Sunday, 20 November 2011

My new command

This is the little boat I have purchased to relax and fish for fun in perfect sunny weather for a change, instead of having to battle with the elements as I did in the past.
She is only 14 feet but she is big enough to handle on my own when launching and retrieving to the trailer at the end of the day.
Hopefully I will manage to acquire a permanent mooring at Maidens for the season which will make it even easier for me.
The adventures might not be so enthralling but I will write about the fun I have.
She had no name when I bought her so I have named her "CHASCA" after the Celtic goddess of the dawn and twilight.
As I have, albeit against my wishes been called DON it seemed appropriate when I came across her name.
I am sure Chasca the goddess will protect her namesake and all who sail in her.
You are welcome to read about our adventures together when the time comes, so catch us here when the winter months have passed.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Deep sea fishing from a boat in the Gulf of MexicoImage via WikipediaSince I have been back at sea albeit in a small way thanks to an old shipmate of mine I have had a strong urge to buy a small boat of my own.
It is only to go sea angling, a sport I thought I would never do as I thought of all the boring hours spent waiting for a bite. ........... Well that was the impression I got watching the fishermen every time I passed them sitting at the side of the river that flows through my village.
They just seemed to sit there hour after hour swiping the midges away while staring into the water, and never once have I seen any of them landing the fish they were after or spoke about while standing in the pub with their arms extended as far as they could go.

After experiencing the sport first hand at sea, with fish biting so constantly it was hard to keep up with them and of course the bad times when all we did was stare at the ripples gently rocking the boat, and its distorted reflection in the sea as we swayed back and forth.
It made me do some reflecting of my own of the good times spent seine netting and trawling in good times and bad, but never boring, then I realized that far from being bored I was actually relaxing and enjoying myself with no worries of having to make a pay at the end of the trip.
My mind could wander over past big catches and Robbie and I would sometimes seem to be thinking the same thing when one of us would recall one of the adventures we shared together.

We did not need to worry about storms anymore, we had done that, got the T Shirt and worn it out, all we had to do was to bob about on the sea at our leisure and hope a bite would come along and disturb our thoughts.
After all we had been through during our working lives you would think we would want to get away from that kind of life but no, we were both born and bred to the sea and it never releases its grip on you.

Even as the tail end of hurricane KATIA roared through southwest Scotland I sat at Dunure harbour watching the small boats swing violently in the storm, tearing at their moorings as the swell from the raging sea outside surged into the confines of their safe haven.

Even then the reflections in my mind went back to the days when I would have been out battling the storm instead of being a restrained spectator watching from the shore.
Thoughts of punching through the mountainous seas that I was observing, and turning on the broadside to haul the net among spray, heaving decks, and wind screaming through the rigging as it tried to throw us off our feet wasn't enough to put me off, it only kindled my longing to be back out there.

Sadly for me those days are long gone along with the able body and my health.
These hindrances will not permit this willing mind to go through it all again, so I will have to content myself with a rod over the side reflecting on days gone by as I watch my reflection distort on the calm seas I have to settle for now.

As for adventure and excitement, well it might not come close to what it used to be, but its better than sitting at home writing about it, and you never know, someday that big one might just take my bait and I will have another story to tell you.

Hopefully not about the one that got away.
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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Life saving changes.

The black and white photo above is in this years calendar printed for "Scottish Fishermen's Organisation LTD.

It is in for the month of June and I have been looking at it every morning when I come to my computer.
The boy standing aft is me in my teens on the family boat Olive Tree which at the time was a modern fishing vessel, but each morning this month as I look at it I always notice something that has changed drastically, none more so than the life raft.

The oblong box on the galley roof just aft of the wheelhouse is where the life raft was situated at the time, which meant that if the boat was sinking two men would have to clamber up there to release the raft.

Their first task when they reached the wooden box would be to unhook the four hooks at each corner that held the lid fast, dispatch of the lid, grab hold of a handle situated on each side of the bag the raft was encased in and haul the heavy object out.

The rafts in those days were not made of the light materials modern day vessels carry, but of heavy waterproof canvass type stuff covering a heavy rubber compound and encased inside a canvass bag which made the task of removing the bag difficult in the best of conditions, e.g. when it was taken out in the harbour when its yearly check was due, and its survival contents renewed. (food chocolate tobacco flares etc.)

