From loose handwritten pages written in my Grandfather’s hand almost 100 years ago
transcribed into a Blog by me his Granddaughter Trish Armstrong née Leffler
and then the pages bound in leather the colour of African soil
End of 43rd Entry: 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.
The Easterly wind had dropped soon after snoek had been biting and until noon the sea was like glass – as soon as the boats started off home, however, a strong Westerly wind was coming down, and with a good beam wind the ‘Violet’ went crashing Sou’ West through a welter of rushing white horses.
Soon the coast a mass of black jagged rocks rose threatening before her, but the skipper held on till near the breaking surf – then round into the wind swung the boat, hesitating a moment with fluttering canvas – the headsail filled and bore the bows round, and as she paid off the mainsail swung over, filled – and off went the ‘Violet’ roaring out to sea aslant the wind.
When well to the windward of the snow-white beach at whose edge the ‘Alice’ was already lying Violet’s skipper once again brought her head into the wind, round she came and with sea and wind behind went flying down on even keel and a little later a merry crew were casting fish after fish on to a pile. When the catch was altogether the crew shared equally, this done each man threw an eighth of his share to go to the boat’s owners.
“Three stockfish and thirty snoek apiece” quoth Mick gleefully to Jack as he turned to bargain with the Indian owner of a fish hawker’s cart – “Come on Sammy fifty bob the lot.”
“Twenty shillings,” said the hawker “Berry much snoek to-day.”
“Garn – the ‘Alice’ crew only shared out two stockfish apiece – ‘Violet’ got all the snoek no Cape Town boats – 45/- – Sammy!”
“Me give twenty-five!” but eventually he paid thirty and retailed the lot at £2/5.
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.
Cape Town slept peacefully beneath the sheltering mass of grey old Table Mountain. Now and again a belated cab or a wagon of farm produce clattered, or rumbled noisily through deserted streets – the tramp of policeman sounded eerily in the stillness. The yellow flashes of his lantern cutting long beams through the air laden with sea and valley mists.
Below Adderley Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, some two hundred heavily built fishing boats lay massed on the tiny beach of Rogge Bay and though midnight had not long passed dark figures singly and in pairs, in little groups were already appearing from the town and gathering in knots around their craft.
Soon a move was made – sixteen wiry powerful fishermen collected round one boat – stout poles were slipped through rope nooses in bow and stern – the men lined out four on either side of the bow and four on either side of the stern, bending they got their shoulders under the poles and on a sharp order from the boat’s skipper lifted the heavy boat and staggered down to the water’s edge.
Once the work started it progressed rapidly three or four crews combining to carry each other’s craft down. The co-workers tally of boats complete mast and sail wrapped in stout tarpaulin, heavy stone anchors, anchor rope, oars, line boxes, cudgels for stunning fish and other gear were swiftly brought down and stowed – oars were slipped and soon boat after boat rowed into the dark covered night.
Two of the fishing craft, ‘Violet’ and ‘Alice’ seemed strangers amongst the rest of the fleet, and no helping hands appeared to be extended to their crew. ‘Alice’ a lighter type than the standard fishing boat presented no difficulty to the two crews easily carrying her down. ‘Violet’ on the other hand was an exceptionally heavy, five-oared craft, and the air around her was sulphurous as seven men and a white youth vainly endeavoured to half carry, half drag her.
“Damn these Malays” ejaculated Mick “they wouldn’t help an outsider if he was starving – I’m not going to strain my back or heart – say, Jack, what about cadging a bit of help from one or other of the boats?”
“You can try Mr. Osmond” answered the other powerful, bearded white man – “mebbe hearing your winning tongue a miracle might happen, but I ain’t bettin’ on it.”
Explaining his intentions to the others, a wild looking lot of Cape Coloured men, Mick dived into the mass of busy fisherfolk and in the dim light sought for one of the old pureblood Malay skippers. A white-bearded turbaned man, short, stout and evidently of importance was soon found.
