Sunday, 28 February 2010

A painful reminder.

Some typical alcoholic beverages.Image via Wikipedia

One day when we were fishing off the lighthouse that serves the south eastern corner of Arran, warning the many ships on passage to, or from the Clyde ports of the danger from the island "Pladda" which lies close to the shipping lane, we were contacted over the radio by the captain of a passing coaster who wondered if he could get some fish in return for some whisky.

These ships are called coasters because their routes mainly take them around the coast of Britain, sometimes travelling to European ports, but never venturing too far afield, across large oceans, although they are big enough to do so.

This particular ship towered above our small fishing vessel, but kept a safe distance from us even though the sea was calm, while he waited until our haul of fish was aboard.
The fish we were catching that day consisted mainly of whiting, with a few boxes of large cod and the odd plaice through them, which was all adding up to a good days work.

It would have been about mid-day when this event took place, giving us a welcome break from our routine of constantly shooting, hauling and clearing up one lot of fish just before the next lot came aboard, so when the exchange of whisky for some fish came, the offer was hard to refuse. Not that it would have been refused at any other time, as I am sure you know.

Once the net was safely aboard we edged as close as we could to the waiting vessel, keeping just enough distance between us to allow their crew to lower a rope down to us where we had a basket of mixed fish waiting for the rope to be tied to then hoisted up, emptied, and returned with the whisky.

Sure enough when the basket was lowered back down to us there was three bottles of a good malt whisky (Ballantine's) in payment for our fish.

Great whisky! We all adjourned to the galley where we all indulged in half a mug of this amber nectar before carrying on with the rest of the days fishing.

AH! It was a good dram, heating the cockles of our hearts, putting a glow on our cheeks and giving us an energy boost to continue. (I'll call it that anyway.)

As soon as I was back on deck I delved my hands in among the fish to pull out any large cod and put them into separate boxes from the smaller fish to give us a better idea of how much quality fish we had.

Just as I came across a big cod, I felt a sharp jag at the tip of my middle finger on my right hand, just under the nail, but thinking nothing of it I carried on, as quite often we would get jags from the barbs that grew on some of the species we caught, like the gurnard.

Our hand were always leaking blood from somewhere, between cuts from our knives, or scrapes and punctures from the defensive armour of fish like the gurnard who had spikes coming from various parts of it's body, and spikes that I had often experienced jagging into me.

When the working day came to an end and my hands began to dry out I could still feel the niggle from the jag I received, and on examination I could see a black dot under my skin which meant the spike had broken off, so I tried to squeeze it out but to no avail.

Usualy this does the trick, but as half a day had gone past the skin had started to cover over the wound, trapping the spike under my skin, so my next move was to cut around the spike and try to squeeze the, by now very sore and irritating intruder in my fingertip.

Nothing worked, the spike seemed to go deeper instead of coming to the surface, so I gave up and turned in for a good nights sleep, but that too was disturbed by the throbbing of my finger, and even after getting up during the night to take some pain killers I still could find no comfort from the pain.

I worked all the next day with it, and as the day went on the pain seemed to ease, probably due to the coldness of the water my hands were constantly in, then we were off ashore to land our catch, and as my hands dried out the pain returned with a vengeance.

After we landed and everything was ready for the next trip, I took myself up to the outpatients department at the local County Hospital where my finger was x-rayed only to be told that the x-ray showed nothing, and there was nothing they could do, but the throbbing in my finger told me otherwise.

It was a week later, at the end of the next trip, after getting little sleep through the pain from such a small spike, that I visited my own doctor, who on examining the source of my pain decided to freeze the whole finger and cut open the tip with a small scalpel.

By this stage I would have let him operate without freezing my finger, but he insisted, and after three injections he decided that my finger was numb enough to begin.

He started with small slices, working his way in, creating as neat a hole as I have ever seen, until I jumped, withdrawing my finger from his grasp as I felt the scalpel touch something.

The doctor poked away with a needle for a couple of seconds at the spot that had made me jump, then withdrawing it showed me the offending spike.
It was barely visible on the tip of the needle, but there it was, the smallest thing you could imagine, but none the less had caused me no amount of pain.

As it turned out, the small tip of the spike had lodged itself beside a nerve in my finger, which had caused the throbbing pain, and the relief was immediate as soon as the offending intruder was removed, even though my finger was still numb.

It was hard to imagine how such a small thing could cause so much pain and discomfort, and it brought to mind the story of the little boy who removed the thorn from a lion's foot, with the lion being so grateful he befriended and looked out for the little boy from then on in.

Well I can tell you,I now know how that lion felt, and that I felt the same way for the doctor who relieved me of my pain, although I did not go as far as looking out for him from then on in.
Someone who can carry out such a delicate operation with such skill and understanding of his patient needs no help from a lowly fisherman such as I, but he is still practising at the same surgery that I go to, and as long as I live I will always be grateful to him.

