I did not come into the working offshore side of the fishing industry until my late thirtys. Before that i was in the Royal Navy for eleven years, worked as a driving instuctor, an engineer at a fish processing factory and lastly an engineer at Princess Yachts fitting out luxury yachts. It was whilst i was working at Princess that one of the carpenters on the vessel i was fitting out asked me if i was interested in a bit of private work. This would bring me to meet Tony Allen who was the owner of the angling charter vessel Electric Blue a 38ft Lochin. This vessel was state of the art at the time for an angling vessel and i felt very proud to have been involved in her final fit out. Over the years i kept involved with Tony and the boat carrying out planned maintenence and breakdown repairs as required. During the winter months the boat was fitted out to catch mackerel and Paul the skipper of the boat, asked me if i would like to come crewing with him. By this time i had left Princess and was pretty quiet for the winter so off i went. Probably not one of my best decisions as i am not the best sailor in the world and the channel is not a nice place to be in the winter months. So i did spend quite a few hours hanging over the guard rail feeding the birds with the contents of my stomach and really feeling sorry for myself. Paul left the Electric Blue and i found myself more or less crewing full time on the boat. Tony was also a pharmacist with three pharmacies to run which made life a bit difficult devoting his time to the vessel so he offered me the chance to take my yachtmasters qualification so that i could skipper the boat. I was very gratefull to Tony for this opertunity and about three months later i was awarded the yachtmaster certificate.
The practical exam was quite amusing as half way through we answerd a distress call from a broken down yacht, on arrival at the scene i went aboard the yacht and managed to sort out the problem with his exhaust. Left the yacht £90 to the better shared the proceeds with the crew and the examiner got back to Plymouth and was told i had passed the exam, even got a little write up in the examiners yacht section in the local eveing paper.
I think we probably done one more mackerel season but with the recession and the downturn in the charter angling industry Tony decided to sell the Electric Blue and purchased a under 10 metre trawler to fit out and on completion for me to run.
A bare hull ariived at Blagdons boatyard in Plymouth and after about 8 months of solid graft, massive learning curves and lots of blood, sweat, no tears i dont think,Tony and myself had managed to produce the fishing trawler Rachel Helen, named after his two sisters.
Fishing for me was a very steep learning curve and i was still quite a novice at skippering a boat at sea never mind trawling so things didn’t work out as they should have and we parted company. We have still remained good friends and even now after 22 years we still natter on face book and messenger. Looking back over the years maybe i should have just taken a bit of a step backwards and just chilled rather than letting things climb to a head.
So it was back to the engineering and one of my customers was very interested in wanting to invest in a fishing boat for me to run for him. It seemed like a very good idea at the time, but i think the only thing i can take from that, was that i gained a lot more experience fishing and the acrimonious way that we parted company propelled me on to do greater things with my career.
My next five years would be spent on the auto long liner Silver Stream working for a grimsby fisherman John Hancock. I can honestly say that i probably had the best time on that vessel and John is a great person to work for, over the years we became good friends and only recently John supplied me with some of the photos for this blog.
Silver Stream was a 28 metre ex Norwegian long liner which John had purchased, she was a very capable boat and we didnt stop fishing very often for weather. I remember one time leaving Troon in 80 knot winds wondering what the feck, but John still managed to catch a good trip that week. Because of the fish we were targeting we were a nomadic vessel and could find ourselves fishing from the bay of biscay up to the outer hebredies, so we could end up landing in some fine places, where the occasional partaking in a glass of beer or three would be quite welcome. I still wonder now whether i ended up with more severe hangovers on there or whilst i was in the submarine service when i was in the navy. One thing i do know was that i didnt seem to learn from the pain.
During my time on the Silver Stream, Gavin the skipper took ill and i ended up doing the nightshift in the wheelhouse as mate.I thought this is good and decided to go back to college to do my fishing class 2 skippers qualification. Again i was very lucky with funding as John paid for the cost of the tuition that i done through the NVQ system. This would be the start of about 15 years on and of at college to enable me to be qualified as i eventually left fishing for the merchant navy.
But back to the silver stream, i think i qualified for my class 2 after about seven months of schooling which basically involved spending a week at college on my trip of to do a nvq unit then making up a portfollio followed by an oral exam at the end.
My first trip as skipper of the silver stream was quite interesting, we were fishing in the bay of biscay and were boarded by the french fisheries. They tried to tell us that we should not have been fishing below a certain latitude ie the 48 degree line and we were well into the 47 degree latitude. Think that they were well convinced that they were going to arrest us but after a lot of expensive satillite phone calls we managed to sort out that little problem. In the end of they went with their little french tails between their legs but not before giving me a warning for not having the vessels name on the orange bouy markers, quite pathetic really.
