The Nil Desperandum was orginaly built for the uk gov, but was bought by a family in Shetland, and converted to a seine net fishing boat fishing mainly for mixed species whitefish around the Islands.
I was lucky enough to “sail” to the fishing on occasion in the summer time, and the skipper set a course for the waters near Mousa, the island which has the great example of an iron age “broch”, possibly one of the best in Europe.
As you can see from the picture, it’s a stone built “cylindrical shaped work, and probably due to it’s island location, it has escaped the “stone gathering” of other more easily accessible ancient ruins.
As we approached from a distance, the skipper told me to; “go up to the ships bough, and hold the rail tight”,
You can imagine my joy as dolphins rode the crest of the wave on either side as the skipper held full ahead, the spray splashed my face as the dolphins flicked and rolled, always keeping a tails breadth away from the stem as they darted from side to side.
We neared the grounds, and the mate dropped the flag marked bouy and coils and coils of rope started shooting over the side as the boat steamed, then the net was cast as the skipper changed direction to start making the sides of a triangle, once the net was fully out, the boat again changed direction, steaming back towards the marker bouy, and dispatching the second length of coiled rope,
The mate stood ready with a long handled hook, and grabbed the bouy with the first length, as third side of the triangle was completed. Quickly the crew set the rope to the “coiler” and winch on the foredeck, and the skipper held the position and the long retrieval of the net commenced.
It seemed like ages had passed, and I viewed the shadows of the mainland cast on the Broch the diminishing daylight, transfixed and hypnotized by the gentle rock and sway of the sea, and lulled by the diesel powered low rumble of the engine and ratlle of the winch as it pulled the net even closer. The coils of rope again filled the foredeck, and the winch strained as the codend gained volume.
It’s a tricky job landing a net full of fish, concentration is required as a wrong pull on the winch control or a freak swell can render the operation a catastrophe as the net may come into contact with the screw, costing both net and contents, but no such a thing happened this time a “flat calm” and experienced hand soon had the net poised over the fish-deck, and the tie was released and cod, whiting, haddock, skate, ray., monks, anglers, hermit crab, squid and octopus spilled out.
The crew sprung into action and the net was readied for the next pull, then as the skipper sped to the next spot, the men busied them selves gutting and boxing the spoils of the sea.
I was amazed as a massive flock of gulls gathered in the wake, picking off the surface, and sometimes right off the end off the gutting knife, the internal workings of each fish, all manner of seabird species careered and dived to salvage a morsel of our cast offs, Removal of the guts most necessary to preserve the longevity of the catch to last not just to market, but to shop, and eventual the housewives plate, a fish shop or three in every town, and a van for all the villages in between.
It only got as dark as twilight, and then got back to normal daylight before the eye and the clock. This far north, there are long long days in summer, very short nights.
I was really tired, and the skipper pointed out a bunk bed down under the decks, the boat had three berths on each side, a bit cramped for a full grown man, but snug as a bug for a 12 year old boy,
I drifted off to images of wheeling swooping black backed gulls, and arctic skuas.
I awake to the sound of voices, we had berthed back at Lerwick harbor, and the men were landing the fish, three or for boxes at a time were being hauled up on to the pier by a rope and winch controlled jib.
I rubbed my eyes, at 6am it was already bright daylight, and climbed the ladder up to the pier and hurried off home to tell my gran.
pic courtesy of shetland museum