This was done when we went for our annual overhaul of the engine and a paint to smarten the boat up for the summer fishing, and I had to struggle along with another strong member of the crew to get the raft out of its box, then lowered onto the deck for collection with the help of our lifting derrick. It was then that I thought, what chance would we have if we were in a raging sea sinking, or on fire?

Time would be of the essence, a matter of life and death situation, and our task would be to struggle to get this heavy life raft into the sea which would have been our only chance of survival.
Clamber on top of the wheelhouse go through the motions I just described, then we had to tie a cord to a secure point on the sinking boat and throw the raft into the sea where on its contact with the water the cord should have by then been pulled with the throw and automatically opened and inflated the raft.

If by that time we still had some of the boat to stand on, or for that matter still alive, we then had to try to get on to that raft.

Many lives were lost because of the conditions I have described, with some but a few saved, where conditions might have been more favorable.

Thank goodness for the progress on vessels of today where the raft or rafts (some have and need two) are situated in easier accessible positions, made of lighter materials, and all you need to do is release the plastic casing with a quick release clip and throw.(A long cord was already attached to where the raft had been secured on the boat. This of course was needed to haul the raft into a position that would enable us to board it.)
The raft inflates in seconds, has a roof and provisions, as did the old ones, (minus the roof, which would have added even more weight) in case rescue was delayed for some reason.

The new ones also sends out a signal that can give your position and in some cases even inform the coastguard which boat is in distress.

That to me was one of the more important changes, not only to the fishing industry, but to all mariners who have had to abandon ship.

More emphases is put on safety every year on all types of craft, but to me when I look in horror at the box above the galley, I am so glad that we never had the misfortune to need its contents as I might never have been able to describe the most important life saving change I witnessed during my time at sea.

One thing to remember is that lives will always be lost at sea no matter how safety conscious we become as we will never tame the sea and there will always be a need for the brave men and women in the rescue services who never let us down in our time of need.

A big thanks always goes out to them.

I never thought I would end up as pin-up boy on a calendar. ha ha.

You can make out the new type raft in the first photo, just forward of the wheelhouse, and there would most likely be one on the side opposite.

Click on the photos to enlarge them and give you a better view.

Quite a contrast.

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Monday, 25 April 2011

How times change.

I placed some photos in "," a sight where I can go to view pictures from the past and present of fishing boats that can usually conjure up memories that had been lying dormant at the back of my mind for years.

After receiving a comment on a photo I placed in it, of me throwing the dhan away while I was on the Olive Tree in the sixties, with the seine net ropes stacked on the deck from stem to stern on both sides, I had to think again of the changes I saw on the boats during my time at sea.

The guy had remarked on the ropes, and the work involved in stowing them, and how hard the work must have been for us in comparison to the present day and his time at the seine net.

We went from standing at the coiler in all weathers watching the ropes pile up underneath it, then haul them away and stow them along the deck, or if we were among fish, running between the coiler while gutting and washing fish, lowering the baskets into the hold, and in some cases where I was concerned, jumping down the hold to box and ice them, to reels that hauled and stowed the ropes for us.

On the odd occasion, cog wheels in the coiler would break and we would have to coil the ropes by hand until the net came up, them we would have to take the coiler to pieces and fix the broken part before we could continue fishing.

At the time we never gave it much thought, as it was all in a days work then, but as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I did used to imagine some of the new inventions and methods that came along which made the job much easier.

No longer are the ropes manhandled or nets hauled by hand, nor are the crews, in most of the new built boats at least, working on open decks.

There are still breakdowns and the crews still have to do as many repairs as they can manage, as there are no garages or engineers out there that they can call into to get things fixed, and a long steam home to get repairs done means wasted fishing time.

When I was at the sea and some of these changes were taking place, although welcomed, we took the progress more for granted, like watching a baby grow. The stages came one at a time, or in some cases when you crewed on a more modern boat the equipment was there and although accepting the benefits you never really took much notice of the change as you were among it all the time.

It is only now, when remarks are made, like the comment in regards to my photo that I can look back in amazement at just what we really went through in comparison to the fishermen of today.

The boats are all closed in, and nets are either hauled by power blocks or net drums, but when I look at the size of nets that are worked now, there is no way we could have hauled them by hand.

The modern equipment has allowed the boats to work bigger and heavier nets, the shelters over the decks have made it safer to work in rougher weather, but the danger from the sea still lurks, and boats and men are still lost.

