“A day in the Life of a Fisherman”, an account of what happened to author Aidan Mc Nally
Aidan Mc Nally, Award winning author, of TWO sons TOO many, 17 & Life, Layman’s Handbook offers us an insight into his experiences fishing on the other side of the world in his short story “A Day in the life of a Fisherman”.
So, I have always loved fishing and with fishing it does not always mean catching. Going out to sea on a boat is big deal even when you do it day in and day out. I will explain a little bit here, when I was a young boy, barely teenager, I began working on fishing boats “trawlers”. I loved learning how the fish were being caught and then I was taken by how beautiful it is to be on the ocean. A huge sense of freedom or something like that, a sense of escape could be a word used to describe it. When we throw the ropes off and head out fishing, we leave the world and all her issues behind us and brace ourselves for a new set of headaches. Though we do not mind rolling around in fish guts or hydraulic oil if the needs come to that because when we are out there, there is only one way to get back home is be able to fix stuff, mechanical stuff and whatever a day at sea might throw up at you, you must fix as best you can until you can get back ashore. The love of the Ocean grew on me over time and almost like some sort of addiction type living, like a co-dependency “I feel alive when I am at sea”. Weird, isn’t it?
All those years ago when I was starting out, I never knew that fishing and fishing boats would give me cause to travel around the world and continue working as a fisherman. Fishing has done just that for me, fishing and being a fisherman has brought me to some great places and continued to keep me alive and well. Enjoying all the different types of fishing and the different species and all of the wonderful natural nature scenes, right there in my own “office”, The Sea.
Two come to mind that are worth sharing.
Once upon a time I was working as a crab fisherman in the Pacific Ocean off the California coastline. It is a seasonal fishery that begins in winter and serves the huge Thanksgiving market. Anyways one average day while out working our pots “gear” we noticed a buoy in the distance that seemed to be diving by itself, the buoy is a little float we attach to the end of the rope so that we can see where the crab pot is in the water. We drove our boat a little closer to see and we noticed something was caught in the rope and the float was stopping the animal from diving deeper as it tried to get away from us. Though the animal came back up because it was exhausted from trying to swim and untangle itself, might even have been at it all night long. The heavier crab pot below on the ocean floor was too heavy for it to lift and so it was barely able to get its head above the water to breathe. I am no zoologist or anything but when an animal is stressed there is certain look that comes across their face, just like our kind of. We noticed how the animal was hearing the motor from our fishing boat and trying to swim down and away from us and then pooping back up for air, the poor thing was really exhausted though. We made a decision to go a little upwind of the animal and cut off our engines and drift back with the wind to make an attempt to catch it and help untangle him/her. As we worked on the ropes and holding the animal, of course it was sloshing around and trying to ward us off with the last of its strength. We managed to pet the animal in hopes of calming it down and we got him/her free. I wanna image it was a mommy; she took one look back at us with her mouth open and headed off down under the Ocean. That animal that day was a leatherback turtle, and it was huge. I was amazed holding her fin or flapper type leg thing and her face was prehistoric looking. A little beak with another type of tongue and opening inside as she was trying to shout at us I guess and spit, she was fairly exhausted though too.
On another day doing the same crab fishing may have been a different year though we noticed again something splashing in the distance. It is a little unnerving when you see a large object in the water floating around because it is almost instinct to fear it may be another fisherman’s body in the cold water. We could not tell with binoculars what was going on, so we stopped hauling our gear for a bit and headed the boat over to get a closer look. The area of the California coast that day was between the Golden
Gate Bridge of San Francisco and the Farallon Islands which are a short distance out to sea from the SF bay area. As we approached the splashing in the water, we noticed a dead whale floating in the water (you may have heard the expression “gone belly up” that is where it comes from) and the splashes were being made by sharks as they swam in and took a bite with tremendous force. Roughly about eight or twelve sharks maybe even up to sixteen of them, there could have been even more under the water that we could not see. They were hard to track because they came in at speed and almost hit the dead whale meat with their big open mouth and ripped a piece of meat off for themselves and turned and swam off gulping the meat down. Then they seemed to come back for another bite. A great white shark feeding frenzy is what was happening and though we feel for the whale as I remember doing so on that day, which is how the food chain works and that was nature at her finest. We watched for a while and then headed back to work.
