One way or another, Trevor Simpson has had salt in his veins for most of his life. He joined the Royal Navy at just sixteen as a Boy Seaman, 2nd Class, ‘surely the lowest form of life on the planet!’ he suggests.
Nine years later in 1956 at the rank of Able Bodied Seaman he joined ‘Civvy Street’ and proclaimed he would do just about anything but ‘Me and the sea is finished’! For several years he worked at various jobs until a ‘life-changing’ experience as Head Lifeguard at the Cornish town of Newquay set him on a new course.
Every day as I patrolled the beaches, I breathed in the salt air and my ears were full o the sound of the surf and so, bit-by-bit, the sea was calling me back.’ Following a few more adventures in the labour market he shipped on as a crewman on a small lobster boat in Newquay and never looked backed.
Learning his new craft of sea-fishing, making pots, mending nets and working from dawn until dusk, Trevor started keeping a diary ‘…to record the weather, and the numbers of crawfish and lobsters we caught. Basically that, together with the areas we fished, was supposed to be all of it.‘
But the momentum of adding ‘scraps of information‘ or ‘snatches of conversations‘ or recounted stories of what was happening to other fishermen kept going, and have been faithfully written up into a reminiscence covering the years 1962-1967.
‘A diary is peculiar thing‘, he writes. ‘Just reading through it has triggered so many memories. It transports me back to Newquay. Suddenly I am “down harbour” again and standing on the yellow sand. The sun is baking the seaweed on the harbour wall and it smells good.
‘As the tide floods into the harbour the boats come afloat. The crews slip their moorings and the boats head out to sea, their mizzen sails are barked canvas, red-brown in colour. Ropes are made of manila or sisal. The skippers and the crewmen are young and strong.’
The diary recalls Trevor’s impressions of life in a small fishing community, of adventures on sea and on land and of battles with hostile elements both natural and manmade. It also charts his own progression from crewman to skipper of his own boat.
1965 was ‘a difficult year,’ he writes. ‘The scarcity of crawfish and the frequent spells of bad weather resulted in many divers losing interest and vanishing from the scene. ….In what little spare time we had we went to the loft and worked on our newly acquired longlines. We replaced the worn snoods, the lengths of twine that held the hooks to the back line and we fitted two thousand new swivel hooks.’
Trevor and his faithful Reaper – a 34ft, 6ins larch on oak inshore boat were a regular sight along the Cornish coast and he recalls when his position changed from crewman to skipper:
‘On Friday 12 May 1967, at 6am, Reaper left his moorings and steamed swiftly out through the quay gap, just as she had done a thousand and more times. This time though, things were different. The real skipper was gone and instead of him I was standing there in the wheelhouse. I was acutely aware of how little I knew about this part of the job and the sudden responsibility of it weighted heavily on me.’
After a day’s fishing and Reaper secured in the harbour, Trevor reached for the previous skipper’s battered notebook. ‘I slowly turned the water-stained pages and read the names of the landmarks, which Mike had recorded in his bold handwriting. I realised that this unique little book would guide me precisely onto so many fishing spots.’
But the onset of continuous poor fishing, rising costs and endless bad weather, Trevor started looking west and to the prospect of brighter days: ‘I asked myself, What difference would it make? I knew there was more fishy ground to the westward of us… Preparing to head to Hayle, roughly a four-hour steam west, ‘Suddenly it hit me! Why was I wasting my day? I must get up off my arse and go to Dublin. It was time to talk to the people in Ireland and find out what was needed for me to go and live and fish over there.’
Ireland bound In the late 1960s, Trevor explored his ideas with the BIM, the Irish sea-fisheries board, and a meeting was arranged with then secretary, James O’Connor. ‘”We were thinking”, O’Connor said, “considering the type of boat you have and the kind of fishing you are engaged in, we do have a place which might suit you very well.The idea was that Trevor might assist the village of Goleen [Co Cork] ‘“to get fishing going”.’
But chance or otherwise was not to bring Trevor to Goleen. Foul weather and heavy seas faced Reaper as she headed west to a new life and the battered crew made landfall at Tramore where they were advised they’d be better off in Dunmore East just an hour away.
‘It was just after 7pm when on 22 August 1967’ when they passed the lighthouse.
Published by The Manuscript Publisher (ISBN: 978-0-9576729-5). Available online at http://www.themanuscriptpublisher.com/bookshop/diary-of-a-cornish-fisherman-by-trevor-simpson