Category Archives: Trawler Tales

S.T. Helgi Magri EA290

Additional information courtesy of Birgir Þórisson


Official Number: Unknown
Yard Number: 109
Completed: 1891
Gross Tonnage: 137
Net Tonnage: 27.7
Length: 32.15 m
Breadth: 6.34
Depth: 3.11 m
Built: J. C. Tecklenborg, Geestmünde, Germany
Engine: 260ihp C.2-cyl by J. C. Tecklenborg, Geestmünde


1891: Completed by J. C. Tecklenborg, Geestmünde, Germany (Yd.No.109) for Gebruder Thomae, Boizenburg, Elbe, Germany as LILLY. Registered at Hamburg (HH5). F. W. E. Thomae designated manager.
2.1913: Sold to Ásgeir Pétursson (5/6) and Sk. Stefán Jónasson (1/6), Akureyri, Iceland. Hamburg registry closed.
27.2.1913: Registered at Akureyri as HELGI MAGRI (EA290).
1916: Stefán Jónasson share (1/6) sold to Ásgeir Pétursson. Mostly employed in the Icelandic summer herring fishery, also trawling and transport as well as experimenting with other activities.
1913-1918: Fished for herring in the winter off Norway and Sweden.
26.10.1918: Reported arrived Fleetwood along with the ex whaler VARANGAR (RE 181) (g/1881) and the Elías Stefánsson trawler ÍSLENDINGUR (RE 120) (143g/1893), to fish out of the port over the winter. J. Marr & Son Ltd, managing agents. During their stay
some crew members fell ill with influenza and one crew member died along with one from ÍSLENDINGUR. The crews were so well nursed in
a Seamens’ Home that the skippers invited the nurses to Iceland in the summer of 1919 on a holiday tour. (Jan 1918-Dec 1920 H1N1 Influenza Pandemic, the so called “Spanish Flu” – about 50 million dead worldwide.)
4.6.1919: Arrived Reykjavik from Fleetwood, overhaul before heading North for the summer herring fishery. Reported that catches had been good. Experimented with Danish Seine.
1921: Icelandic ship register – 103,3 (31,39)x 20,4 x 9,4 Danish feet (metres)(From Lloyd’s Register 1925) 136g 51n 103.3 x 20.4 x 9.4 feet (Danish feet mistaken for imperial)
1925: Iceland ship register – 136g 51n 32,43 x 6,40 x 2,95 metres (Danish feet converted to metric)
Early 1928: Properties auctioned off.
21.4.1928: Ownership re-styled h/f Ásgeir Pétursson & Co. Operated in the name of Sigurður Bjarnason, skipper/shipowner, Akureyri.
1929: Iceland ship register – 32,78 x 6,03 x 3,27 metres
19.6.1929: Registered at Akureya as NONNI (EA 290). Classified as a longliner.
12.1929: Sold to h/f Barðinn, Þingeyri, Iceland. 1931 Operated by a fishermens’ cooperative at Þingeyri. 1931-33: Official register of ships recorded as owned by h/f Barðinn.
1933-34: Longlining from Reykjavik (but only recorded in 1933, then operated by Sk. Þórarinn Dúason).
By 1934: Register of ships records owner as Ásgeir Pétursson, Akureyri.
10.1.1935: Sank in Reykjavik harbour in fierce storm. Refloated, slipped but condemned and broken up.

Click to enlarge images

S.T. Helgi Magri EA290
Picture courtesy of The Birgir Þórisson Collection

06/06/2019: Page published.

A pleasure trip on the Red Rose

By Eric Haworth

I spent most of my school summer holidays in Fleetwood and had been intrigued by the trawlers as they left or returned on the high tide. As many as twenty or thirty trawlers would pass the families lined up on the prom waving goodbye to their dads for weeks on end. Each trawler would sound the fog horn in its own way so even at night they would be recognised by the families left behind.

The Taxi came to my Granddad’s shop in North Church Street at four o’clock in the morning. We swept past the police at the dock gates on a cold dark rainy night and drove straight up to the trawler Red Rose that was to be my home for the next three weeks.

The quayside was frantic, ice and provisions were being loaded, men were leaping on and off the ship. The whole crew it seemed to me, were all drunk, arrived cursing and swearing as they fell out of taxis in a last minute dash before we sailed. If they were lucky they would have had two days ashore with their families (or in the pubs) before setting off on another trip.