Gravely the skipper listened to Mick’s tale of woe and answered in a merry full voice “Young Gentleman my people do not like these Clifton people – they are drunken scoundrels and it is not good for young white gentlemen to be with them. However, for your sake, I will give help” and in a few words sent half a dozen Malays to Mick’s help.
“Proper gentlemen the old Malay people are” remarked Mick to Jack as they helped stow away the boat’s gear after thanking the helpers.
“Aye Mr. Osmond” answered the fisherman, “Malays, Blacks, Chinese, and South Sea Islanders, they are all gentlefolk with manners and morals, until white man’s religion and white man’s civilisation spoils ’em.”
The two boats soon pushed off – their own fishing station was some six miles by land from Cape Town but the previous week a howling North West gale had caught them at sea, and the skipper after a stern battle had turned and run for Three Anchor Bay only to find the surf running too heavily to venture in. Cape Town then remained the only resource so squaring away the two boats went tearing down before the strong wind and heavy following sea.
Mick had been in ‘Alice’ the lighter of the two and had found all the thrills he wanted. This time he was pulling the bow in the ‘Violet’ and it wasn’t long before he was cursing freely for the boat was as heavy to pull as to carry. The ‘Alice’ had taken three men beside the skipper, leaving the ‘Violet’ the same number which made her two short for a full crew.
Slowly the fishing boat was pulled across Table Bay passing by many sparred Sailing Ships, rolling slowly at their anchorage, under the towering sides of huge cargo steamers, in amongst dainty racing yachts until a mile from the beach they rounded the gates of Cape Town’s docks and entered into a world of ghostly creakings, manifold smells and weird shapes and shadows.
Here the fishing fleet gathered under the skeleton arms of monstrous cranes, besides great ocean liners, next to sea battered sailing craft, beside slimy green coated wharvers, and began to reap a harvest of small fish to be used as bait for bigger relations.
Holding candles and lanterns close to the surface of the water and liberally sowing breadcrumbs, the fishermen soon had shoal after shoal of a small type of herring swimming up to the lights – a large scoop net on the end of a pole was then brought into play and before long the boat’s flooring boards were covered with beautifully tinted fish. As each boat satisfied its’ wants it began to move off to the far distant fishing grounds.
There was no wind so as the boats gathered way, crews settled into the long Cape Stroke each man rising to his feet and with all his weight pulling slowly and steadily until his body sat once more on the thwart and the oar loom was against his breast – the skipper reversing the process and pushing against his oar.
The sea, black and noiseless, heaved slowly in mountain-like rollers and deep hollows, but as the oars dipped into the dark water and rose back into the air, molten streams of violet fire ran from the blades.
“Terrible lot of phosphorous to-night Jack” called Mick from the bows.
“Aye, it will have been that Nor’ Wester done that” answered Jack spitting overboard – “tis a good sign for fish and a spell o’ quiet at sea – it’s pretty stuff. Wish to blazes we could get a breeze though – it’s about ten miles to the Stockfish banks and from there ’bout fourteen to Clifton – Blast fishing I say ’tis a crool hard life – but there’s wuss.” he ended emphatically.
“What’s worse, Jack?” asked Mick laughingly.
“Afore the mast on a windbag” answered the other. “Foolish folk make pictures and write books and poems about the romance of sail, and weep ‘cos it’s days are passing. Damn good job says I – them that likes sailing ships let them vige with ’em” says I “it’ll learn them not to be foolish minded I reckon. Three pun ten a month and that stolen at the end – a body full o’ sores – a constitution ruined by wet – all crippled and broken with work and livin’ on stuff what writers and poets and suchlike wouldn’t give their dorgs they wouldn’t, and if they did the dorgs wouldn’t eat it not they. Blast sailing ships I say.”
Three hours of hard work brought the ‘Violet’ to her fishing ground an hour before dawn – all around the night was alive with the splash of oars and creak of hole pins whilst muffled voices sounded faintly from the dark. It was too deep to anchor so two men gently held the boat against the drift of current as the other three dropped their thick cotton lines overboard – each line was weighted by a heavy cone-shaped sinker of lead above which there were three immense barbed hooks baited with whole Cape Herring.
