Saturday, 19 January 2013

Away Back Then

From Marine Times, October 2012 edition.

I wrote the poem Away Back Then a while back. I hope it gives a sense of what it felt like to be fish­ing in Ireland in a small boat, at a time when things were very basic. No VHP Radios or mobile phones meant no contact with other boats or with the land. No hydraulics meant you had to rely on muscle-power. If the nets were heading for the rocky shore you needed to work fast. If herrings hit the nets in a lump the same applied. If there was too much fish they would quickly die and carry the nets to the bottom. In the dark there was no way of telling what was already in the nets. Care was needed so as not to overload the boat or risk her stability. Despite best intentions this sometimes happened, herrings being what they are! Then if the wind increased you could be in serious trouble. 

We small-boat men were a part of nature's sea­sonal rhythm. The onset of autumn gales spelled the end of lobster fishing for us because every pot was care­fully hand-made and the rope was expensive and easily damaged. Whatever gear sur­vived the summer's potting would be needed in the spring. Great was the anticipation as we looked for the first signs of herring. The old men assured us: "Be they early or be they late, the her­rings will come."

They were right of course. Suddenly the her­rings appeared in the bays and estuaries accompanied by flocks of seabirds. These "Bay Herrings" were good to eat. They were not too oily and not too heavy with spawn and there was a brisk demand for them. They were sold by the box or by the cran. A box of herrings was about a quarter of a cran, or around forty kilos. Weather and tides and the unpre­dictable behaviour of the fish exercised a natural control over our landings. However, when things went right for us we made good money. None of us ever died rich of course but we paid our crews and raised our families. Drift-net­ting in the yawls and half deckers was a short season and usually by mid-December the shoals were moving off into deeper water, so the party was over for us. 

Alas, we will never see those times again. Herring, the most nutritious fish in the sea, has somehow got down­graded. We don't speak of so many boxes, or of so many cran. We talk of tons or of bins, as if we might leave them out for the bin men to collect. In calculating quotas the Authorities lump the small boats in together with the big trawlers in a "one-size-fits-all" example of bureaucratic stupidity. This results in the tiniest of quota being allocated to the half deckers and worst of all, a small window of opportunity to fish. 

This, either by design or accident, seems to occur during periods of extreme weather or at times when the herrings are unavailable. There is the constant threat that, "If you don't catch your quota this year you won't qualify for next year." 

Surely it is time the small boats were taken out of this crazy system. If all the small registered boats in Ireland spent the winter drift­ing for herrings they couldn't catch what one super-trawler will kill in one week.

Away Back Then

Back in the 60's times were tougher
Came Summer's end and seas got rougher
We brought in precious pots and rope
So herrings became our only hope.  
Then in October's shortening days
We hunted herrings in the bays
While three men crewed each tiny yawl
Each hoping for that bumper haul.

Some nights we fought the furious seas
Sometimes bad weather kept us in the quays
Sometimes we fished in icy cold and wet
And fickle herrings wouldn't go to net.

Then came an offshore wind, bearing seaweeds scent
We hung onto our driftnet, as in for the cliffs it went
And with a prayer we followed it, borne upon the tide.
The Autumn moon behind a cloud, her silver face did hide.

Then suddenly our spotlight, shows the corks are sinking
Our pole-end must be under too, for 'tis no longer winking
We cannot waste a moment lads, haul as fast as you can
Now up she comes and white with fish, there may be twenty cran.

Other poems by Derrick Cranpole have been published in a single volume entitled A Woeful Tale. It is available to buy online.

Advice to a young man

First published in Fishing News, 18th May, 2012

Advice to a Young Man
by Derrick Cranpole 
"The law says you must wear one
Whenever you go to sea.
That's the way it is my son
Put on your PFD."
The young man did as Daddy said
But his features then grew mottled
'Cos when he pulled it over his head
It felt like being throttled.
But Daddy was there with sound advice
He said "you stupid little runt
That Personal Floatation Device
You're wearing it back to front."
They had a laugh, then put it right
For it was not rocket science
Then they fished both day and night
With the law they were in compliance.
But alas, alas! The Law was an ass.
Mackerel jigging was their racket,
As a thousand mackerel hooks whizzed past,
Some pricked his new life jacket.
Back in the port they gave it a test
And the lad dived into the dock
Wearing the PFD pants and vest
He sank down like a rock.
Now though his PFD had actually inflated
Those many little pin pricks ensured that it deflated.
The men upon the quay could see the causes of his troubles
And the lifeboat crew located him by following the bubbles
"Well," the young man, who'd recovered, said
"Daddy, stuff that PFD
I'll be wearing a buoyant waistcoat
Next time we go to sea ..."

More tales from the sea can be had from A Woeful Tale, a collection of poems and illustrations by Derrick Cranpole's. It is available to buy online

Welcome to the world according to Derrick Cranpole

You have reached the website of Derrick Cranpole, poet, artist, retired sea fisherman, champion of seafarers and coastal communities.

Born in Cornwall, England, Cranpole now resides in the south-east coast of Ireland from where writes, paints and offers his opinion on a variety of matters but mostly to do with the concerns of fishermen and seafarers, the people with whom he shares a deep connection.

Cranpole's debut volume of poetry and illustrations, A Woeful Tale, was published in 2012 by The Manuscript Publisher and is available to buy from this website, as well as from all good bookshops. This publication brought together, for the first time, work that had previously appeared in newspapers, magazines, poetry anthologies and even aired on radio. It also includes previously unpublished work.

Since the publication of A Woeful Tale, Cranpole continues to write. He is currently working on a volume of memoir (A Cornish Fisherman's Diary to appear soon) and occasionally contributes to newspapers, magazines, publications serving fishing and coastal communities. Some of his more recent work also appears on this website.

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