From Boatsheds to Battlefields 43 Harvest of the Sea

End of 42nd Entry: There seemed no bottom to the sea – fathom after fathom of line ran out – however the rush of line at last slackened and gently hauling in the fishermen got the true depth and slowly raising and lowering their lines kept the baited hooks a foot or two from the ground.

Suddenly Mick felt an added weight to his line – instantly he struck hard across the gunwale and began hauling in with heart and soul. Now and again he felt the weight stirring feebly but there was no live, fighting demon, hooked only a solid mass it seemed.

An eternity of hauling and a big-headed, slimy bodied fish came to the surface and began to make a weak attempt to struggle – lifting it into the boat Mick swung it between his knees picked up the cudgel at his feet and with a smashing blow stunned it. Unhooking the fish he rebaited the hook and dropped the line overboard.

Dawn was slowly breaking and now and again one of the crew hauled in a fish, but it was deadly slow, monotonous work, and Mick found far more excitement and interest in the distant view of Table Mountain, the surrounding boats and the faraway peaks of the Drakenstein and Hottentot Holland Mountains.

At last the sun broke from the horizon and soon after what little activity had been shown by the fish ceased. Boats now began to pull away back to the distant shore and the ‘Violet’s’  skipper with a grunt started to haul in his lines.

“Three a man and two for the boat – it is good,” he remarked in Cape Dutch. He was satisfied with the catch – stockfish were selling at 1/3 to 1/9 apiece and anything over 3/- per man was a good day’s earnings in the slack season – when the great shoals of snoek came men would earn up to £2 a day – but meanwhile – a few shillings a day from fish, a few shillings from precious mountain flowers gathered at infinite risk and with much labour was plenty.

Living cost little or nothing and one could get drunk for a shilling. Life was simple and presented few worries.

A light easterly breeze sprung up soon after the stockfish banks were left and as the first cats’ paws darkened the water the mast was stepped – at first the sail made little difference, but it was not long before the breeze freshened, and the ‘Violet’ with added impetus started to forge ahead as the light duck bellied out to the wind.

Soon the boat heeled slightly over and her bows diving into the playful wavelets sent a chorus of gurgles and splashes into the soft warm air. The oars were laid in and sprawling on the thwarts the fishermen lit pipes and gave themselves up to slumber, Mick taking the tiller and mainsheet.

More to kill time than out of seriousness Mick, finding little to do in the light breeze, opened his line box and fitted a trolling line – a great barbless hook bent on to two feet of stout picture wire softened by fire had a tiny circlet, from which dangled a dozen narrow strips of sharkskin, slipped above it – a long cone shaped lead covered with a burnished brass skin was passed down the wire to hold the lure and help it – making the wire fast onto a strong fishing line Mick flung it overboard, let it run perhaps twenty feet and fastened the line around his leg.

Now and again he hauled in and flung out the line but with little interest – suddenly as he was hauling, something swirled at the surface Mick felt the line almost torn from his hands and with a wild yell of “Vas – Snoek you blighters” the youth hauled with might and main at something which fought like a thing possessed.

At his shout, the boat’s crew galvanized into mad activity – line boxes were flung open – similar trolling lines to Mick’s hurled overboard and every man began to pull in, throw out, haul back like a set of demons, meanwhile Mick brought a streak of burnished silver with long narrow pikelike jaws to the boat’s counter.

The thing fought desperately – it’s back a ridge of cruel spines standing erect, it’s doglike teeth snapping viciously, seizing the wire close to the devil’s mouth Mick heaved four feet of furious fighting fish under his armpit, slipped a thumb into one of it’s eyes, his fingers closing hard against a ridge under the lower jaw and releasing the hook flung it overboard. Bending he picked up the cudgel cracked Mr. Snoek neatly on the centre of his skull and dropping him, grabbed again at his line.

The others had not been idle and as the boat sailed easily along her sides were filled with silver flashes. For five minutes the work was fast and furious then the shoal either all caught or diverted by something was lost. Though far from other craft their activity had been seen by some keen Malay eye, and a score of boats turning from the homeward course was racing down, the crews bending backward and forwards like automatic figures.

Mick scrambled back to the bows and the skipper resumed his position. Again came the cry “Vas” and once more the crew flung themselves into furious work. Other boats sailed by – some cast anchor and dropped over baited lines and for two hours with brief spells between shoals, the fishermen laboured at gathering the harvest of the sea.

Then a boat hoisting sail set her course for Table Bay. Instantly the fleet ceased its fishing and in a few minutes, every boat was racing for the markets.

 

 

 

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