Monday, 24 September 2018

George Payne - a truly nice guy, from one who sailed with him.

Here's a short anecdote about George Payne, King of the Smocks related by Colin from the Mousehole Fish company who used to fish with George back in the early 80s.

Boy Gary and other 'toshers' fishing for mackerel inside the Longships lighthouse

Back in those days in the depths of winter, well over 100 'toshers' as they were known fished from Newlyn. Some from as far afield as Milford Haven in Wales or Weymouth in Dorset, they would muster 
on the quay around 6 AM for the winter mackerel season and, on a good day, be back in port with 100st (600kg) a man of big mackerel on board.

When winter mackerel fishing gurdys (in the foreground) were used to wind the line back and forth fitted with a set of 24 'feathers' (hooks covered with coloured plastic) and a seven pound lead weight.

At that time, Colin and George crewed aboard the Silver Spray skippered by Mack Thomas - a tosher that, like many from Falmouth, Looe and Fowey that came down to Newlyn, took anglers and trippers out during the summer months and then fished, mainly for mackerel, during the short, dark and often windy winter days. Colin, barely turned 18, a newbie and just getting his first taste of the harsh environment (having decided not to go to university) that was about to go from a short-term means of earning a wage into a 20 year career at sea, fishing. In those days, getting a berth on a fishing boat involved a short walk down the quay and catching the ear of a skipper at an opportune moment - the recruitment process was thorough and lasted as about long as it took to say, "Got a berth skipper?" with a response in the affirmative.

Small boats like toshers still used paper echo sounders in the 70s & early 80s.

On this particular morning nobody seemed to be catching mackerel so skipper Mac was steaming around off Lamorna looking for 'marks' - those tell-tale black marks on the paper echo sounder that told him there were fish about and at what depth. Suddenly, Mack raced out of the wheelhouse shouting to Colin and George to get their lines in the water quick as possible but down hard on the bottom - he'd passed over some pinnacles of hard ground with fish marks all over them - a sure sign of big pollack at this time of year. Colin was the first to get his seven pound lead and twenty feather trace down and  shout excitedly as he felt his line go tight that he had a 'stringful'. 

Unfortunately, rather than a stringful of big pollack pulling hard on his hooks Colin had hitched the rough bottom and within seconds promptly lost the lot - lead weight, feathers and all!  An already grumpy Mack (and anyone who has spent any time at sea knows only too well what a grumpy skipper is like first thing) goes off on one, first effin and blinding at Colin for being so effin useless and then kicking at everything on his way across the deck back to the wheelhouse to find another set of hooks and weight. 

Colin is mortified - feeling really uncomfortable at getting his first taste of life at sea in a world of harsh conditions and an even harsher skipper. Fearful for his welfare, he stares abjectly at his gurdy sans feathers and weight, wondering what the skipper might do next if something goes amiss.

While he's contemplating worst case scenarios he becomes aware that George, who hasn't said a word, quietly has made his way for'ard to Mack's gurdy.  Colin notices George draw heavily on the ever-present roll-up between his lips which he removes quickly as he picks up Mac's set of feathers and passes the glowing roll-up tip over the nylon backing line before heading back to his own gurdy; and not a word is said.

A few minutes later, lines dropped back in the water the guys are furiously fishing again.  Then, with the usual deck banter flowing, after all hands had touched on a few good hauls of big pollack there is a sudden hush from Mac's side of the boat as within seconds of hitting his latest pollack haul his line has parted. And not a word is said.