is the 3rd of my 2021 series of Winter Warmers. The musings are a blend of my real life experiences, professional insights, personal views and fun stories. My hope is that in them you find joy and inspiration.
The roar of the crackling log fire in the hearth of the country inn was matched only by the drinkers' hearty roars of laughter as they reacted to a local fisherman's colourfully embroidered yarn of 'the one that got away' - the size of the elusive salmon magically increasing with every telling. I swigged my pint and joined in the general revelry. But the fun story of a frustrating day of fruitless casting by the riverbank also caused me to reflect on my own experience of a quite different kind of fisherman's tale - the one that tells of extreme hardship and danger in the hostile environment of deep-sea trawling.
The hardy souls who inhabit that world have no need of bragging rights when recounting their high seas adventures. Every one of them knows that the real-life deprivation and risk of their occupation far surpasses any improbable yarn dreamt up in the cosy surroundings of a wayside tavern. Trawlermen's howffs are bawdy dockside bars where they drink to erase, not recall, their most awful memories and to dim the perilous prospects of their next voyage.
Those of the crews who do not shipwreck on booze when ashore tend to be introspective, they speak little of their life at sea. Many lead quiet lives and cherish their time at home with family. 'Skipper Jim' was one such softly spoken man. He lacked the rugged features and vulgar nature of many seamen but was no less hard as lobsters' claws through it. Jim 'treated' me to my one and only experience of life as a deep-sea trawlerman. The two week winter voyage to the North Atlantic fishing grounds in search of cod, halibut, herring and haddock proved to be one of the most chastening experiences of my young life. At fifteen and fit, I considered myself to be as tough as they come. How wrong I was!
As the veritable 'boy amongst men' I was worked to the bone. After just two days my hands were chaffed red raw from hauling cables, cleaning nets, manhandling boxes, shoveling ice and gutting fish. I was given every toughest, filthiest and most dangerous job going. This included a terrifying clamber to secure the radio antenna at the top of the mast in a fearsome gale, driving sleet and heaving seas. I rarely slept. Whenever I did steal a moment to rest my battered body in a cramped box bunk, I was inevitably immediately awoken with the cry that the nets were being cast again - a fresh shoal of fish had been detected on the sonar.
I was the constant butt of the crew's jokes. They nicknamed me 'Tom Thumb'. Not that I was small in stature but because I was short on experience, knowledge and, most of all, the stamina of body and spirit with which they, to a man, abounded. Some boasted impressive physiques but mostly they were wirey individuals, tough as the seamen's thigh-high boots they wore and impervious to anything that man or nature could throw at them. They laughed, joked and leg-pulled incessantly. Humour was the bedrock of their existence. I've never forgotten that.
Through the trawlermen I understand that there is no situation in which I might find myself in life which remotely compares to the discomfort and danger of their harsh life at sea. If they can laugh in the face of such daunting adversity, then I know that I can easily find fun in far less demanding circumstances. As an entrepreneur, business or self-employed person, you would be wise to do likewise.
When you laugh at yourself and permit others to laugh with you, then life's inevitable setbacks are diminished. Difficulties can become advantages. Trawlermen inherently know this and the salmon fisherman relating his tale of 'the one that got away' is doing just that. He is turning his failure to land the fish into a triumph of self-effacing story telling. There is so much, much more to fisherfolk, and to fishermen's tales, than just the size of the salmon!
I am Tom Riach. I live and write in the sunny south of Portugal.
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THE ONE THT GOT AWAY is an original copyright Tom Riach feature.
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See you there! Regards, Tom.