The Red Rose was a new ship built in Aberdeen in 1955 and was one of the last oil fired trawlers built to fish the Icelandic and North Russian fishing grounds out of Fleetwood. In those days it was revolutionary in providing decent aft crew quarters, with showers and flush toilets. (It was later relocated at Hull, renamed Lord Howe and finally scrapped in 1968.)
We sailed on the early morning tide to Heysham where we filled up with fuel oil. The heavy smell of the oil gave me the first hint of seasickness which was to plague me for the next week. Being sick for days on end and not eating meant that my stomach was throwing up bile and my muscles were aching with all the retching. These first few days were a nightmare not helped by the whole crew recovering with foul hangovers only to start boozing again when the `bond store` was opened.

As the crew sobered up, and we approached Iceland the fishing gear was made ready. It started to dawn on me how hard and dangerous the work was as the net was manually hauled over the side and the bobbins and trawl doors were winched into the sea (In the 1950’s all the trawlers had side nets).
The skipper, Captain McKernan, up on the bridge in a high chair lashed to the side rail, leaned out of the window and controlled every movement. He really was the boss, and was acknowledged as one of the most successful trawler captains in Fleetwood.
The net was trawled night and day for the next two weeks, weather permitting until the holds were full of fish. The crew worked 16 hours at a time in the worst conditions imaginable often soaked and covered in fish blood as they gutted the fish on the open deck .

After helping to gut the fish my jeans were soaked in blood and slime of the fish and stayed that way for the rest of the trip. I must have smelled delightful!
A more pleasant but equally difficult job was to chop the ice down in the fish holds and cover layer after layer of fish as they were placed in the aluminium storage racks.

The worst was to come in the form of a Force 9 gale when all we could do was to stow all the gear and steam slowly into the storm. The ship literally sailed up a wave then down into the trough repeatedly for two days. It was sheer terror to a young teenager. The bow would dive into an oncoming wave which would wash onto the bridge blacking out the windows, in what seemed ages they gradually turned dark then light green and then cleared as the wave moved down the ship.

As the stern and propeller came out of the sea, the engines raced to maximum revs and the ship shuddered violently. The ship was almost like a submarine with all doors locked and hatches closed. The pitching motion was so violent that the only way to sleep in my bunk was to tie myself in. Another boy on the same trip didn’t, and ended up smashed against the cabin wall as he was thrown out of his bunk.

At the other extreme, we steamed through flat calm in a dense fog among a least twenty other trawlers all determined to carry on fishing. We were the only ship with radar but that packed in and like all the others had a lookout at the bow and regularly sounded the foghorn. It gave a whole new meaning to fishing blind.
The weather changed again as we steamed back from Iceland on a beautiful summer evening the sea was like a mill pond and myself and several of the deckies were leaning back against superstructure enjoying a bit of warm sunshine.

Literally out of the blue we were reminded how fickle and unpredictable the sea can be. A rogue wave quietly bore down on us and although we spotted it at the last minute all we could do was grab the hand rail and hold tight whilst it swept over the trawler. We rolled through what seemed like 90 degrees and were
completely engulfed by seawater which rushed through the open doors and flooded the crews quarters. It also deluged down the galley skylight where the cook luckily escaped scalding as the water hit the stove.

Two minutes later we steamed on through flat calm as though nothing had happened, but then had to bail out and dry everything. Then as now, deep sea fishing was dangerous and out of our twenty-one crew,
three died at sea within a few years. Tragically William Cooper the radio operator on the Red Rose later became the radio operator on the Red Falcon and died when she went down in 1959. I spent a lot of time with Bill since I was interested in becoming a radio operator. His other job on the Red Rose was boiling cod livers in the bow . This was a peculiar feature on the Red Rose in that cod liver boilers were usually located astern.

In spite of the weather, at the end of two weeks non-stop fishing we had the hold full of mainly cod and haddock all neatly stowed in ice. The latest i.e. freshest was carefully laid out in trays head to tail to get the highest price at the quayside auction. Everyone had a vested interest since the wages depended on the value of the catch. After a good catch, the crew with children would shower them with presents
and sweets, and the pubs which lined Dock Street did a roaring trade.

Fred Hobbs and Family

The seagoing gene seems to run deeply in the Hobbs’ family. Fred’s father stowed away on a cattle boat from Dublin and made his way to Fleetwood. He later became Chief Engineer on CEVIC and was aboard her when she was lost at Ballure, South Ramsey.

