald. Sliding on herring must have been quite an experience!

  4. Donald looking at the size of the nets and pulleys made me shutter I can't imagine not being scared most of the time as everything looks so dangerous. Absolutely fascinating...

    Dorothy from grammology

  5. When I was at the first quarter of your post, I was about to suggest that the decks not be varnished. But then when I read about the rubber mats, I said "ahh, my advanced thinking.. ok, that would do the trick" LOL.

    I got tired reading your post, all the hardwork coupled with a sinking boat in the video. What more can you ask for in a suspense-action story? LOL. What if the ropes and the net snapped off due to the weight of all the catch? Were the boats strong enough not to be engulfed by the water as you pulled the net?

    I was looking at the faces in the video as one of them might be you, but none looked similar as any of the photos you posted in your previous posts; but I know definitely that you're not aboard the sinking boat as you might not be here to blog anymore if it was so. LOL.

  6. The job of catching all those fish does seem very tiring and hard. Thanks to all the people who do as I personally love fish. The video was really cool, gave me a birds eye view of how it works. Thanks for sharing.

  7. It was definitely a very tough work to do Donald, and I can imagine that you loved being a fisher, as not one of those days could be described as boring :) A very good writer you are buddy, and you know how to bring readers right into the story

  8. Oh wow, hard work!

    I agree with Tatiana, you're a very good writer Donald.

  9. As usual you take us to sea and give us an adventure Donald. The fish breakfast made me smile.