We did used to get heavy objects in the net, objects that were not only too heavy for us to haul the nets, but also dangerous objects like bombs left over from the wars.
In these cases we would improvise and fleet the net up feet at a time with our lifting derrick which could take hours, depending on the sea conditions and if a bomb or mine appeared we would have to either cut the danger away and take the Decca readings of it, or tow it into shallow water, dump it and alert the Navy who would then send men out to blow it up.
Either way, hours of fishing, or at worst a whole days fishing, plus the net would be lost, costing us a fortune with no compensation coming from anywhere, only the hope of good catches for the rest of the trip to make up for it.

I can visit harbours now or look at photos on the websites and be amazed at the boats now, but I never think, we had it any harder then, because no matter how modern the fishing gets it will never be an easy job.

I can remember my uncle saying to me one day as I moaned while struggling to keep my feet on the deck as I coiled ropes by hand, sea spray thudding off the back of my head and knowing we had the coiler to fix as soon as the net came up, "I don't know what you are moaning about, in the old days the crews had to coil the ropes by hand every haul."

Aye the old days were always worse I thought, but it wasn't any consolation to me at the time, nor will it be any to the boys who still have to go through hell to put fish on our tables.

The only consolation we get or in my case got, was the fact that it was my calling, I loved the job, the adventure each day brought and the variation each day threw at us, be it breakdowns, bombs or big fishing, rough seas or smooth, we were never bored.

I don't know how much more modern equipment, or how many more changes will come and improve the fishing industry, but I do know some skipper in the future will say these words to one of his crew when things are getting him down, "I don't know what you are moaning about, you should have seen what I had to go through when I was a boy!" and the rookies at night will listen in amazement to the tales the old boys will spin of days gone bye,

Some things never change!

Top picture. ( Me at the seine net posing. Open decks, fifty foot boat.)

Bottom picture. (The Zenith trawling all enclosed decks, bigger boat.)

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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Delivering the Mail. Postman on his rounds at ...Image via WikipediaAlthough I was quite happy being a postman the adventure part of it left a lot to be desired.

Being bitten five times by dogs, or struggling about in deep snow to deliver the Queen's mail feeling like the last pony express, with the slogan "the mail must get through at any cost" ringing in my ears as I evaded another dog bite or snowdrift, was nothing in comparison to the thrill of punching into a storm in the dead of night with white crests towering above the mast seconds before they came crashing down around you.

The secure relatively safe life of a postman with terra firma beneath your feet, and a steady wage coming in at the end of the week might seem to some people quite idyllic in comparison to rolling about the ocean and holding on every time a lump of sea thundered into your boat drenching everything in site including you.

Not me I was born and bred to the sea and as I drove and wandered around delivering mail I used to recall the days of true adventure on the high seas and thought of the way the European Union had spoiled it all for future generations of fishermen who will probably never be able to capture the large amounts of fish in one haul as we used to do during the cod fishing at this time of year thanks to quotas that have become too restrictive and unnecessary in most cases.

Yes its March again, the month when the cod would come to the Firth of Clyde in large shoals to spawn in the warmer, shallow waters around the Ailsa Craig.

Cold winter days with biting winds howling from morning to night, seas rushing over the deck as we toiled,gutting cod for hours on end, making the most of the good catches to be had while the going was good, because when the cod left to go back to deeper waters the Clyde seem to empty of all other types of fish and a few lean weeks lay ahead of us.

Changing over to trawling for prawns was one option, but we used to tie the boat up and give her a good overhaul and paint in readiness for the summer fishing which would be the next opportunity to make big bucks.

In between times we made a steady living, except for the few weeks after the cod, so all the punishment was worth it when the bulging pay packets landed on the table in front of us.

All the freezing cold hours, hard graft, cut fingers and horrendous conditions were forgotten about as the aroma of beer hit our nostrils when we walked past the extractor fan on the pub window and the thought of a cold pint of lager being placed in front of us that would wash all the salty taste from our mouths and a whiskey to take the chill from our bones.

That was our excuse anyway if we ever needed one, but the first one certainly went down well and hit the right spot every time.

I had plenty of adventures to look back on during my then dull life as a postie, and nothing could or will be able to compensate for the sea.
It seems that you, the readers think the same way by your response to my last post, so if it is sea adventures you want to read about there is plenty more to come.

AH! Thats more like the thing.

After one post about the Royal Mail I have decided to look out my oilskins again and relive more tales of the sea.
If only I could have altered course so easily then I would have been very happy and more content but it was not a viable option at that time
All you faithful readers will be pleased to know that one post was enough of the Royal Mail for me too, so you too can look out your oilskins for the next post.