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.
End of 18th Entry: “Smartly done me, lad! Smartly done!” said the Skipper laughing as he dropped his line overboard.
For an hour the crew fished catching a few of the reddish white Silverfish and a couple of large-mouthed goggle-eyed red bodied fish called Jacopever whose name was supposed to come from a resemblance to an old sea captain of that name.
The fish were not biting briskly though and Old Jack’s grumbles became a source of irritation to the Skipper who at last gave the order to weigh anchor and make sail.
“You’d make a darn good success driving a hearse Jack,” said the stroke oar a taciturn worthy “Pity your mother didn’t smother you when you were a kid.”
Growling some indistinguishable reply Jack proceeded to slack away the anchor rope from the bow-post and slip it on the small wheel over which it was hauled. The rest of the crew tailing on the rope soon had the anchor up and hoisting it aboard proceeded to make sail.
“Had a good day, Mick? asked the Skipper as he shipped the rudder and slackened off the sheet.
“The best of my life!” answered the boy enthusiastically.
“Well if your people will let you, I’ll take you out on a real fishing trip – be at the boatsheds at four on Saturday morning.
“Oh! Thank you, Mr. Pienaar, I’ll be down, no fear.”
“I don’t hold with little byes going in boats.” Remarked Jack “I reckons as how boats and sojers spiles byes, makes ’em unsettled and takes them from their learning, if I had a bye I’d learn him better than go mucking about wi boats and ships I would – put wrong idees in byes heads it does.”
“How’d you bring up a youngster, Jack?” asked the stroke oar.
“I dunno exactly – never had one to bring up but the way people brings up byes and gurls nowadays haint my idee of bringing up byes and gurls it haint, take the byes and gurls of this here place, they haint byes and gurls to my thinking they’s wild animals” and Jack expectorated at a passing gull.”
Mickey gazed at the Old Salt with speechless indignation, then said, “I suppose he likes a blooming milksop in a lace collar and a velvet suit, a girlie girlie with long golden locks!”
“Oh Jack likes everything that’s contrary to other folks’ opinions,” remarked the Skipper grinning.
The boat was running before the wind with the mainsail squared away, and pleasant though the smooth run of the boat was to others, Mick began to yearn for something less tame. The stroke oar had shown him how to tie his fish into a bunch by passing a strip of osies (can’t find a translation) through the gills and mouth – he had asked all the questions he could think of for the moment and at the end of the trip was approaching too rapidly for his liking.
“Can’t we have just one more run against the wind, Mr. Pienaar,” he asked “Only a small one.”
“Sorry Mick, it’s too late and we are not for pleasure – this is our job and like all jobs, we’re glad to see it over just as you are when school finishes.”
“I said a kid shouldn’t be allowed in boats,” remarked Jack ‘it spiles them and they’re allers in the way askin’ questions and worrying folk – you gives a bye a happle and he wants a cake to eat with it, byes is a worrit to their pa’s and ma’s and to everybody else. I don’t like byes I don’t.”
Mick put out his tongue at the fisherman’s back a feat which drew much silent mirth from the two Malay half-breeds.
By this time Boat Bay had been reached and with a fast dropping wind the fishing craft rounded the reef and the tide being high ran onto the tiny beach.
A tiny crowd of people drawn by curiosity or the desire to buy fresh fish gathered round and proudly Mick sprang ashore noting with glee the envious looks of half a dozen school companions.
I would like to thank the photographers and the passionate people who have given me access to photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s for bringing my grandfather’s story to life.
End of 17th Entry: “Come aft and tell me how I must steer to get on the bank.” Quickly working his way back the eager youngster looked shorewards.
“Look at Bartholomew’s Cross,” said the Skipper “Got it?”
“Yes” answered the boy, his eyes on a long straight cleft in a granite cliff below the Lion’s Head. Across this perpendicular crack was a horizontal cut which tradition asserted had been worked out by the Portuguese sailors of Bartholomew Dias.
