Monday, 3 May 2010

Man the pumps.

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.

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  1. Sometimes, we find ourselves fighting the obvious and knowing our stomach feelings are the ones to stay with. The discomfort you felt about your skipper, I'm sure you were right...and glad nothing further happened.

    Dorothy fromg rammology

  2. Some skippers should not have been allowed in the wheelhouse, and it was only the fact that they put money into their own boats that made it happen for them.
    Other instances like this did not have such a happy ending.

  3. I like the way the thoughts and events in your post are organized. You described everything so well that reading your story creates a vivid picture of what actually happened as if I am watching it on TV. I don't think I'm any good in telling stories.. :(

    That skipper should have had the cool you have shown; and your crew was lucky because you were clever enough to double check what really was going on. Just imagine the scenario if the panic continued. Yes, better like that than sorry but look at what could have been lost. It's not plainly about not taking any chances, but also about looking at the root cause of the problem and giving the right solution. Like if for instance water is dripping from a leak on the roof. You wouldn't be satisfied just placing a basin under it to catch the water. The "right" solution is to fix the leak by either patching up the hole, or having your roof replaced by a new one. A first aid is helpful, but until the problem is fixed from the real cause, it may even lead to something worse.

    You left us with a wonderful ending again and it was so true! I wouldn't go to the sea with someone I can't depend on. I myself don't want to put my life in jeopardy because of somebody else's ignorance, negligence, or recklessness.

    Sorry my comment is too long.. even longer than my latest post. LOL. Thanks for the story.

  4. Thank goodness you were all safe. What a fool of a man.
    At least you saw sense and moved on.

  5. Your opinion is always welcome SASH no matter how long or short it is.

  6. Most are responsible Glynis but it only takes the one to cause havoc.

  7. I cant imagine a career where ones life is dependant on another, well i can imagine, but would not wish to be in tha situation. However is does bring with it, amaziing memories and moments Im sure. Keep on keeping on and thanks for sharing
    James James

  8. Your welcome James, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  9. Every time I'm here and read your great written posts, Donald, it shows me always so clear how far away I'm from the life of a real fisher and his crew. You tell wonderful stories about your exciting trips, dangerous trips, successful trips - you name it - to the sea. And for me it's like watching a movie when I'm reading your words.

    Thanks for sharing with us this episode out of your indeed interesting life!

    Sue's Daily Photography

  10. Thanks Susanne, its a pleasure having readers like you who appreciate my stories and take the time to leave such great comments.

  11. Donald S. my dear, I will soon have to publish the piece which I have written which was inspired by you and your tales! :) :)

    I want to greet you a happy Mother's Day, and no, not because I think you are a mother, but because we all have a mother and we all know and love someone or some people who are mothers! :) ♥ My love to you and yours on this Mother's Day! :) ♥


  12. Great life lesson again Donald from your interesting life on sea

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  14. Thank you C, I am honoured, though not worthy, I look forward to your next piece.

  15. This is a good post, I used to live in Lowestoft so I know how dangerous and exciting a fishing boat can be - and, no, you wouldn't get me on one!

  16. Thanks Mike, you made the right choice by not going to sea, it's not only dangerous but thanks to all the stupid EU rules it is becoming a dieing trade.

  17. Poor judgment would definitely be a trust killer on the sea. I imagine you did as well as you did out there because you checked things out for yourself and made a habit of studying those you worked with.

  18. One thing you must do if you go to sea Heather, is have the greatest respect for it as its power and the damage it can cause knows no bounds, coming from nowhere when you least expect it.
    Safety, along with common sense is crucial.

  19. Hello marvelous Donald S. !!!!!

    Where are your new writings???? Isn't this the same one I last read????

    You know what.... maybe you ought to start calling me "skipper" ...ahahahahahhahaha!!!! How does that sound, eh?????!!!!! :) :)

    I am proud to know and have an X-pirate as a friend!!!! Well, I KNOW you weren't really a PIRATE, but, in my head I like to imagine so, so you'll just have to let me!!!! :D :D

  20. I have no doubt Charity, that given the chance I would have been a pirate but I had to settle for being a fisherman with Pirate tendencies, living a life of subdued adventure in comparison, the next addition of which will follow when I am not so pressed for time.
    I am so glad you are looking forward to the next installment, as for the title of skipper, well you would have to prove yourself first, before I could put my trust in you to allow that. ha ha.

  21. I'm still dizzy from the swells and irate at the ineptness of the skipper(?). Can't imagine how he got there being such a wimp.

    Keep working on the book Donald.

    All the best - Maxi

  22. Thats where my time is being spent now Maxi, on the book, hence the delay in new stories.

  23. Ahoy!!!!! Pirate man!!!!! Time for an update, ayt???!!!! :D :D If you can no longer remember the old pirate days, then why don't you start writing some pirate tales/ stories???? Stories of pirate men who sail along in your imagination!!!! :) :) :) :)

  24. Being in the middle of the sea is a very lonely occupation. But the vastness of the sea offers ample amount of ideas and of inspiration. Being a writer, yourself, you are drifting on an uncharted seas of thoughts.

    Thanks, Donald, for visiting my site. I am now following you. and

  25. Oh wow. Am impressed everytime I visit ur blog. All of post invite such lovely comments from ur visitors.
    I do not visit much but I always remember a gud quality blog!!! I passed u a Sun shine award on my blog. I am sure u r not looking or need any award but I really have to passed the award to you coz u deserve it.
    I think everyone will agree with me.^^

  26. Thank you very much for the award Mignonesia, any recognition is welcome and an award such as yours is icing on the cake.