I carry a small scar on that finger, and it is a reminder that it does not need to be the big things in life that can give us the most problems, sometimes it's the smallest irritations that are the hardest to bear.

(The Wanderer was bigger than these punts seen in the top picture, as you all know, but I just thought I would show you a photo of a coaster.)
Any old excuse to show boats, now the whisky......just savour that too.

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Monday, 15 February 2010

My fifteen minutes of fame.

Once the Wanderer was up and running with all the trials out of the way it wasn't long until we started breaking the port record time and time again, so much was her catching power. The experience of the crew, also contributed to the feat, because without a good crew, no matter how efficient the boat and skipper is you will not have success.
The local paper "Ayrshire Post" wanted to do a feature about the fishing fleet that worked out of Ayr, so who better to sail with for all the information they needed but the top earner of the port.

We were sailing at midnight during the summer hake fishing,so the Ayrshire Post editor sent a reporter and a photographer out with us for a two day trip to get enough information to fill the centre pages.

Sure enough right from the first haul coming aboard it was obvious that there were plenty fish to be had, and with just a gentle breeze blowing, the boat was only rolling about slightly, but not slightly enough for the photographer.

As soon as the breakfast was dished out and he entered the galley, he immediately turned around and was seasick over the side, which brought back memories of my first day on the Olive Tree, only I had been out in a force ten gale, this was just a breeze, but the motion affects people in different ways, so I did have some sympathy for him.

As the day went on he felt better and began taking photos of the crew, trying to relate the photos to the story the reporter was writing which helped to take his mind off the slight pitching of the boat.

We had a bit more fun with him when a Gannet hit the mast and landed on the deck when we took it over to him and told him to take a photo of it, and with the Gannet's beak snapping away he took off into the galley dropping his expensive camera among the fish he was about to photograph, giving us a good laugh at his antics.

The reporter, photographer, and camera survived managing to do a good job and two weeks later our stories and photographs were plastered across the middle pages as promised.

It surprised me somewhat just how many people who knew me had read the story, and approached me about the spread, the following weekend when I was ashore.

An old headmaster who I hadn't laid eyes on since my primary school days spied me and stopped to talk, asking all sorts of questions about the story and my job, telling me how proud he was of me, tackling such a tough job, and being so successful at it.
He had also come from a fishing background, but chose to teach, and never knew I had a similar background, and salt water flowing through my veins until he read the story.

That was just one example of what happens when you get your fifteen minutes of local fame, I seemed to bump into people who I had not seen for years, and of course a conversation would start about the newspaper article.

National fame beckoned,(or so we thought) during the winter when a TV station was making a serial which needed filming done at one of the main trawling ports, with a good catch being landed, one of their main priorities, to make it realistic.

Ayr not being a trawler port as such, made do, being closest to their studios, and with us landing that night they were guaranteed to get the large catch they needed to make it look as if it was filmed at a port like Aberdeen.

Word reached us over the radio, before we entered the harbour that they were there and wanting to film us coming in, our catch being landed while two actors walked past talking to each other.
Then the next scene was in the fish market where our fish lay spread out waiting to be sold, with us still running in adding more boxes.

All the filming of us consisted of the boat docking, "where the crew all posed" we weren't asked to but we did, weighing the fish and running into the market with the actors standing waiting to buy them, then even more filming of us when we were loading the empty boxes and ice aboard for our next trip.

We were at sea when the program reached the TV screens, so we made sure our partners recorded our acting debut for us to keep and show friends and relations in the years that were to come, something even more for my headmaster to be proud of, if he happened to watch it.

The first chance I got I put the tape in and settled down to watch, glass of Bacardi in one hand and my cigarettes at my side for the hour long program.

The scene where we entered the harbour came up quickly, but it wasn't the Wanderer that docked, it was another Ayr boat that was built of steel and looked more like the trawler they needed.

When the two actors walked past us it was filmed in a way that blocked us out, and even the market scenes showed no signs of our crew, only a few harbour workers and the salesmen.

The only fame I had from the filming was the large catch of hake waiting to be sold was all boxed and iced by me, and nobody but me and the crew would ever know.

Ach fame is not all it's cracked up to be, just think of the amount of times I would have got stopped in Ayr if they had shown us posing needlessly as we docked, and if the headmaster was content enough with the write up in the Ayrshire Post, then so was I.

(top photo) is a picture of me taken by the Ayrshire Post photographer after I had pushed about a dozen baskets out of the hold, then he asked me to pose with one. Hmmmmmmm.

(The next photo) is just to give you an idea of a fish market during sales.

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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

You can't keep a good man down.

So much for the threat from the skipper of the Girl Margaret, that he would see to it I would never work at the fishing again, his ego was bigger than his capabilities, as I was offered a job immediately, on a spanking new boat "Wanderer 11" that was due to be launched at the beginning of 1976. Meantime I filled in my time working on one of the top earners that fished out of Ayr "The Terra Nova" until after the launch, making more money at home than I was on the Girl Margaret, so much so that the skipper of the Wanderer kept coming down to make sure I was still wanting to sail with him.