The two examples I share with you just now are two of thousands and there really are many more, ask any fisherman they all have hundreds and thousands of stories. Oh yeah, by the way, the turtles would not normally get caught up in the crab gear ropes like that and the crab fishing gear by design is designed to rot in the salt water of the sea quite quickly so that if the gear breaks off or gets lost the ropes and many parts will break away easily and prevent it from “ghost fishing”. The two examples are to give you an idea that it is not all about harsh and tough extreme conditions when you are a fisherman, sometimes there are wonderful awesome stories of experiences too.
And for those reasons you can probably understand that it is possible to fall in love with the sea. Some fishermen will tell you they hate the sea while secretly deep down the love her too.
My life as a fisherman has been great all the way around, like I mentioned the California coast and fishing different species and types of fishing equipment and always learning how to catch. I didn’t mention above, I am an Irishman born and raised and only ventured as far as California because of fishing. I began fishing in Ireland as young teenager and then because of having dropped out from school, I vowed to myself to see the world by way of my job and to be a fisherman all the way. Of course, I have done many other types of work throughout my life as there are many different fishing seasons and there was down time too (off season).
Thinking back to when I began at only 12 or 13 or so years of age and to have lived so long as a fisherman and had so many wonderful times all courtesy of healthy pay packets from fishing WOW!
I have used fishing to afford me to do what I want in my life and when I wanted though always centred around one season or the other. When I was a kid at about fifteen years old, I told myself that “The Ocean makes up two thirds of the world; I will never be out of work”. That is how I thought of it all the way back then. I am 47 now and it sure does feel like ten lifetimes ago that I was wide eyed and eager to learn it all and sail the seven seas, lol.
Some other funny things about fishing are the people that you meet along the way. Often times the guys involved in fishing are not college graduates and the likes, most dropped out just like I did from the academics and simply went fishing. You do encounter a lot of alcohol around the lifestyle and some drug use too. Fishing can be that means to an end for some too and it is a job where you need to know what you are doing first and foremost and then be willing to stick it out on the boat through storms and calm weather and whatever mother nature throws at you. Drug addictions seem to thrive within the industry and alcoholism too. “Rowdy uneducated fishermen” is a description I have heard being used a few times. “Smelly fishermen” too. Fishing as a job can be feast or famine so big harvest and a load of money for a season and then down time with little to no income. I have never minded because I do not drink alcohol and I do not use drugs and oh yeah, if I smell of fish that means I am making money bay-beeeee!
During this past year fishing and the sea kind of divorced me. She told me sling me hook. She sent me packing and told me take a long walk off a short pier (harbour). Yup last September, it was a Saturday, not too warm though, a sunny day. The sea was calm, and I headed out fishing for the day. Long winded story short on that one, the boat I was on sunk and brought me under the water with her. It was the middle of the day around about 3.00pm or so during a normal fishing day and the stupid boat sprung a leak and filled up with water. I noticed the sound of one of the engines had slightly changed from its usual ear deafening noise and I walked back to investigate. My fishing gear seemed normal everything was pressurised as should be though something didn’t seem right. The engine below that seemed to ever so slightly change her tone drives a water pump to build pressure up for fishing and I thought to myself, “not that pump shaft again” as it had been repaired before. I opened the hatch cover to investigate and to my shock, the engine room was full of water. The engine was still going because the water had not fully covered the engine completely yet. The automatic thought is that the pump has broken, and the engine is pumping water into the boat now and so I shut the engine off immediately. I walked quickly to the wheelhouse to figure out what to do and within seconds the boat had capsized. Just like as long as it took you to read it or as quickly as I wrote it the boat turned upside down, well maybe over on its side and went to the sea floor. Had I had any anticipation of that being the outcome I would have done into the sea and swam away. There is a good chance that the shock of it all took me by surprise to say the least. I was inside of the wheelhouse and with the boat taking an abrupt upturn and over I was thrown to the floor somewhere in a little corner of the wheelhouse and I was gone from standing upright turning on all my “pump out” pumps to on the floor totally submerged in water. The weirdest piece of that is that when you are inside the wheelhouse of a boat the water is not supposed to be in there with you.
Sinking, I had to think and I had to think fast, to be honest with you, something came over me like a voice outside of myself that said “don’t Panic” I had grasped my last air and a half a mouthful of water as I did and a voice told me don’t panic while I was thrown across the boat and all kinds of noises were happening as everything was being upturned and water was gushing in from anywhere it could. I have had one or two panic situations before and a couple of traumatic ones too, nothing ever as fast and as life threatening to my life though. For example, and dramatic effect, I performed mouth to mouth on my son when he was drowning beside a swimming pool once upon time too, it didn’t work, and he died as a result of that drowning.
