A First Trip

Charles H Martland. The First Trip

This account, by Charles H Martland, of his first trip to sea, as a youngster of 12 years, is one that must have been repeated many times throughout the short history of Fleetwood. Indeed, many of the fishermen that sailed from the port must have started out this way.

All the boys who didn’t want to appear soft had to learn how to row a boat, know the names of all the fish and go to sea in the summer holidays ‘pleasuring’.

I went a couple of days after my 12th. birthday in the ‘Tranquil’, one of Cevic’s. Dad swore that “No lad of his would set foot aboard a steam trawler,” although he had taken brother Bill who seemed to enjoy it, but he was adamant that I would not go.

It was getting near tide time and I had been told but I was determined and, taking my life in my hands, I asked for him at the door of ‘Dead Uns’ where he was having a final drink.

Dad came to the door with a dangerous glint in his eye. “What’s the bloody idea?” He growled, “you know better than to hang around pub doorways, now get.”

“Oh Dad,” I entreated. “Take me with you. All the other kids go an’ I’m a big lad now.”. He looked at me, debating with himself whether to land me one for my impertinence. Then he said, “Right, you’ve got ten minutes. Get your bag packed and get back here and move your bloody self.” I didn’t need telling twice. I was off like a shot and soon returned with a pillow case over my shoulder and banged once more on the pub door.

“Right, let’s be having you then, we’ll get you round to the Board of Trade and get you signed on.” I traipsed after him with my little bag on my back, trying to match his rolling gait, and soon we were at the office where I signed on as Supernumerary.

He was sailing as mate that trip with Beck Newton and bunked down aft in a berth off the main saloon. I was allowed to sleep in the skipper’s bunk until he came off watch then I would transfer to the settee. It was all very exciting and strange to me as the ship slid quietly out of the dock and past the Ferry Beach where I waved to my tearful mother standing there to watch us out.

As we rounded Wyre Light the bows began to lift with a regular rhythm and the water changed color from a muddy brown to a clear green. At the same time I changed from what is usually described as fresh complexioned to light green and began to sweat. I swiftly made a dive for the rail and was soon bringing up the Tizer and chocolate provided by a loving mama.

Sea sickness is partly psychological and partly to do with the performance of the inner ear. I have never seen anyone sick when they are kept busy. But here I was, with nothing to do but ‘enjoy’ the voyage, surrounded by strange smells. The smell of hot oil, condensed sea water, particles of fish livers sticking to the liver boiler from the previous trip and food being cooked in the tiny galley. I was soon feeding the gulls with second hand food!

The weather was flat-a-calm but when I had a drink of water it tasted flat and oily, and the heat from the galley soon had me diving for the deck where I sat miserably wishing that I was home, where I would never be a bad lad anymore.

I was a tough little monkey but I was used to a very different standard than that enjoyed on a pre-war steam trawler. I found the food uneatable, the water undrinkable and the cabin claustrophobic.

When we reached the fishing grounds the dahn was dropped and the trawl shot away. Dad was a very different man now to the one that I knew. He was quiet, never raising his voice, and moved with a grace that I never knew that he possessed.

He warned me severely to keep out of the way of the winch where I could see the thick wire warps strained as taut as bowstrings, trembling across the deck and through the gallows into the sea. We steamed for 2 hours around the dahn marker with it’s bright orange pellets which kept it afloat, and it’s flag streaming in the breeze.

Then it was time to haul and see if the kipper’s hunch had been correct. The ship was brought head to wind and the winch began to revolve slowly, bringing up hundreds of fathoms of warp back aboard. Gradually the winch drum grew fatter and fatter and soon the otter doors broke the surface and were made fast to the gallows.

Next, the glass floats appeared on the surface and the men lined the rail, clawing in handfuls of tarred net with each roll of the wallowing ship. The heavy wooden bobbins next bounced aboard and, as fishes swim bladders ruptured, they brought the ‘cod end’ bobbing to the surface.

Dad was on deck dressed in an oily frock and souwester, just like the man on the sardine tins. His plaid muffler was wound round his neck as a precaution against chafing and the salt water boils that plague fishermen.

A becket was passed around the neck of the bag and it was hove up by the gilson and swung inboard. It bounced against a preventer wire stretched fore and aft above the deck, pouring great gushers of water from its massive bulk. A chunky figure in oilskins stepped into the cascade and flicked at a short rope dangling there. There was a sudden rush as a couple of tons of fish, seaweed and boulders hurtled from the net as Dad sprang quickly to one side. There on the deck were haddock, monks, whiting,conger, plaice and shell fish, all gasping their life away in the summer sun.

The net was soon over the side again, while the crew got busy slicing them up the belly. With a deft flick of the wrist the guts went through the scupper or over the side and the liver went into a basket while the fish were thrown into a separate pound for washing.

I filled the needles fore side of the mast, while the catch was passed below to be shelved and sprinkled with chopped ice to keep it fresh.

As they gutted the men would pop pieces of raw fish liver into their mouths and munch away. I thought this was horrible as I sat eating raw tan rogans or sucking the claw of a Dublin Bay prawn.

