‘The skipper, Barry, had been asleep all afternoon, he’d have slept longer, but he hadn’t been to the supermarket to get stores for the next trip. Maud pointed out, not for the first time, that there’d been four crewmen sat round in Scrabster all weekend, doing nothing, when they could have been grocery shopping. Barry brushed his wife off and pretended it wasn’t an issue, but really, having to go via Asda was a massive pain in the ass. A few years ago, Barry had entrusted crew with his Barclays debit card and a shopping list. Over three days, while the skipper was at home, the two Latvians withdrew £600 from the cashpoint outside Asda and spent another £400 in various pubs and shops around Thurso. Barry never saw the pair again and has hated Latvians ever since – that’s why he was going to the 24-hour supermarket on the way to the boat.’
I’m going back to Scotland in a few weeks to continue my project, joining two boats, one out of Scrabster and the other out of the Shetland town of Lerwick. Before I started documenting the lives of fishermen, I must admit that I did have a few romantic, preconceived ideas about how these men work and live, I designed the entire look of the project in my head only to have almost every mental image erased by reality. Trawlermen don’t generally have time to stand on deck, looking wistfully out on brooding skies, while smoking a pipe – the only time a fisherman stands still on deck is when he’s taking a piss over the side of the boat, and they smoke home-rollies made with the cheapest duty-free tobacco they can buy. Moody, brooding clouds with shafts of heavenly sun beams are rare, most of the time the sky is either a single block of grey or the tar-black of night.
The closest I came to romance on my last trip was watching ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ in the galley next to a sea-sick Filipino. There is no glamour or romance to capture on North-Atlantic fishing boats…but it is still an astonishing adventure.