Monday, 3 May 2010
The jobs on a fishing boat are not all about catching fish, we all have our designated jobs to do, to maintain the efficient running of the boat.
We have to know about the engine, and how to do repairs at sea, on all the machinery, keep the bilges dry by pumping them out on a regular basis,(normally a man is designated to look after the engine, which could mean any one from the skipper to the main deckhand, as long as he has enough knowledge of them, which most fishermen do anyway.)
Everything is kept clean in the galley (the cooks job) the hold is always scrubbed with disinfectant after landing (the hold mans job) and the deck and surrounding areas are scrubbed after the last of the fish has been stowed, as we set off for the nearest port to land. (the deckhands job)
In this particular case it was the skipper/owner who, rather than trust any of the crew to look after his pride and joy, chose to do it himself.
He would start the engine each time we put to sea, stop it when we finished our trip, change the engine oil, and do all the necessary maintenance the engine needed, and checked the bilges on a regular basis, pumping them out when needed.
There is quite an accumulation of water in the bilges at times, especially after we have landed and the hold man has finished scrubbing, but normally the bilge pump is running during this operation so, by the time he is finished the water will all be pumped out.
Among other sources of water entering the bilges, you also had ice melting from the tons of ice carried to keep the fish fresh, so a close eye had to be kept on them at sea to keep the water level down.
One lovely summers day,on the first day of a new trip with only a slight swell running, we had just cleared the decks of fish from our second haul when the skipper shouted in a panic out of the wheelhouse window "MAN THE PUMPS WE ARE SINKING!"
There was two manual pumps worked from the deck of this particular boat (all boats having hand pumps that were worked from the deck) so at once, one man began pumping the small pump aft, while the other two men on deck rigged up the bigger pump, and in no time at all the water was flowing out of the boat.
As we were towing at the time the gear steaming from our stern would only hamper us should the circumstances get worse, so the next order from the skipper was to let the brakes off the winch and run off the gear, which would give us maneuverability at least.
The wires we used to tow our gear were tied onto the winch with rope, which made them easier to ditch should an event such as this occur, but we had to stand clear, as the skipper, in such a hurry never slowed the boat down when we came near the end, bursting them away rather than cut them loose, making them spring about the deck in a very dangerous way as they rumbled over the side.
Thousands of pounds worth of gear dumped at sea, but it might save our lives if we couldn't get the flow of water stopped, and we had the position of it charted with our "DECCA" (decca navigator) allowing us to retrieve it should we survive.
The skippers next move was to steam for the nearest fishing boat, which, lucky enough was only a couple of hundred yards away, and tie alongside it while we kept pumping the bilges, but the slight swell on the sea seemed bigger when the two boats came together, which could inflict damage on both boats, so we untied the ropes and dodged beside them, keeping them close, "just in case."
Having already experienced some dubious decisions from this skipper, and with everything seemingly under control, I decided to check out the source of our announced sinking.
When the skipper saw me heading for the engine room he said, "its not a panic, the water is gushing up under the engine," and sure enough, once down in the engine room, when I looked at the source of the panic, water was spraying up from the bilges.
On closer examination, I noticed the water level was up to the propeller shaft and it was a coupling on the shaft that was throwing the water up, not a leak in the hull as we were led to believe by the skipper.
When I pointed this out to him, he tried to cover his panic by saying that it was better not taking any chances, as soon as he saw the water squirting up, his thought was for the safety of the crew.
Aye whatever, I thought, all it would have taken was to look more carefully and all this panic, and dumping of the gear could have been prevented.
When I went back up on deck and broke the news to the boys, they were very relieved at first then shook their heads in disbelief at this fool of a skipper who was supposed to be the most responsible man on board, and who had also undertaken the job of keeping the bilges dry, but through his negligence had let them fill up to this level.
Panic over, and the bilges pumped dry we went back to retrieve our gear before we could start fishing again, but during his denied panic the skipper had lost the decca readings of where the gear lay, and we only had a rough idea where it was.
We towed for hours with the creeper over our stern in the area where we thought it was until finally we felt a pull, the rope leading from the winch to the creeper began to strain, a sure sign that something was on the end of it.
At last we had found the thousands of pounds worth of net, trawl doors, sweeps and wires that we had dumped hours ago, but after being in the water so long the tide had tangled them together quite badly, and it was well into the night before we managed to get it all aboard and sorted out ready for shooting again.
Through the stupidity of the skipper we had feared for our lives, lost half a days fishing, and went without sleep all night trying to prepare the gear in time for daylight breaking, nonetheless, as all good crews do, we had everything ready for the morning, and once the gear was shot we all lay down for a well earned rest, grabbing a few hours sleep while we towed away, except the skipper of course whose job it was to stay in the wheelhouse and do the job he is supposed to do.
As I drifted off to sleep the days events ran through my mind, and I thought to myself that it was time to move on, there are skippers and there are skippers, this guy had blundered once to often, and in my mind, had a long way to go before I would class him as a Skipper.
The rest of the trip went by, thankfully uneventful, but I never felt safe with that skipper in command again and moved on soon after to a prosperous boat with a reliable man at the helm.
The sea is no place to be with people you can't depend on, one of the places where your life depends on trusting the people around you, none more so than the skipper, and when faith in him is gone it's time you were to.