All around the ship gulls were noisily fighting for the offal that was going overboard, whilst the beautiful gannets plummeted out of the sky, folding their wings just before their grey beaks broke the surface of the sparkling sea.

Apparently the fish wasn’t coming aboard fast enough so the skipper decided to steam north. Dad had showed me, at one point, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all in view at the same time. Now, hard by on the starboard side was Giant’s Causeway. At another point, on a green headland, he showed me where the ‘posh’ people played golf. I had never spoken to my dad before, for any length of time. Surprisingly, I found him quite human.

We dropped anchor off the little Irish town of Culdaff and were soon surrounded by small boats wanting to barter baskets of crabs for twine. Of course, the last thing we wanted was crabs but it was judged diplomatic to accede to their pleas and soon we were ‘down by the head’ with edible crabs, while the ‘Paddies’ rowed ashore with balls of manila under their thwarts. One kind man brought me some apples and a fruit cake. I could keep that down.

As darkness fell, all lights were extinguished and the men moved quietly and carefully about the deck. One man went forrard and painted out the name and number on the bow while another did the same over the stern. The anchor was buoyed and slipped and the darkened ship stole quietly away into the night.

After steaming for a while the dahn was put over the side and the trawl shot away once more. We were poaching well inside the limits. By the time that the sky had paled into dawn and the name had been wiped over with kerosene, we once more rode innocently at anchor. In fact, so innocent were we that I’m pretty sure that it was the local gendarme who brought out the apples and cake.

Of course, this was too good to last; and I remember hearing the skipper’s curses when he had hung on too long and, in the murk, he sighted a curragh headed for the dahn. “I’ll bet that’s old so and so,” he said, naming an old adversary. “That bastard’ll call up the gun boat. What’s he up to? He’s slashing the pellets the rotten Irish bugger. He’s going to sink the dahn.” The pellets were inflated rubber bags attached to the buoy to keep it afloat and upright against the pull of its anchor; very much like an angler’s float. Of course, the Irishman was right, if a little unconventional, but people like Beck and my father believed that the seas were there to be fished. It wasn’t that they were against conservation, they knew quite a lot about the life and habits of fish as they had attended the school on Piel Island. The fishing gear at that time was relatively inefficient so no real harm was done, but the law was being Broken. Dad stood by all the time with an ice axe ready to chop the gear away, should they need to make a run for it. I found this all very exciting, the real thing, and that was my dad stood there with that great big axe ready to ‘repel boarders’.

Well, that was the end to fishing inside the limits, and the weather was piping up so, once more, we changed grounds. It blew heavens hard and, as I tried to sleep on the settee, I timed the rolling of the ship with a pair of dividers hanging over my head. As the ship heeled over they remained vertical and appeared to swing outwards, so I did the same and stayed on the settee. It must have been bad because dad came down to see if I was all right and was surprised to find me weathering the storm well, and that was the one time that I didn’t feel sick.

While we were steaming along the northern end of Ireland one sparkling morning, I was fascinated by the sight of a huge ocean liner ploughing her way westwards. She rode proudly along with the early morning sun glinting and gleaming on her white superstructure and scintillating along the innumerable ports and windows.

She was the biggest thing that I had ever seen and I gazed open-mouthed at the sight. “Gee, look at that dad’, I gasped.
“Aye, she’s a beauty son, but I’d say she’s a right workhouse”, he growled, “look, she’s got staging over the side”. I had been too overawed at first to notice, but now I could see little figures on the staging, over the side painting.
“Where’s she bound then dad?”
“Oh, I’d say she’s a liner on a regular run to New York. Hang on a minute and I’ll get the glasses” He focused the binoculars and then handed them to me. Steadying myself against the roll I gazed with wonder at this floating palace, drinking in her every detail. As I swept the glasses along her length, proudly picked out on her bow was the name – Athenia. In less than two months that name blazed across all the headlines of the world : ‘Athenia Sunk- Many Americans Lost’. She was the first big ship to be sunk by the Germans in the second war.

The next ship that we fell in with was the Lady Love out of Fleetwood, skippered by Sammy Rayworth. The two trawlers hove to for a yammer and soon I saw dad make a shackle fast to a length of twine and hurl it across the gap between the two bobbing ships. A short while afterwards he was hauling back a two pound jam jar full of ice cream. It was meant for me but all I got was a tablespoon full; the firemen and engineers scoffed the lot.

Sammy was another character. I mean, who else would take an ice cream churn to sea? While we were hove to he was amusing himself by blasting away with a .22 rifle at a pint pot dangling from the mizzen derrick.

The time came at last, to head for home, eventually tying up in the Fish Dock. As the men dived into the nearest pub I headed for ‘Daddy Ashworth’s’ temperance bar to quench my ten day thirst. I had learned something else too; to be more tolerant of fishermen taking a drink.

I had well and truly swallowed the anchor and vowed there and then never to set foot aboard a steam trawler ever again. Dad wasn’t daft. At home everybody made a fuss over me and wanted to know where I had been. I couldn’t understand the shocked silence, then the gales of laughter when I innocently replied “Up Fanny’s ripple”. Well, we had.