This new boat "Wanderer 11" was more than I could have wished for when dreaming of improving catching capabilities, as it had every mod con a fisherman needed for the job, and was seventy feet in length, with every inch utilized to the full, plenty deck space, and plenty room in the fish room to hold all the large catches we secured in the years to come.

One of these large catches consisted of the "dogfish species" I wrote about in my last post, and in this case we caught over twelve hundred and fifty boxes in one, two hour haul at the seine net.

The dog rope I mentioned in my last post, is a rope that is attached to the cod end, and runs along the length of the net to the tip of the net wing, where we can reach it as soon as the net surfaces, allowing us to handle any such heavy weights like this haul of dogfish, or the bombs I wrote about in earlier posts.

This was our second haul of the day, having caught sixty boxes of dogfish the haul previous, but when this lot appeared we knew we had a different task on our hands getting them aboard than we had before, as they were crammed in tightly all the way down the bag.

Dogfish have very rough skin, and if you run your finger along it from the tail up, you are in danger of drawing blood, as it is capable of cutting into you, also they have two very sharp pointed spikes on their back behind each fin which can penetrate deep into whatever part of your body it happens to come into contact with if you are not careful, the only consolation being, if any, they have no teeth.

The fact that their skin is so rough makes it harder to run them down the bag into the cod end, and there being so much bulk of them this time, it was impossible to move them, so after hauling the first lift aboard with the help of the dog rope, the rest were stuck fast all the way up the bag, with no way of maneuvering them into the cod end for another lift.

We were fortunate that it was a beautiful, calm summers day, or the weight of the dogs would have burst through the net with the surge of the sea. We were also fortunate to have lifting derricks both forward and aft, the one aft used while seine netting, and the forward one placed there for use if we ever went to the herring fishing.

We were lying drifting with one end of the net in the power block, and the other on the deck where the empty cod end lay with no way of filling it, and in between, a mass of dogfish that if landed to the market would fetch enough money to cover our expenses and give us all a very good wage.

The only option we had was to lift the cod end high on the forward derrick, and secure the other end of the net to the stern of the boat as best as we could, then cut the net on the middle of the bag, just enough to let two crewmen stand on the mass of dogfish and throw them aboard manually.

The first two to try it was the youngest members of the crew, who were the lightest among us, also the most foolish, or gullible given their inexperience, did so willingly with a rope tied around their waist, and fastened to the boat..........just in case the net DID burst under the water, and there was a sudden evacuation of dogfish, and men from the net.

This trick worked fine, and as we emptied the bag, by this time taking turns inside the net now we knew it was safe, the catch was soon mounting up on the deck where they were washed, thrown down the fish room and boxed.

By the time we had about half of them aboard, we managed to strap the bag up along the side of the boat between the aft, and forward derrick, and bring the remaining catch to the surface, but still they wouldn't run down the bag, so we had to keep cutting the net, throw the fish onto the deck, temporary lace (repair) the hole we were cutting in the net as we went along, making sure we were safe enough standing on the solid mass of dogfish, and as the day was quickly passing we had begun to steam slowly towards Ayr, to try and catch the market before it closed.

It was quite amazing how well the task went, and we all survived without anyone of us plummeting to the bottom among a shoal of dogfish, but we all did bear the scars of the spikes as they frequently jabbed into us during the procedure.

Not one dogfish escaped, and by the time we reach Ayr most of them were boxed, with the remainder being boxed during landing, over thirteen hundred boxes in all, for just two hauls, but two hauls that took all day, and well into the evening before we were cleared up, ready to mend the net, and sail back to where we caught them.

When the first haul of that next day came up we were all glad to see that it was a pleasant haul of white fish that broke the surface, fish we could handle without standing on top of them while they were still in the bag.

As for the dogfish, we either caught them all that day or the rest scarpered, after seeing the fate of their chums, as we never saw that kind of bulk in one haul again.

The story in the last post happened a few years later, but it never proved to be as difficult as that day, there being less dogfish, and not so crammed into the bag, which allowed us to run them into the cod end after each lift.

The memory of my experience on the Wanderer did enter my head that night on the Boy Peter, and although I suffered with jabs from the spikes, the ordeal, even with the shortage of cigarettes, was nothing in comparison, but the stories are ones I thought I would share with you, letting you know the lengths fishermen go to, and the other dangers they put themselves in to land their catches.

Top photo (The Wanderer 11 in her first year. She was updated on a regular basis with a shelter deck added, and rope reels replacing the original rope bins. Had the shelter deck been added at that time, it would have made our task much more difficult.)

Second photo is of "dogfish" but not swimming in shoals of the amount we caught that day. ha ha.

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