“Now Mick take the top chimney of the Queen’s Hotel and get the line just tell me how to steer Port or Starboard.”
Wildly excited Mick began to issue his orders “Port a little – Oh! they’re going further from each other, Starboard a little! Starboard! Oh! More yet.”
Can’t be done Sonny, the boat won’t sail against the wind – we’ll have to beat out a bit further until we’re to windward of the imaginary straight line between those bearings and then come about and run down so I’ll keep on as I’m doing until we’re crossed that line – Now look back towards Cape Town and get the Three Anchor Bay Dutch Church spine in line with the signal station.”
Three Anchor Bay Dutch Church
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA ~ SIGNAL STATION ON SIGNAL HILL ~ c. 1904
“They are slowly coming into line as we’re going Skipper.”
That’s alright then – that bearing will give us the distance the bank is from the shore, the other the whereabouts of the bank and the cross bearing the exact spot.”
“We’re almost right with the Three Anchor Bay bearing.”
“Yes, but we’ll carry on until past the other, lower sail and drift or row down on to the bank.”
A little later Mick shouted – “We’re cutting the imaginary line now!”
“All right! Standby to lower” as the crew scrambled to their stations the Skipper put the boat into the wind and at the shout “Lower away!” down came the sail, out went the sprit, the shaking threshing canvas of fore and mainsail was smothered and furled the mast unstepped and the oars out.
“Oh! we’ve drifted past the one bearing”, cried Mick.
“Pull up Jack! Pull quickly! Koos”.
“Steady Youngster! Keep your head and don’t get flurried, come take the tiller and take command.”
Shivering with nervousness the boy obeyed, a roar from Jack as swinging broadside on the boat skipped a nasty bit of sea most of which got Jack terrified the lad, but putting his weight against the tiller, he brought her head on again – aided by a couple of hard strokes from one of the Port oars.
“Pull yourself together Youngster, don’t try and capsize us”, laughed the Skipper and gradually gaining confidence Mick after a mistake or two got the idea of steering and cross-bearing, “Pull her up a bit to allow for the anchor slack Kid – right – drop anchor now. We won’t worry about the bank testing.”
“Standby to drop anchor!” piped the childish treble “Pull her up a bit more. Come on Koos, you’re loafing! Pull! Let go Jack!” and over splashed the stone.
“Smartly done me, lad! Smartly done!” said the Skipper laughing as he dropped his line overboard.
From 10th Entry: For long I had been a pet amongst them and often I had begged to put to sea and at last as they ran the boat into the water Jack, the skipper, shouted “Jump in Youngster!” and in a second I had tumbled into the stern sheets and was embarked on a great adventure.
Often I had ridden the rollers in imagination and pictured and felt in my mind the sensations of climbing the mighty rollers and rushing into their trough but now I found the reality far more wonderful and glorious than the wildest flights of dreamland had given me. Clambering into the bow I faced the breaking white horses, reveled in the salty twang and bite of the wind, caught my breath as a wanton wave smashed against the boat and buried me in foaming water and spray.
A couple of miles out we threw anchor and soon the crew were busy with fishlines and great was my delight at hooking and hauling in a few mackerel. But soon the smell of old half rotten bait, the violent pitching, and rolling of the boat brought on violent seasickness. However, the bout did not last long and when eventually we hoisted anchor and set sail for shore I had given myself altogether to the sea. A year or two went by and I went out more and more often. Barely a Saturday, or holiday but I managed to evade authority and get out to sea or wandered along the coast.
At twelve I entered the cadet corps and for a while took soldiering seriously for the Boer War was just ending. During the three previous years, I had seen and heard much of the rear lines of the fighting army. We were armed with old Martini-Henry carbines and often I smuggled mine out to sea with looted cartridges and practiced at seabirds, or hunted the mountainside for rare and strictly protected game.