Another little problem that i had was that one of the crew had come to sea after quite a long hard drinking session and he was suffering pretty bad withdrawl symptons. The first i knew was when my friend Bob came up to the wheelhouse and said this crewman had locked himelf in the toilet and would not come out. I said to Bob break the door down so of he went with another crew broke the door down and this lad was sitting on the toilet knife in hand saying the chains the anchor chains cant you all hear them. With that Bob and another crew got the knife of him and got him to bed. Bob then came up to the wheelhouse and we got the ships captain medical book out, had a look at the symptoms of what we thought it was and sure enough it was a case of dt’s or delirium tremens, which is basically alchohol withdrawal. We looked on further and found out that he may develop homocidal or suicidal tendencies if he is not given help so it was a case of haul up all the gear, make sure there were no knives lying around and steam the 180 mile back to Plymouth. I did try to get the lad up to the hospital when we arrived in port but all he was interested in was getting to the pub. Some off the crew seen him later and he was right as rain as soon as he got some booze inside him. That was the last we seen of him as he went back to grimsby the following morning.
I stayed with John for five years but got itchy feet and needed a new challenge so it was time for a move. I have stayed in contact with John over the years and Bob and me would always have a chinwag every so often, that was how we started with the windfarm company within a week of each other. The Silver Stream had a really sad end, she was on the slip in Grimsby just finishing a refit when fire broke out onboard and wrecked her. Such a sad end for such a brilliant ship and i felt so gutted for John and all the crew.
The next four and a half years or so seen me move from having a bit of 10mm rope connecting the ship to the seabed to 36 scallop dredges on two 18metre tow bars hanging of two derricks sticking out of the side of the ship, bit of a difference. One thing i noticed on the trawlers was that your promotion through the ranks was quite rapid. First trip on the scalloper i was engineer deckhand, second trip i was engineer mate and third trip i was the skipper. I had also started my class 1 skippers qualification, again through the nvq system. Hazel Bennet who is the director of western training, had secured funding to help advance fishermens careers, which i was lucky to benefit from. I have known Hazel for over twenty years now and would like to thank her for the help that she has provided, not only in the fishing industry but also when i changed over to merchant.
The first trip that i did as skipper on the scalloper went pretty well, i had a great teacher in Mealy who is a fantastic fisherman and to this day is still a very good friend. The weather was good and we managed to catch a few clams. My second trip as skipper probably not so good, the weather was pretty shite, we still managed to catch a little bit but the fishery officers were not so impressed with the quarter ton of monk fish tails that i some how forgot to declare on my landing sheet, so a court appearence and a two thousand pound fine was the result of that little episode, oh dear. These boats were nomadic, so we could find ourselves working from the bay of biscay, through the english channel and up to east coast of Scotland. We would also have quite a cosmopolitan crew onboard as well, ranging from Polish, Russian, Scottish , Welsh and later on Phillipino, as you might imagine English was not really the native language so sometimes there would be some strange things that were done due to misunderstanding what you were trying to say. Mind you the word beer was never misunderstood and some of the local firewater, that these lads used to drink at home would appear after a night out. Whatever these boys used to call it neat alcohol would probably have been a better discription. How crews would amuse themselves whilst in for bad weather could also turn out quite funny, whilst working out of Shoreham i got friendly with Steve Bryant the skipper of the Western Belle. After waking up after one particular night out, we found that some nice person on his crew had added the letter B to the port of registration of the vessel i was skipper off. So we now proudly displayed the word Burk on the stern of our ship. The favour was kindly returned to his vessel the Western Belle where the letters ND were added to the vessels name, made my day that one did.
It was a good time again, working on these vessels and working with people from different countrys and learning a bit of their culture was very rewarding, but it was time to move on again and that took me to working on a small boat with a friend from when i was longlining.
After ten years fishing this was the only time that i had a bit of a nasty injury. I was working this little winch and not really paying attention. i had hold of the wire and pushed the lever the wrong way, next second my thumb was in the winch. After getting my thumb out i took my glove of and it looked as if i had crushed the fingernail, but on touching the nail the top of my thumb fell of and was just dangling by a bit of skin. Ouch i thought and that was me on me way to Torbay hospital in an ambulance with the full blue flashing light, felt such a pillock. Luckly they managed to stitch my thumb back on and it has made a full recovery, apart from an angry scar and it throbs like buggery in the cold weather. I stayed with the little boat a little while longer and then it was time to do something completly different, which seen me starting in the offshore wind industry which is another story