Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Back In Denim
When i was a bairn i had this recurring nightmare where i was stuck on a haunted, cartoon stylee roller coaster a la Scooby Doo (think i was Shaggy's wee brother). It used to scare the shit outta me. I was reminded of it a week past Sunday on the 10 hour boat journey from Girvan to Port Ellen. There was a force 5-6 hoolie blowin and our 50 foot trawler felt like a twig. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to get off. I wanted my ma to come through and tell me it was all just a dream. But as tea cups flew round my lugs and the sea scooshed over the prows, as up and down became tricky concepts to fathom, i knew this was no dream and i'd have to hang grimly on til we reached land. Or just died, i really didnae care which. (In truth, a hug off Mand woulda helped a lot.)
By next morn, the wind had eased right off to erm....quite flippin stormy, so we were away at the back o 4 in search of queenies. It occurred that i hadnae spewed and probly wasnae gonna, which was a big bonus. But i was still strugglin to stay balanced and kept whackin my napper, elbows, knees and shins off hard metal surfaces. So the fear subsided but the physical pain was really kickin in all over my body.
The bangs and bumps were nowt compared to the pain induced by shovelling though. 3 times a day, i shovelled 1.5 tonnes of queenies from the deck into a 5 foot high hopper. This had to be done at top speed as the hopper feeds a "riddle" - a spinning metal tube with holes to allow smaller, immature queenies to escape back to sea. The riddle errs on the side of rejecting larger queenies and needs a constant flow or it'll chuck everything back.
If i wasnae shovelling, i'd be perched at the other end of the riddle, stopping anything that wasnae a queenie (cod, dog fish, plaice, dover sole, lemon sole, squid, octopus, sea anemone, jellyfish, big clumpy weed) from slipping down a chute for bagging in the fish room. From an average 1.5 tonne lift, we'd be doing well to bag 600 kilos of clean, trawled queenies (less if i was shovellin than if it was Demetrei, my very hard, very funny wee Rumanian crewmate).
There were 3 other boats working the same patch and each night after trawling we'd all tie up at Ballycastle and unload our catch into the same refrigerated lorry for despatch and processing at a fish factory in Kirkcudbright. Most nights there'd be a spot of net mending or deck tidying then 3 or 4 hours kip before heading back out to sea. A coupla times we'd unload then head straight back out, depending on the weather and likely sailing time back to that bitto sea between Rathlin Island, Kintyre and Islay.
So, aye, this was physically the hardest thing i've ever done. I got used to rough seas quite sharpish but i never did stop fallin about the place and have scratches and bruises the length of my body. Despite the use of heavy gloves, all that shovelling and unloading ripped shreds out my hands, which are now scabby and claw like. And the work meant i lost a bucket off my belly and developed visible muscles across my upper body. Shame i'm still too knackered to actually use them.
Living for a week at a time in a dangerous wee wooden box with no bog or shower and a sleeping berth slightly shorter than masel and the height of my forearm meant i was gonna get dependent on those around me for support. Demetrei was great though his grasp of Embra Scots meant he never knew what the feck i was on aboot (no sure why but i slipped deeper into Embrese on the boat than i would on a Sunday sesh in the Nix - reckon langauge was a wee comfort blanket for me). And Demetrei cannae steer a boat for love nor money.
Skipper D and assistant Skipper P love the sea and when not dishin out the orders, showing me how to steer or thread net-mending needles, they espouse their passion for conservation of what's out there. They desperately want European politicians to get a grip and tighten up the rules on what's allowed to be taken from the sea. They don't like greed in any form and particularly dislike the factory dredgers which hoover up 10 times what we can, direct from the seabed. Great guys.
I got an occasional glimpse of wonderful scenery - the cliffs of Rathlin, Kintyre and Islay are a splendid sight for weary peepers, though i was usually too busy to sit back and really enjoy them. (Got some great pics but left my camera on the boat, erse that i am, so i'll post them when i get it back.) The coast road from Larne to Ballycastle is really spectacular and i cannae wait to get back there next summer for a wee campin trip.
For now the queenies are off the agenda, the lads are further north and west looking for clams. This only supports a 3 man crew so i'm ashore for the foreseeable. I'm back in the market for a job but if nothing's come up by November, i'll be back out there on the boat, this time hauling in prawns.
Hmm....all that work, no enough sleep, shitin in a plastic bag AND freezin winter weather. Hud aes back.