your man in Amsterdam

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Cornwall fishing blog

I just got this from my dad who spent a day in St Ives looking for a travel story. Enjoy!

more photos

She pitched and rolled about like a cork with waves breaking over her bows trying to drench me while I struggled into the bright yellow oilskin that had been handed to me.

“Hope I can keep down my lunch” I joked after finally clambering into the unfamiliar garment and desperately searching for a place to sit to stop myself being thrown overboard. “You can have a life jacket if you want” said the young skipper grinning at me through a mass of long blonde curly hair that blew to and fro across his face in the stiff wind. “That’s all right” I replied pretending to be brave and immediately regretting what I’d just said. “I’ve got to be back at 5.30 I shouted a little more firmly thinking what the devil was I doing on this flimsy little boat that didn’t seem to be much bigger than a child’s toy.

I was on “Brissons”, a 16’ Treve belonging to fisherman Richard Dorrington half a mile off St Ives on the north Cornish coast. With us was his father in law Tony Richards, a lean weathered man nearing his fifties and a fisherman for most of them. “Sorry it’s a bit rough today” he said apologetically, “It’s always like this when the tide is coming in” The open boat, which didn’t seem to have any other form of communication except Tony’s mobile phone slowed and the sea became slightly less turbulent. The two men started playing out their lines with hooks baited, to my surprise with red feathers. After a while Richard haled in his line with just one small mackerel on it. “That’s not going to be much good” he said in a gloomy voice. By now the boat was going round in circles and then suddenly all hell was let loose as we hit a shoal. The two men on either side of me began furiously pulling in their lines. Soon hooks and fish on the end of them came flying through the air in all directions. They landed on the floor of the boat, which rapidly filled with the beautifully marked blue and silvery bodies sliding around gasping for air. I felt momentarily sorry for them but I was too busy trying to avoid salt water getting on my camera and a hook in my eye to worry too long. Then the frenzied activity ceased. “Quite a good catch” I said expecting an affirmative reply. “Not nearly as good as we used to get” said Tony who, with Richard was now gathering up the fish into one of several trays stacked up in the boat. Even so they weren’t too disappointed as the price they would get for them would be quite high due ironically to their scarcity.

On returning to the harbour and unloading the fish I continued to learn a little more about the fishing industry in St Ives which at one time was the second biggest in the country. It was famous for its enormous herring fleet consisting of up to 200 boats stretching four deep across the harbour. Now it is down to 20 – 30 boats catching mainly mackerel, bass, bream, cod, crab and lobster. So were Tony and his son-in law a dying breed? The job is obviously hard from several points of view; the financial returns and dwindling fish stocks just two of them – the danger another. “I’ve lost two friends to the sea” said Tony who himself has been in some tight spots. On one occasion 20 years ago being caught off Trevose Head in an “easterly” force 13 gale with 40’ waves crashing over the boat and 1500 stone of dog fish in the hold. “Weren’t you frightened?” I asked, “I thought the wheelhouse was going to be blown away. We dodged the sea for twelve hours before landing at Padstow” came the reply.
So what is it then that even young men like his son-law who has only been in the business for two years want to do it. Tony, answered for both of them. “We can’t give it up, it isn’t a job, it’s a way of life”.

Nick Spurling. Oct 2005


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