So, you can say I have had experience in life threatening and panic situations before. Though let’s stick to the fishing side of things for today.
Situation was, I was lying on the floor at least that is what I thought, and the floor part was now the up part, does that make sense? I had a piece of hand railing in my hand that I was holding, and I did not recognise it. In my head I thought, and these were my exact words “what is this, what f**king handrail. I know this boat there is no handrail, am I outside? Where the f**k am I?” Panic was slightly kicking in because my air was not lasting maybe as long as I had hoped. I really did not have any thought about how long my air would last; I had a nervous panic type flutter coming from the middle of my chest. The handrail I soon realised was the step where I rest my feet when I am sitting in the chair at the wheel. This helped me understand which way was up. I did not know exactly which way was out though because water was still heaving and sloshing around as well, and the inside was full of water. I pulled on the handrail and did not give any thought if I might pull it out of the wall where it was fixed, I just knew to pull towards that direction as the way out, the door, was beyond that area.
As they would say I “pulled for dear life” on that handrail and pulled myself through the water. Thinking of course I would make my way to the door, the flow of water or the boat turning around in the water like how maybe inside of a washing machine might feel, I was thrown forwards in the boat with the flow of water. I found myself in a storage area towards the front of the boat still on the inside just further forward than the wheelhouse and all the normal standing upright type spaces. This would be a cubby hole to best describe it. Luckily, I was thrown in there by the water as I surfaced into a tiny air pocket where I was able to exhale, and half fill my lungs with air again. This cubby hole was almost completely full of water too. I just happened to be thrown into the air pocket, how lucky was I?
I remember beginning to panic because my mind did not know where I was, and I said to myself “where am I? Where is this?” Kind of like my voice inside of my own head was roaring now and I could hear myself almost crying or with a very much heightened anxiety in how I sounded to myself. The water was a murky brown slash green shade, and I was feeling around and looking for whatever I could to help get myself orientated, any little bit at all.
I felt the handrail again just around a corner and I pulled myself out of the cubby hole. Everything was so weird to be looking at the roof and the windows with the water on the inside rather than outside where it is supposed to be, right? I could see something shinny through the water as I was looking, and it could have been up or down or who really knows at that point. My chest was hurting by that time, and I could see myself floating with my neck and shoulders tipping the roof lifeless, arms draped outwards, and my body suspended in the water. Snapping back to my panic I remember telling myself “f**k that, I ain’t going out like that”. Those were the words in my mind, just like that. I guess my mind tried to fool me or something or was I losing consciousness or something weird. My lips and mouth were trying to breathe and just take in the water, my chest was sore, and my mouth was making the motion of sucking in the water into my cheeks and blowing it back out as I was trying to figure how to get out. It was like my body was entering into survival mode and wanted to breathe yet I or my mind was pushing back against it to “No! You will die”. The shinny object I was looking at I figured out the be the chrome handle of the throttle for the main engine and so I felt for it with my hand and when I knew which way it was facing, I was able to understand where the door would be based off the position of the throttle on the dashboard. I let go of the handrail and put my forearm across my head to act as protection for my head, who knows what else is hanging upside down and clattering and could even knock me out, and I pushed off with my feet in the direction of where I believed the door to be. With a few kicks and a few strokes, I believe I actually closed my eyes at that moment, the moment when I went for it. The real do or die moment. A few more kicks and a few more strokes and I got to the surface and took a big gasp. The sea was not rough at all that day, and I remember as I came up for that much needed air, I could hear the sea almost like fizzing because of all the different things that were floating off the boat and the tiny air bubbles coming back up from under the sea where the boat was now laying.
Yes, I had my life jacket and yes, I was safe, well to a point at least, I was no longer trapped inside and could breathe.
I kicked of my welly boots, and I saw a large 1-ton tote/bin that I used on the deck to keep my daily catch in and I swam for it and used it as a raft. A little difficult to get on top of but the area on the bottom where a forklift would pick it up from aided me in scaling my heavy soaking body up on to it and then I began to kick my legs to head for the shore. A scene from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was in my mind. My breathing came back to somewhat normal and everything of me tasted like salt water. Yup the mucous from my nose and my eyes and my mouth breathing and getting bits of sea water still.
