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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  1. Dogfish, is that Huss or Nuss as we called it in Harwich? My favourite fish! What a catch you had, I wouldn't want the scars though.

  2. Hi Gynis, we call the spotted dogfish, which is light brown in colour, and has no spikes, huss. It also created a right nuisance of itself as it was worthless, curled itself up into a ball making it difficult to get it of of the meshes if caught there, and wasted our time. ha ha.

  3. I have never seen a dogfish, nor do I know how it's tasting, but your stories make me feel like I was there, and seeing it happen from near by

  4. Never heard the word "dogfish" before... {blush}

  5. Thanks Tatiana, it has a taste all on its own, not one that I would try too often but OK now and then.

  6. Hi Agnes, dogfish look like small sharks, and do not lay eggs, their young are born like mammals, but they are not classed as mammals.
    They are classed as sharks (spiney dogfish shark.) I think that is their correct name.

  7. Another fine story. Thank you ever so kindly. :)

  8. Thank you Theresa, for taking the time to read and comment on my blog.

  9. Donald S! I love to read your posts! But then they get way too long! Learn to condense your ideas into bite-sized morsels so people can sit down and finish the whole meal from start to finish without having to go for pee breaks!


    I really think that all of your stories of you out at sea, and you falling in love with a new boat--they are all too romantic and conjure up images in my head of pirates and good-for-nothing-scoundrels that you fall in love with anyway! ahahahahaha! :D


  10. Well C you could go for a pee before you start reading, and unless you have a weak bladder you should manage to last til the end of the story. ha ha.

  11. I have an award for you on my blog! It's called "the happy blog award" and I pass this award on to you, because you make me happy! :)


  12. Thank you C, that is a very nice thing to say and do. I really appreciate it.

  13. I definitely have a higher appreciation for my seafood when reading your fishing tales, Donald!

  14. Thats nice to know Heather. You can't beat a bit of fresh seafood.