THE CALLING OF THE SEA
When I say "pleasure trip". This is not one the cruises on the passenger boats from the middle pier. This is the real thing! To get woken up at some unearthly hour after midnight; go to sea on a Scarborough keelboat and then get back home maybe lunchtime. These "pleasure trips" could only be arranged when off school in the summer holidays as most keelboats would be tied up at weekends. Also parents were not too keen to let their children go to sea regularly.
It was the summer 1968 and I was just 12 years old when my first opportunity came. This arose when my mother's brother, Cass Mainprize, offered to let me go on a trip with him in the Marian (SH 19). She was a small keelboat. Her build was different than most. Her hull had more beam than such as the Margaret Jane (SH 17) and a little shorter. Her main deck layout was not as cluttered although she had the same facilities. Her engine was also on the small side and was not geared up to tow a large trawl.
I went to bed early. I mean very early. Straight after tea. I did try to sleep but the excitement got the better of me and I lay awake trying to make sure I would not miss the wake up call in the morning. I was laid in bed just waiting and waiting. I had no clock. I was not sure my mother would wake me up or Uncle Cass would turn up at the door and knock, get no answer, and go away.
It must have been 3 o'clock in the morning. I heard this click, click, click outside in the still of night. It seemed to go on for ages. I had a front bedroom in the house we lived in Princess Street and upon looking out I could see my uncle walking along the road from Tuthill towards our home.
I switched my light on and put on my clothes that lay ready for me at the side of my bed. I was at the door before he had chance to knock on it. I had never arisen at this time before and it seem like I was going on some big adventure. To me it was just like a story from the Famous Five.
Uncle Cass was there at the door upon opening it. I was no use sneaking about. Mother had got up and followed me to the front door. Mum said the usual "mother" things to me like "be good", "be careful" and "see you when you get back".
Uncle Cass had his waders on, his gainsay with smock on top. He didn't have a coat that I can remember and we walked down West Sandgate to the fish pier (West Pier). The harbour was still full of boats. Some had been started and had all their deck lights on while others where in total darkness. A stink of diesel and all the added smells of nets and fish boxes were all around the harbour. We climb down the ladder on the first boat moored along side the quay and over the next series of ever-smaller boats to his boat. It was an obstacle course in the dark. You climbed over nets, net pound boards, trawl wires and other types of fishing gear.
His crewman Peter Summers was already aboard. Pete, as I was told to call him, was ever so nice. He made me feel very welcome and they told me to sit down on a net and not to lean over the side. The engine started, the lights came on and after 5 minutes they unfasten the ropes and let off slack so the pier man could take the loop off the bollard on the pier. The head and stern mooring ropes were duly stored and, with Uncle Cass behind the wheel, we where off through the harbour mouth to look for his pots. We didn't seem to go far. We steamed only want seemed like minutes to the north, past the castle headland, but would in reality have been 30 minutes. Luckily the weather was excellent. No swell and just like being on Hispaniola in the Mere.
I was told we were going potting for crabs. We had some pots on board, but not fully loaded as I had seen some other boats. I was later to understand that Cass had some fleets already laid, would be emptying them of their catch and re-baiting them with "pot-bait" made up of undersize haddock, dabs, beam, flats and other "un-sellable varieties of fish", collected aboard the keelboats.
Daylight was breaking and when we got to the first buoy of a fleet of pots, Pete plucked it from the sea and started to heave on it through rollers and feed back into the sea. Both Cass and Pete were working on the deck leaving no one in the small wheelhouse. I was told it was my job to stand on the other side of the boat and keep watch for other boats. I wouldn't have seen other boats coming even if it was important. I was feeling under the weather and shouted for "hughie" over the side as the boat rolled and swayed in what was only a gentle swell. They keep joking about the "Hughie" thing but I was not interested or amused. I am sure the job looking for boats was just a way of keeping me in a place out of danger. A bit like being told to go and get some sky hooks at the fisherman's stores. Think about it!
The first pot came up with two crabs in it; the next was the same and on the tenth was had as many as 10 crabs in one pot. I remember Cass saying, "Well at least you ain't a Jonah"! I wouldn't liked to have been one of them or my fishing career would have been over before it had started! They re-baited the pots each time and let them over side before the next pot was raised. This routine continued until the end of the rope came and the pot buoy, with its anchor, was finally thrown back over the side ready for tomorrow.
It all went very quick. Before I knew it we were sailing back to harbour with our haul and rounding the harbour mouth. My mother was on the pier waiting for us. She would normally by on the pier at this time of he day. My mother and father had Mainprizes wet fish shop on St Thomas Street and on Sunday mornings would be down collecting crabs to take to the shop and drown in fresh water overnight before boiling the next day. Her smile was a big as mine. She waited at the top of the ladders and she was armed with many questions for me, Pete and Uncle Cass.
I left them to finish off and get the catch up the quay but my experience wasn't over yet. As I walked along the quay and home, my mother did mention I had the swagger of a fisherman. It was not surprising as I could still feel the effects of the boat rolling and the ground beneath me keep moving for hours after getting ashore. I had what I thought as my "sea legs".
The biggest questions at home were did I enjoy it and would I be going again? The answer was a definite "YES" much to the dismay of my parents who hope that would be the end of my romance with the sea and I would wish to be a landlubber.
I was to have a number of trips with Uncle Cass in the Marian and his new coble called "Mary Ellen". Sadly Uncle Cass died a couple of years later at the age of 56 with osteomalitus (bone poisoning in his leg) but you could never have met a truer cobleman!
Written by John Swift. John has made a website about the Mainprize family tree here Johns Website - Click Here