Then came the present of a beautiful decked canoe, a craft seaworthy, unsinkable and able to stand fairly heavy sea. Every moment I could now steal was devoted to fishing and most of the catches I found little difficulty in disposing of to buyers on the beach. Other youngsters now took up the life and in a year there were a dozen boys rivaling the fishermen at their own game and with the daring of boyhood faring forth in weather the men feared facing.
Our light canvas canoes, speedy easily handled and seaworthy dodged in and out of the channel when a heavy boat risked swamping ere she got full way on her and though often our canoes were capsized, now and again broken we all swum like fish and a most merciful providence invariably landed us no further hurt than bruises.
End of 8th Entry: The boat, however, was beginning to ship a lot of water and the weather was becoming wild and stormy. Again and again, curling waves broke against or over the boat until Jansen regretfully gave the order to haul up the anchor.
Pulling shoreward was no child’s play – the angry sea sucking the boat backward, gathered their strength and then with all their power hurled it flying down before them. Shipping the stroke Jansen bent both hands on the steering oar whilst the other three pulled steadily, half stopping, shooting half buried down a wall of water surrounded with flying stinging salt spray the gallant little boat drove homewards until a colossal mountain rose suddenly behind them.
“Hold Water” shrieked Jansen – “Pack all you know – Pack Boys! Pack like Hell.”
Straining might and muscle the crew checked the way of the boat and slowly began to move her sternwards.
Shipping the stroke oar Jansen his great and enormous strength to their aid – the boat rose higher higher higher – a huge threatening mass began to curl high over them – then just as every muscle seemed to be breaking the boat rose to an incredible height – a roaring avalanche seemed to break all about them, half filled with water yet still moving seawards the boat began to sink down the back of the Colossus – bellowing a stream of Danish oaths Jansen with a tremendous twist of the steering oar sent the boat spinning round and her bow came seawards.
This post links to the opening of the book where Mick is waiting and hoping that the Danish Captain will go fishing.
Excerpt from the opening post: A couple of hours past, then the day began to break but with the coming of light the prospects of putting to sea appeared negligible. The wind was blowing strongly, and beyond the line of breakers, the Atlantic was a flecked mass of curling, breaking waves racing shoreward. Surf combers were immense and the narrow rocky channel was a churning mill-race.
The coloured crew of a fishing boat after a look at the sea began to swing their boxes of fishing tackle on their shoulders preparatory to moving off home. Mick to his disgust heard his skipper tell the crew that it was hopeless attempting to put out.
“If I vos get a crew I vos going mit mine pram.” said the Dane “I haf mine son Teedore and I want another two men.”
“Can I come Mr. Jansen?” asked Mickey eagerly.
“Yes you can come, Mickey, and Otto, he vas not frightened. No!” and the burly Scandinavian gave a huge roar of laughter.
A strongly built youth answered that he would go and amidst a number of warnings from others a queer-shaped Scandinavian boat was carried to the water.
Though light enough to see, the night yet clung to the world helped by banks of dark cloud and grey mist piling and rolling over the sky and mountains, now and again came a drizzle of rain and the squalls of sea wind drove spray high from the waves.
As the boat was run into the water Mick jumped into the bow, Theodore Jansen and Otto went amidships. Old Jansen shipped a steering oar whaleboat fashion over the stern, shoving the stroke oar with one hand, whilst steering with the other. For a while the crew pulling gently held the boat head on to the breaking surf, keeping just floating distance off the shore. Whilst Jansen carefully watched the rollers breaking on an outlying point along the coast. The small crowd who had decided to stop ashore gathering at the water’s edge watching and shouting advice and warnings.
Suddenly the Old Dane gave a wild yell, “Pull togedder Boys! All you can! Pull Boys Pull!’ Four backs bent double, stout ash handles bent and the light craft, her queer blunt nose high in the air went racing seawards rising to, and smashing over and through a dozen waves – rolling to cross-currents, and standing almost on her stern to crash over a wave crest, taking a curling breaker fair and square a cascade of spray and water over her crew.