The Royal Mail? Well that was "The last post."

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

A postman's follies.

Royal Mail postmanImage via Wikipedia

I thought I would give you a rest from the fishing and save the best of these stories for my book that is three quarters finished.

I worked as a postman for ten years after I left the sea, so here is some tales from those days.

After working the long hours at sea I used to tell the postmen who complained about their job, that I considered it semi-retirement, it being easy with an eight hour shift in comparison to the dangers and long trips at sea.

In my first year I was to learn that certain dangers occurred at work for postmen too, (And women. Better remember political correctness.) although not producing the more serious consequences that the fishing held should you become lackadaisical while carrying out your duty.

I started in the village of Patna where I had lived for about fifteen years and knew every nook and cranny of it due to the compactness of it,or so I thought, never realising that I had to do the outlying part (farms etc.) with a van, but with training I managed to pick it up pretty quickly.

It took time to perfect the job, boxing in all the mail and delivering it to the correct addresses and the correct streets, plus delivering any parcels after the mail had been dispatched, but as the weeks went on I became very efficient and my confidence grew.

I would hurry my rounds, working out of the van which meant I never needed to carry any heavy bags, not that it would have been any problem to a strapping lad like I was then, but I was glad of the bag on this particular day.

I was scurrying around as usual quite relaxed when I approached a door that I knew a large dog lay in wait to snatch the mail from my hand, but the owner had placed a box behind the letter box, more to protect his mail rather than protect the postman. I always used to laugh to myself at the thought of the dog growling frustratedly as it attacked the back of the door so violently that at times I thought it might manage to barge through it and get to me.

Anticipating the usual melee behind the door I skipped down the path with a twinkle in my eyes, when all of a sudden the Alsatian dog charged from the back garden of the house and was upon me in a flash.
All I could do to protect the private part of my body that it had lunged at with teeth bared and saliva drooling was to put the mail bag in front of them for protection.
It seemed to work but after a savage bite at the bag it took another lunge and grabbed my leg just missing the vital part I had just protected, and it was only when the owner appeared and called it off did it let go and run off.
My defensive instincts turned to anger and the smoke began to steam out of my ears as I stupidly chased the animal down the path from whence it came, swearing to kill it and its owner if I managed to lay my hands on them.

With the dog locked safe in the house again (not sure if it was safer for me or the dog at the time)I turned my anger at the owner who threatened to report me to the post office manager.
"ARE YOU STUPID!" I shouted, "I am reporting you and your dog to the management and you will be lucky if both of you are not put down, the dog with the vet and you by me!"

That is the mild version.

With that I returned to my van, and it was then that I saw the blood seeping through my trousers, so I made a hasty retreat to the local post office to report the incident myself.

Jim the postmaster there, was on the phone when I entered and lo and behold it was the owner of the dog complaining about my language, and while listening to him, tried to calm me down as he had observed how angry I was and knew the cause of my anger was at the other end of the phone.
When he got off the phone he told me to go the the doctors for a tetanus injection and not to worry about the owner of the dog as it was him and the dog that was at fault.
Well, worrying about any threat from them was the farthest thing from my mind but I did calm down by the time I reached the doctors, and with the evidence from the bite on my leg for the doctor to witness, the police paid the owner a visit.

I was told by them after, that a dog is allowed one bite and if it repeats the deed, only then will it be put down.
The wound healed fine after a couple of weeks but the deed festers inside me to this day, and I detest dogs. (My apologies to responsible dog owners.)

I blamed the owner as much as the dog and once I had calmed down I never really wanted the dog destroyed. As for the owner weeeeeeeell I had to think hard about that one. ha ha.
You would have thought it would have taught me to be more careful in the future, but during my first year as a postman I was bitten five times of which I might divulge the details to you next time, but you will understand why I was not over the moon when my niece announced recently that she had purchased a puppy as a pet for her children. ha ha

Puppies grow into dogs and postmen become a hate figure of them simply because we invade their territory,or so they tell us during training, but it is hard to convey a message to a dog that is hanging off your leg that you are only trying to deliver a letter to their owner.

Nowadays its usually junk mail or bills that is delivered, so who can blame the owners now, if they allow their dogs to chase the poor postman who, after all is only doing his job, a thing the owners should remember, including my niece,if they love their dogs, as the consequences could be grim for both the postman and their dogs.

As for my temper...................MY BARK IS WORSE THAN MY BITE GRRRRRR!

Top photo (Me in my postman days with a budding helper.)

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