Home' Afloat : AFLOAT April 2015 Contents 32 AFLOAT.com.au April 2015
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engine. Often the carburettor would be
checked and tickled. Failing all that,
some petrol would be poured down the
twin cylinders. Eventually in desperation
and as our curses flew to the winds, the
advance and retard disc would be twiddled
on the magneto.
This was our most dangerous trick and
usually ended in pain. Then the Aisla Craig
would get her own back on her assailants
by misfiring and kicking the starting handle
and whoever or whatever was attached to it.
But the engine’s 30-year age was testament
to the fact that mishaps were quite rare at
sea. I think the Aisla Craig realised that
stubbornness at sea could lead to a watery
grave so she was generally well behaved.
The Clyno felt as old as one of those
ancient longships because she kept us
busy with repairs which I did more and
more as I grew older. There was always
another copper nail with its head broken
off to be riveted. The stern gland often
required re-packing with coils of oiled flax.
The liberal coating of tar inside and out
was essential in sealing cracked planking
that would bend alarmingly under my boot
at sea when I pushed hard to haul a creel.
Some outspoken critics of the Clyno had
my motorbike at 3am without needing my
lights on; while often sobering up from the
pub a few hours before.
Out at sea our catch was lobsters
and crabs, with hand-lining for white fish
later in the season. Our 50-60 lobsters
pots would be shot in places best suited
for the time of the season and hauled
daily. Hauling was done by hand and
backbreaking work which strengthened
muscles throughout my teenage years
and gave me an iron grip handshake. But
the lacerations from baiting the creels
and rope burns took their toll in the early
season until my hands hardened by June.
Gloves slowed the intricate tying of the
creels and also led to skin diseases, as
uncle Wullie suffered from throughout
entire his fishing career.
At sea we’d spend the day going
between creel lines, moving some that
weren’t fishing well, repairing damaged
netting and sorting out the catch. Wullie
steered and I was the deckhand, so did
all the creel work. The lobsters were
dangerous to handle and when I was
growing up, a deckhand had lost a finger.
been heard to say that tar was the only
thing holding her together! But she made
up for those misdemeanours by having
good sea keeping qualities and rarely did
a wave come aboard.
Our inshore fishing grounds ran to
the towering cliffs of Dunnet Head, just
opposite the Old Man of Hoy in Orkney
and then bordered to the east by the
tide race named the Merry Men of Mey, a
maelstrom so fierce that fellow Scotsman
Robert Louis Stevenson was moved to
write a story using its name.
His family had built our local
lighthouse but RLS’s time had been brief
on our seaboard, a place he described
with disdain as being a “very grey coast”.
The beginning of our season would see
us leave the tidal harbour with boat loads
of lobster pots. With a 15-20ft range and
fast flowing currents, the tides ruled our
So during the season that ran until
October we would put to sea at all hours.
In the high latitudes daylight never really
ceases during most of the summer, so
some days I’d drive across the moors on
Over-fishing led to the demise of the
industry. Opportune is only one of the two
remaining seine-netters from the port of
Wick in the county of Caithness.
Square stern and clinker build became the
design of inshore vessels from the 1960s
onwards, as seen her by this creelboat
launching in Wick harbour in 2014.
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