Old Jansen his light blue eyes pinpoints of flame, his long mustache blowing past his face bellowed encouragement whilst his great hairy arms and chest bulged with iron lumps of muscle as he stood half steering and pushing. Mick and the others a red mist waving before their eyes, muscles cracking with strain bent forward and backward with every sinew, every nerve, every muscle concentrated to breaking point.
“Easy all!” yelled Jansen and four figures relaxed and looked shoreward. They were beyond the breaking point of the rollers, but the tiny boat seemed to have broken through one great peril to enter a score of others.
All around were thousands of angry waves rising sullenly but quickly to hang an instant, draw suddenly back; then rearing a foaming white crest drive forward and down in a roaring angry mass of foam and broken water. The rollers themselves were range upon range of mountains, up whose ridges the boat was drawn to hang dizzily an instant before dropping down to the depths, whilst rolling down on it would come another vast wall of grey water.
Mick felt his stomach rise and fall with the combers – one minute the tiny boat was high in the air, and from her whole foreshore to the very water’s edge could be seen – another minute and the craft lay deep in a ravine with a mountain leaving them and one bearing ominously down – over the departing hill all that could be seen being the swirling mist and clouds about the summit of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.
A sharp order from Jansen brought the oars again into play and with an empty feeling, Mick bent to his work. For a while, the Old Viking held seawards then gave the commands to “Hold Water” and “Anchor”.
Being a good deal further out the swell was not so marked nor the sea as broken as in the surf line and Mick whose marrow had felt turned to water began to feel his spirits revive. Lines were soon down – each cast a light mackerel line a few yards away without a sinker and two heavy lines each with a large hook baited with a half Mackerel and loaded with heavy leaden sinkers were dropped overboard. Light lines were also put over and lowered to the ground in case any small fish such as Hottentot were about and these soon began to be busy.
The oval bronzed Hottentot fish weighing from one to six pounds biting freely. Now and again a small shoal of Mackerel or their cousins the Maasbanker gave a few exciting minutes, during which every hand was hauling in fish as hard as he could. After a while, Jansen ordered the mackerel lines in as the fish were practically unsaleable and more than could be used as bait had been caught.
Suddenly one of Mick’s big lines began to tighten, quivering with anxiety he got hold and felt it sucking heavily from him – Jansen leaning forward shouted to him to give line slowly until the fish ran – all at once the line pulled strongly.
“Strike as hard as you can!” shouted Jansen and Mick obeying felt as though he was going out of the boat. With all his might and with all his strength the lad hauled at a heavy fighting monster. The sweat poured off him, the line cut into his hands but lost to everything but the mad joy of battle Mick brought his victim slowly but surely towards the surface, until with a swirl of backwash a great salmon like fish broke water.
With all the power left in him, helped by the impetus of the fish’s dash Mick brought his quarry over the side and like a flash wrapped his legs around it. Holding on like grim death with one hand to the soft wire between hook and line Mick grasped a short heavy bludgeon handed him by Otto and smashed blow after blow on the shapely head. The powerful writhing struggling stilled and absolutely exhausted Mick hand over the thwart, whilst Theodore and Jansen both began to haul like men possessed away Mick’s other line began to move. Mick grabbed at it and once more every aching muscle was working.
Jansen and his son with their mighty arms hauled their fish rapidly to the service, stunned them outside the boat and lifted them in – Mick using the last atom of his strength just managing to swing his into the boat and fall on it. For a few minutes fish and Mick were mingled in a wild wrestling bout amidst roars of laughter from the Danes and Otto – then seeing an opportunity Otto whirled a cudgel aloft and brought it crashing on the fish – as he did so one of his lines tautened and with an oath he clutched at it and struck hard – but no solid fighting weight rewarded his effort.
“Too quick and too hard,” said Jansen reprovingly, “like dis you must do,” and the skipper once again striking began to haul hand over hand.
The boat, however, was beginning to ship a lot of water and the weather was becoming wild and stormy. Again and again, curling waves broke against or over the boat until Jansen regretfully gave the order to haul up the anchor.