Not to be mistaken, this all took place in approximately thirty feet of water depth and one quarter mile from land or even less. This is the sandy part of the sea I was fishing in that day. While I was on my new little Huck Finn raft the nearest boat to me drove right past me, I thought he was going to make a wider turn and rescue me, he drove right past. If I had strength, I could have thrown myself higher in the air out of the water for him to see me. I could not. The other boats were not far away either and none of them saw my ordeal or knew that I just sunk and am floating here in the water not far from them. People out hiking for the day were walking the local cliff walk and they raised the alarm that it appeared a boat had sunk, and a fisherman was floating in the water.
There were two anglers (that is guys fishing with rods) in kayaks not too far from me and I yelled. They did not hear so I whistled with my finger inside of my mouth and one turned to see me, I raised my arm and he acknowledged that he saw me. He was probable about 600 or 800 mtrs away. Raising my arm was difficult because it was heavy from my two wet sweaters and the fact that I was kind of out of energy. I could see the other fishing boats fishing away and they could not see me. The kayak man seemed to not be moving towards me yet and was still fishing is what it looked like to me, so I whistled again. I have to guess he was winding in his lines and getting his stuff together before coming to rescue me. I thought of a simple plan, get him to throw me some sort of rope and he can paddle into the rocky shoreline and I will float on my new raft behind him until in and then I could the wet clothes off of myself.
Another local crab fishing boat was making way out of the local harbour area, and I remember thinking, please turn South, and please don’t go North. He turned South and I thought, YES! And then I saw his bow slow down and he was throwing out some pots. Then I saw him speeding up again. I could tell by the amount of white water being pushed by his bow (that’s the front of the boat). I thought “what if he doesn’t see me and runs me over” I toppled my raft to make it look larger in the water so he might catch sight of me. It then tumbled back down on top of me, so I was underneath it then and I had to duck under the water and begin to get back up on my raft. The kayak man was getting closer and said the boat was coming for me, I said “f**k sakes he is not, come over here and tow me, he is shooting his pots, he is fishing”. I really was amazed I was in the debate at all.
The lobster boat approached faster, and I could see the man inside was watching me and getting ready to make a manoeuvre to rescue me. I knew who the local fisherman was as this all happened right outside of my own local village where I grew up. He offered me a rope and asked, “can you grab this?” I had to reply honestly, “NO” He went inside and turned his wheel and came back a little and reached his arm out to me, it was like one of those angel pictures, Michael Angelo type stuff. His fingertips were bent one way reaching out for me and my fingertips bent the other attempting to latch on to him reaching out for him too. Safe at last aboard his boat and he ordered me to sit down and take it easy. I throw off my life jacket and wanted to get my sweaters off because I was feeling warm now and the adrenaline was kicking into overdrive. Something about being rescued, it just feels great. He sped up and got me to the harbour in a matter of a few minutes and within those few minutes the lifeboat was on the scene and the coast guard, and the rescue helicopter was hovering overhead.
I tip my hat to that man for that day, even though I was no longer in the major disaster panic, I definitely needed rescuing.
I made it though and have lived to tell the tale. Coming close to death is no joke and I can openly admit it does take a toll on you. I always did want to know what Patrick might have gone through the day he died in that swimming pool; I just did not want to know it so up close and in real life. I came as close as I could to experience what my own son died of without going through the act of dying.
So, what happened and how did the boat sink etc?
Mechanical failure, substandard parts and all that jazz.
The main thing is I made it out and am alive.
The sea though, she divorced me that day and I have done nothing but reflect on it since. I can definitely say without a doubt something about being around boats for thirty odd years of my life, from little yawls to big vessels. I am still alive and for one reason only, it is called experience.
Imagine that episode of sinking to a less knowledgeable younger man; my thoughts are that there would be panic and dead.
Imagine what I have learned since the ordeal and about it. Kind of goes to show you that you will always do your best work and thrive in life by yourself. Never any need for passengers when the real heavy stuff needs doing. The real stuff that makes guys like me; guys like me. Few and far between.
Thanks for reading and special thanks to the people who walked the cliff that day ad raised the alarm. I have no idea who you are, you are appreciated.
If you would like to read any of my other work feel free to look up my blog or my books, Aidan Mc Nally