These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler from a fishing trip with Mr Richard Jacobs of ‘Porthmeor’ Spring Road Wivenhoe in May 1982 as part of the research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”. These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.
Nicholas Butler’s notes from the days fishing trip.
Mr Jacobs is the owner of a fishing vessel, the CK 399 (Ch?) which is some 22 tons. He and another man, Terry, work it together. He has been fishing ever since he left school at Clacton some 20 years ago. It is all he has done and all he wants to do. He likes the independence which this job gives him, though it is difficult to make ends meet.
On 21 May 1982 I joined him on his day’s trip.
10am. I joined the boat, which was re-fuelling. A lorry came down to the Quay to fill her up. A day’s trip uses about 45 gallons of oil which is about 25% of the running cost. Another important item is the hire of the Decca equipment, which is about £20 per week. The boat carried 3 nets, all of them trawling nets, that are used when the boat is under power. There were no drifting nets, which are put down, left and later taken up again, on board, though he has some. The day was overcast and slightly chilly, though now and then the sun peered through. Towards evening the wind freshened slightly and the boat began to move about more in the water. He told me that the seas are overfished. Recently there has been more pressure because of inroads made by our Common Market partners, our loss of fishing grounds near Iceland and the use of more sophisticated equipment. Year by year the amount of fish he catches is less, though the prices have risen to compensate.
On this trip he was specifically fishing for Dover Soles. It took us some two and a half hours to motor down the Colne and to a point some seven or eight miles off the Clacton to Felixstowe coast, the area known as the East Swin. The boat was run from a small cabin perched high up near the stern. Behind was a tiny after-cabin with room in which to lie down and a stove for making tea. From time to time Terry produced mugs of hot sweet tea. This was all. I brought some provisions but did not feel hungry enough to eat anything. Beneath the main cabin is the Hold, which can also be reached by opening a hatch in the main deck. In the bows was a small hatch leading down to a rope store, and immediately aft another leading down to a second store, where paint, etc is kept. On either side of the mast was a large metal boom which could be lowered by pulling a lever so that they jutted out horizontally from the vessel at right angles. It was from these that the nets were hung. Another pair of levers lowered the nets from the boom. They could be lowered some seventy or eighty feet so that they reached the seabed. The nets were weighted and designed to reach the seabed where the Soles were. A third net was in the stern of the boat. I gathered that this was a light net which would not go all the way down to the seabed. This was not used that day.
12.30pm On arrival at the East Swin the nets were raised up on the booms and then the booms were lowered and after the nets had been cast overboard, the nets themselves were lowered. In contrast to the fishermen of previous generations all this was done by machinery. Though there is plenty of manual work still in fishing, it is not the back-breaking manual work that it used to be. When the trawling was commenced an old, wickerwork, basket was hoisted half-way up the foremast where it could be seen by other boats who would accordingly keep out of the way. Quite a few other boats, several of them very large, were to be seen. Richard identified one or two dredgers and tankers. On one occasion a tug passed a few miles away with something that looked like a Nissen hut behind it. It was being towed. There were generally at least one or several boats in sight, and the coast was pretty well always in view.
2.05pm The nets were raised. The booms are so heavy that if one is raised before the other the ship heels over slightly. The nets were raised, so were the booms, which took about one and a quarter minutes. Then the end of the nets were brought inboard and, by means of machinery, mechanically operated winches, were also raised a foot or so above the deck. Richard took one and Terry the other. They each had a side of the deck and although Terry sometimes swabbed down Richard’s side they kept to it. Conversation throughout the trip was minimal. They knew what they had to do and got on with it. However, Richard was often on the ‘phone to Harwich. The cabin had a wireless but this was only used for radio news and weather bulletins. The Decca equipment, which cost £1,200 a year to hire, gave them continual chart readings. Richard knew exactly where he was to a matter of yards. A radar screen told him the distance from the seabed and if there were any fish there. There was also a clock there and a pair of binoculars and one or two other items of equipment which I did not understand. The ends of the nets were untied, almost simultaneously, and a shower of shells, fish, starfish, crabs and debris was released. It was a small catch. There were soles and other fish. Soles above a certain size, which was measured on the spot on a piece of wood were retained, and the small ones thrown overboard. Once on deck the round fish rarely survive, but the flatfish are more hardy, as of course, are the crabs and starfish. The fish to be retained were put in large, plastic buckets, everything else was either shovelled overboard or pushed through two scuppers. At once the seagulls arrived to take advantage of the round fish which, although not dead, lay on the surface of the water. In fifteen minutes the operation was complete and the nets lowered again. I noticed that the fish, even when the intestines had been removed, took some ninety minutes to die. The first haul also included a few dabs.
3.25pm The second haul. Mostly shells
4.20pm The third haul
6.00pm The fourth haul. More fish, including one large bass, some brill and mackerel.
7.50pm The fifth haul. Another large bass.
9.25pm The sixth and last haul. Three more bass and several Sole. Also the huge stock of an old anchor which was got aboard without breaking the net. Incidentally, from time to time Richard carried out running repairs to the nets.
Then we made for home, the boat buffeting into the waves which broke over her deck. We made a rendezvous with another Brightlingsea fishing boat at Brightlingsea, took on board their catch which could then be taken straight to Wivenhoe.
11.55pm Home. The fish were landed and packed with ice in Ken Green’s factory in West Street, then the plastic trays put into the refrigerating compartment.
Richard thought that the trip might have just broken even, because there was about £50 worth of Bass on board. Very generously I was given a plastic carrier bag full of fish to take home.