For two weeks in November, I joined the fishing vessel, Ruel na Mara and her crew, working about 100km northwest off the Outer Hebrides. I don’t wish to romanticise something that these men do for work, all year round, but for me, it was an incredible experience. “A proper adventure”, as a friend dubbed it – two weeks on a 24 metre, wooden-hulled trawler, with two Scotsmen and four Filipinos somewhere in North Atlantic, wearing the same underwear for days on end (actually very liberating) and rarely washing – okay, it was no Fred Olsen cruise, and not everyone’s idea of fun, but I loved it.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing some of the images from this ongoing, long-term project, along with random excerpts from my daily journal.
‘5th November 2018.
Course 25° (NNE)
Sea state – moderate
We left Scrabster at 01:00, even on a relatively calm day, this patch of sea north of Scotland is seldom flat, so I downed two sea sickness pills and went to my bunk at about 03:30.
07.15 – I didn’t sleep well, every hour or so I’d wake, feeling nauseous and confused – ‘Where the hell am I?’ type confusion.
The crew cabins are at the rear of the boat, on the bottom deck, my bunk is directly underneath the area where the nets are hauled in and out, wound and stored around four large drums. Anyone practising yoga or mindfulness who claims you can concentrate on the silence between noise while meditating has obviously never worked on a fishing boat – there is no silence. Ever.
09:00 – I force myself out of my sleeping-bag and up to the galley in search of food – knowing that eating something will make me feel better. It’s Catch 22 though – I feel sick because I can’t eat, I can’t eat because I feel sick.
As I climb the ladder out of the crew quarters, I’m already feeling a bit ‘unusual’. I open the hatch, and the aroma hits me – diesel fumes and rotten fish – if there’s anything that’s going to induce vomiting in me, it’s this heady mixture. Ten minutes of eye-watering dry-heaving ensue, leant up against one of the net drums, staring down through tears at the watery broth of dead starfish, cigarette ends and piss sloshing around my feet.
There are two fridges in the galley; one’s filled with trays of individual pots of yoghurt, bread rolls, cakes of various shapes and size, and pancakes. The other fridge is full of…oh… yoghurts, bread rolls, cake and pancakes… fishermen must like cake. Unable to work out the nutritional value of a slice of Madera cake and a full-fat peach Melba yoghurt, I conclude that if sea sickness doesn’t kill me, scurvy might.
9.45 – Yoghurt and Madera cake tastes pretty much the same coming up as it does going down. I can’t wait for my brain to stop trying to ‘help’ me by making me sick.’
I think it’s important to note that later that day, Benjei, the Filipino crewman and cook, presented us with a delicious meal, as he did every evening – all of the food groups were represented. About three days after that, the seasickness disappeared, and I inadvertently stumbled upon the two large baskets of fresh fruit in the cold store. So, the only thing that did nearly kill me was tripping over a cable on deck and almost going overboard. But that’s another story…