In later life he went on to become 2nd engineer in ISER and chief in the TRANQUIL. On one occasion, after getting the sack from ISER, the shore engineer (Sam Butler) had to call him out and reinstate him as no-one else could get her to fire up.

Fred recalls that, as chief, his father was not a man to allow his fireman to sleep at the Fisherman’s Mission, instead he brought them home where they slept with Fred and his brother Tom. Joe Rice, who was to hold Fleetwood’s record for being a drunk, disorderly and disobedient seaman, was his favourite.

At the outbreak of war, Fred’s father volunteered for the Navy and was accepted immediately and became chief of the minesweeping Lowestoft drifter Mar’e. Later, until his passing, he was on board HATSUSE. Fred still remembers the painful memories generated by fishing with her off St. Kilda.

Brother Joey also went to sea and, at 15, became a fireman. At one time he fired one of Fleetwood’s largest trawlers, ST. LOMAN. Looking for an easier life he joined the RN in 1937 and served until 1949 as second engineer and chief, ending with oil rig support vessels until he died in 1976. His last trawler was BOSTON KESTREL.

Brother Tom sailed as brassie on ISER at 14 years old in 1935. After committing the cardinal sin of hitting the skipper (Beck Newton) for swearing at him, his fishing career was over, for a time at least. After this incident he cooled his heels for a while on the Fleetwood to Llandudno paddle steamer ATLANTA. In 1938 he joined the navy as a boy seaman and served in cruisers and destroyers both in the home and Mediterranean fleets. Both Tom and Joey were on the cruiser PHOEBE which was hit at Crete. Tom went on to the destroyer LANCE which was bombed and sunk at Malta. As if that weren’t enough, he was on WARSPITE when she was damaged at the Salerno and Anzio. He was still aboard when she was hit on D-Day.

The end of the war saw Tom off to the Med once more, this time with the Naval Police in Taranto. His naval career finished on the trawlerSTEEPHOLM in 1947. Returning home he managed to get back into fishing as a fireman, mostly in the ‘Duck’ boats where he gained the reputation as one of Fleetwood’s cleanest firemen.

His fishing days ended as second engineer and chief, sailing for Wyre Trawlers and Hewetts, indeed, he was in ELLA HEWETT when she was struck the wreck of the torpedoed WW1 cruiser HMS DRAKE, and sank in Church Bay, Rathlin. As with many Fleetwood fishermen, the cod wars forced him into oil rig support work. Tom passed away in 1991 after a short illness.

Fred remembers asking Tom why, after 8 years in the navy as a seaman, he wanted to go as a fireman. His reply was that -…it’s too bloody cold on deck-. Yet, at Iceland aboard WYRE GENERAL, he would take the trouble to cross the foredeck to the foc’sle to bring Fred a pot of tea at hauling time. He also taught Fred the ‘rules of the road’ as well as how to splice wire and rope, in the engine room of WYRE GENERAL.

Fred Hobbs in the Fishermens Club

Fred Hobbs in the Fishermens Club

Fred sailed with Bobby Nash in RED DRAGON and was with him when a sea took out the bridge windows off the Norwegian Coast. Fred also sailed in RED ROSE and is the author of an article that was published in ‘Life In Fleetwood’ in 1992.

Fred Hobbs passed away in 2003.

Fred Hobbs started trawling relatively late in life at the ripe old age of 19 when he left the RN and signed on COTSMUIR as half deckie with Freddie Slapp. At the time the Cotsmuir’s bosun was Freddie’s 16 year old son.

With Fred being familiar with the sea and ships, some ship’s husband’s would have considered that sufficient to sign him on as deckie but Fred’s brother Tom insisted that he “Knew nowt” so he was signed on as half deckie, with the probability that he would make three quarters the second trip and full deckie the third if he was with a good crew who could cover for any shortcomings until he was totally familiar with the job.

Due to bad weather it took a week to get COTSMUIR to sea for the first trip. Everytime the crew turned out the ship’s runner waved them away. Eventually though, and despite the weather, COTSMUIR sailed and Fred was on his way to what he describes as ” A great life with good money”

After one more trip Fred sailed in EASTCOATES, with Jack Wilson, for a trip to St Kilda as full deckie. He was soon of the opinion, though, after having to swap sides due to a busted trawl, that he wasn’t quite ready so he went back as three quarters.

