Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gentle summer breezes.

In contrast to last months post I thought with the severe winter weather we are experiencing in Scotland I would warm the keyboard of my computer recalling the unusual days at sea when the surface of the ocean was flat clam shimmering like glass on a wind free sunny summers day.

The summer days are long in Scotland with the sun rising between three and four in the morning and setting around eleven at night with hardly any darkness in-between.

We would leave port at midnight on the Sunday night when darkness had just fallen, but if the moon was at a point in its cycle where it shone large and bright in the sky, it appeared as if it was still daylight and you could see for miles over the silvery sea.

When I was on watch on mornings like these I used to soak up in amazement the beauty and variations of colour mother nature could conjure up to create the fantastic sea scape that lay before me as we sliced our pathway across the sea of glass to the fishing grounds west of Pladda lighthouse at the southern tip of Arran.

It was the fishing grounds there, that Hake were caught in the warm summer months when they came into the shallower waters to spawn, providing us with rich pickings as they were one of the most expensive fish we landed, being savoured by the Spaniards who travelled all the way to Scotland to buy them in bulk and ship them back home.

The crew were rallied when we reached the fishing grounds just before daylight appeared in the eastern sky and the dhan would be thrown over the side where two miles of rope were shot out, then the net, as we turned and shot out two more miles of rope on our return to pick up the dhan and begin our first haul of the day.
It took two hours to complete the tow and once the net approached the stern of the boat we would stop the winch, tow it along the surface to assist the cod end that held the fish to float on top of the water before we started hauling it aboard.
It was when we came astern to haul the net aboard that the cod end would reveal its contents by floating a silvery blanket of bloated hake bellies along the bag and as we pulled it towards us they would rumble down into the cod end, then be lifted aboard by the derrick, spilling into the pound where we would quickly box them ready to gut.
In the case of the large Hake we would gut them straight from the pound once the gear was shot again as the majority of them were usually longer than the boxes and with their girth it did not take many to fill a box.

We would still be working with the fish as the next haul was in progress, and the mud from the ropes coming in would splash all over us and the deck, covering all in its vicinity with a thick layer of brown clay as it dried in the now rising sun which became warmer with every passing hour.

As early as 9am it would get so warm that I used to cut down an old oilskin and make an apron out of it, tie it around my waist to keep the lower half of my body as dry as possible while I stripped to the waist and let the sun beat down on my pale skin, hidden from the elements all winter beneath layers of clothes during the cold stormy days that was more normal to us than the balmy weather arising from the few hot summers days we might be blessed with.
All day I would work like that only donning my full oilskins whilst hauling the net to protect myself from the scaulders that fell on our heads from the net as it was drawn through the power block (scaulders are red jellyfish that appeared during the hot weather and had a sting like vinegar or salt hitting an open cut)the term scaulders coming from the burning feeling they gave you when they landed on sensitive pieces of skin around the eyes or open cuts.
(SCAULD meaning to burn in Scots lingo)

By the end of the day when the sun set below the horizon my back was as red as the scaulders, and also would sting in a similar way, having had too much sun at one go, and even though this happened every year I still never learned from it, always desperate to grab some sun while the chance was there and willing to suffer for it, as after a couple of hours sleep at night it seemed to cool down enough to start the process all over again if we were lucky enough to have sunshine two days on the trot.

The job was so much easier and less tiring on calm seas, no rolling and pitching about or holding on to boxes of fish as the boat was thrown violently in all directions, and calm seas also allowed us to stand without having to think about where to place our feet or correct our balance as we did in storms during every lurch our vessel took.

As the sun rose in the east it would paint a different picture of colour every morning depending on the atmospheric conditions or slight cloud formations that might feather the pale blue sky. At night when it sank like a giant red ball of flame beneath the west horizon into a flat calm sea you almost expected it to sizzle and steam when it appeared to touch the surface as it flickered shades of pinks and lilacs that danced among the few ripples stirred up by the tide and evening breezes, cooling the night air slightly, giving us a short respite from the heat that would soon burst upon us again come morning.
As the day wore on I would drench myself with the cold salt water pumped from the sea through the hose that led to the deck just to cool down a bit, and come the end of a trip my hair was like wire when I went to wash it,having to use handfuls of shampoo before I could work up enough lather to cleanse the salt from it.

Wonderful sights of mother nature to behold during the long days of summer in Scotland, but as the calm days dragged on with steam rising from the decks and the fish too as they lay in wait to be gutted, by the heat of the sun beating down, mingled with the build up of heat on the deck from the engine room, meant we had to be quick attending to them and get them in ice before the heat affected the freshness of them, losing us money come landing time.

We had a good crew in those days so the problem of rotting fish never arose and we always got top money for our fish no matter what the weather threw at us, but once the calm days turned into weeks the novelty began to wear off and we would wish for a stiff breeze at least to liven things up again.

When the calm days became tedious I used to think that it must have been the same for sailors of old who, when lying becalmed would have been bored as they waited to move forward having had to rely on wind and sail power to drive them onward to their destination. Whereas they would be willing the wind to blow for that reason, we began to wish for wind to relieve the boredom the calm seas and the heat caused us as we toiled under the burning sun all day.

Then one morning you would sense a change working in the weather, as the sun rose with an angry looking sky, and the gentle cool summer breeze getting colder instead of warmer with each foot the sun rose above the now grey horizon, whipping up the once calm sea into the turmoil we were more used to.

The boredom had passed, the long oilskins were donned for the day and the now tanned skin on my back was once again hidden from the elements leaving only my hands and weather beaten face uncovered, where the spray from the rising waves would leave its mark as it hammered across the deck with each dive we took into the deepening troughs.

The long summer days were over, the fishing had its good points, and the beautiful visions of mother nature I witnessed during these special sunsets and rises will never leave my mind, a wonder to behold indeed.

The days would get shorter as the sun rose later and set earlier, displaying a different kind of beauty through cold angry winter skies, but as our vision was impaired by lumps of sea crashing around us and our concentration focused on the dangerous task in hand of casting our nets, clearing the decks and keeping our balance, making sure we were not thrown overboard, we could not take the time to appreciate them so much, but then again that was what we expected and looked forward to when we signed up, a bit of excitement and adventure that helped to keep our wits about us,preserving our lives as we unwittingly collected stories along the way that might come in handy to tell our grandchildren some cold snowy December night gathered around the glow of a warm log fire before we watch them snuggle down to sleep to dream of the gifts Santa might be bringing them through the storm.

I have retired now as my regular readers will know and although I have no grandchildren of my own to relay my stories to, I do have my followers, and I am sure some of them might just be reading this before they fall asleep to dream of the gifts Santa will be bringing them regardless of their age, so I hope when you awake your dreams have come true.
If they don't you must have been naughty ha ha.


I wish to thank all my readers and followers for their loyalty, and for their fantastic comments during the past year.
I wish you all great time on Christmas day and all the very best for the year ahead.
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