Fred Hobbs Gutting with Bob Rayworth

Fred Hobbs Gutting with Bob Rayworth

With a few trips under his belt Fred signed on AGNES WICKFIELD with skipper Steve Reader and bosun Tom Ellerby. He recalls that “She was one of only 2 trawlers fitted with sirens so that all Fleetwood knew when old ‘AGGIE’ was around, she sounded like a destroyer”. Tom Ellerby taught Fred a lot and he was signed on as full deckie for his second trip after another deckie had been downgraded.

After four trips with Steve and many boxes of whiting later, Fred was Iceland bound aboard UNITIA with skipper Harold Harrison, mate Chris Porter and bosun, Judder Harrison. The weather was bad but the fishing was good so sleep was a commodity that was in short supply and it was a case of catching a catnap whenever possible. A worse initiation to Icelandic fishing could not have been imagined as eight out of the ten deckies that UNITIA carried had never been to Iceland before and Fred was an ‘Old Timer’ compared to most of them. The unfortunate runner that had signed them on had imprecations heaped upon him from all sides. At the end of the trip they all got the sack

Fred and Joe Hobbs with Vic Buschini

Fred and Joe Hobbs with Vic Buschini
Boston Kestrel 1966

Soon after Fred was with Johnny Green and Sammy Archer in CYELSE when she ran aground at Wyre Light, after an easy trip, in thick fog. Sammy advised Fred “Bad omen that, better get out”. Subsequently they both signed off and, shortly afterwards, she was lost without loss of life. Sammy always took credit for saving Fred’s life. “Got you out of that one just in time”, he was fond of saying.

Fred Brendan and Shimmy

Fred Brendan and Shimmy
Red Rose 1957

Fred sailed with Billy Lane, homewater fishing, and George Elliot, Iceland, (who he describes as two of the best) in MARGARET WICKS and ROBERT HEWETT. Both men had regular crewmen who had sailed with them since WW1. Fred blotted his copybook with George Elliot by signing off the trip before George was due to pick up ELLA HEWETT. Fred says ” I was treated like I’d refused a pools win” and he knew that he’d be banished to ‘Under Gourocks Canopy’ a phrase well known to Fleetwood fishermen. If you were under the canopy you were either on leave, sick or banished for some wrongdoing.

The worst of the large trawlers that he sailed in was NEW PRINCE, (ex- CAPE BARRACOUTA). She was nicknamed the SALT WATER RINSE or CAPE WATER SCOOPER due to her sailing like a yacht in the Guiness yacht races. An hour on the wheel left the helmsman with sore sides. The deckies confronted the skipper over the seaworthiness of the vessel and declared that “Your ship has moved its boiler and we all want to go home”. The skipper declared that they could all “Sign off after you’ve stowed the gear, got the doors inboard and stowed the deckboards.”

After they complied the trawler ran into Vestmanneyar where a marine insurance surveyor examined her and declared her seaworthy. After that they decided to give her another chance but couldn’t wait to get off her. Norman Jinks was mate and the bosun was a Jinks also. Fred had several trips when they got absolutley ‘battered’ and never got to the point of saying “She’ll be alright”. Fred recalls that ” RED DRAGON, WYRE MONITOR, and RED PLUME were all noted for ‘laying over’ but it was far from natural behaviour for a trawler and was most dangerous, leaving the vessel seconds from running under.

Fred’s favourite trawler was RED KNIGHT under John Tomlinson. She was the last word in luxury for the times and she rode the worst of the weather well. It was aboard her that the most atrocious conditions that Fred ever saw were encountered and RED KNIGHT had to be escorted into Seydisfjiord by the LOCH FOYLE and LORD LLOYD, after 52 hours of 114 mile an hour winds that blew the seas flat.

It was the same time that ST. JUST had her aluminum bridge stove in. RED KNIGHT’s was made of steel and it was gutted. The radio room was wrecked, bridge doors gone and every handrail on the bow and casing had been wiped off. The food locker was gone and the forecastle was full of water to the top rung of the ladder so all the crew all had to bunk down in the cabin and they could only keep 15 minute watches on the bridge. After 4 days in Seydisfjiord she was patched up for the trip home with plywood shields around the bridge. The crew stayed ashore in a ‘Host House’ while they got the forecastle dried out and cleaned. The trip was terminated while they sailed home for repairs but they did stop off at the Faroes for a while and so avoided coming home with empty holds. The crew were praised by Captain Lawford for their efforts who contributed a bit extra to their pay. RED KNIGHT never even made the news, the papers were too full of the damage to ST JUST.

Fred’s favourite skipper was Harry Farrar (who he describes as a true seaman) and Nikki Wright (a gentleman fisherman). Harry once told Fred to “Get yourself one of these wooden sou’westers (a skipper’s ticket or the bridge), and you’ll find that the job is quite bearable. Meanwhile, get yer arse on that deck and we’ll see if we can get that trawl up”

“That”, says Fred, “was the very same night that HILDINA towed herself under in a following sea with the loss of six of her crew”. Calling the mate out Fred said ” Would you believe that he’s going to haul in this?” Chy Palmer replied “The man has no fear, we’ll both sign off for Christmas”, (which we both did)

Click to enlarge images

Fred Hobbs

Johnny Hamilton and Wilf Pook

Fred Hobbs

Fred Hobbs

Fred Hobbs

Fred Hobbs

Tom Hobbs

Tom Hobbs

A Near Miss

Story Courtesy of Les Howard

I’m going to tell you a short story of one trip when we were on our way home from the Icelandic grounds in the SSAFA.

The fish room was more or less full and we’d been on deck well over 18 hours. The weather was getting really bad as we made our last haul. When the skipper called down “lash the gear down, we’re going home”, it was the best feeling ever. Any fishermen who reads this will know what I mean.

We got rid of the last lot of fish in smart time, battened down the fish room hatch and tightened up the doors on the warps. I had the watch and it would be just another four hours before I could grab a shower. After two weeks of living in the same gear that was all I could think about during my watch.

By the end of my four hour trick the weather was really lousy. It was running a good force 9 and breaking just over the starboard quarter and we were really banging into it. It’s funny but you don’t seem to talk much those first few hours homeward bound, you just seem to think of how much you’re going to make or about your wife or girl friend, whichever it might be.

My relief, George Bissett, turned up and I handed him the wheel, gave him the course and headed for the shower that I wanted so badly. After a good scrub down I turned in. I don’t think I had been in my bunk for more than a few minutes when we took one almighty sea that knocked us down onto our port beam. The first thought that came into my head was to head for the bridge and the RFD.

By the time that I got to the alleyway the greaser had panicked and was trying to unclip the watertight door that was dogged, shouting that she was going down. The first thing that I did was to jump on him and try to wrestle him into the messroom. If he had opened the door she would have flooded and probably gone down. One of the crew joined me and we kept him away from the door.

By this time we were well onto our port side with no lights on so I went for the bridge where I found the mate, Stan Birch, trying to get the wheel over to starboard so as to bring her head to wind. George Bissett, who had relieved me at the wheel, was out cold in the corner of the bridge after having been washed out of the wheelhouse and the mate’s face was covered in blood from flying glass. The starboard quarter of the wheelhouse had been caved in by the sea which had taken all the windows out in one explosive blast.

The skipper was shouting to get the injured man out but the force of the hit had jammed the wheelhouse door so I started to chop it open with an axe. By the time I managed to get the door open the ship had started to heave herself upright and that was a huge relief. Were it not for the mate’s prompt action with the wheel none of us would be alive today.

By the time he had steadied her up the wind was really howling through the exposed wheelhouse and it was freezing cold as more of the crew appeared on the bridge with the exception of the engineer who had never once left the controls during the crisis.

With things improving a little the skipper began sending out a radio message for help as we tried to get the bridge sheltered with a tarpaulin, making it as secure as we could to keep out the wind and the sea, working as best as we could in the total darkness. By the time we had secured the tarpaulin the skipper had contacted Armana who was a couple of miles ahead of us. She turned back and escorted us into Reykjavic.

It wasn’t until things began to calm down a little that the realisation of how close we had come really hit home and we realised just how lucky we had been. Everybody was talking at once and laughing at things that weren’t really funny as we worked the built up adrenaline out of ourselves.

We made it into Reykjavic and made our heartfelt thanks known to the Armana who had stood by us. In the daylight we could see the damage that the sea had done, even the starboard rail had been buckled inboard. There was even a film crew there to film the damage. We were patched up and on our way home within 24 hours. Luckily the weather had started to break and the journey wasn’t a bad one. It was just as well because we still had to get the fish home or there would be no pay for us that trip.

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.