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.

 

 

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 42 The Romance of Sail

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.

Rogge Bay.

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.

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 19 Parenting Advice

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.

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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.”

Image result for children on the beach 1900 south africa

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.

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“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.

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From Boatsheds to Battlefields 6 On Women and Religion

End of 5th Entry: As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers, Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”

“If I had I wouldn’t be giving them to her. I want them myself. I like flowers and so do Dad and the Mater. Think I’d bally well give Disas to a girl? Not much!

Old Jack reckons women are a necessary evil. Get keen on them and it’s all up with a chap. They’re like snakes. I know a chap that makes pets of snakes. Well he plays with them and likes them and some are jolly pretty but he has to be jolly careful or they’ll turn on him. Girls are like that or like a kitten – she plays nicely as long as you do, but if you get tired or don’t keep giving her things, she scratches.

Old Muhammad Abdul, he’s old and he has been to Mecca – he’s a Hadji and can handle a boat better than anyone in the world – well if he doesn’t know about girls who does? He’s had ten wives and has scores of children – he told me the Holy Prophet said God only made girls to be playthings when young and to be workers when old.

Old Jack says the same and he has sailed round the Horn and been in the South Sea Islands.

Abdul he says girls are made to give men enjoyment and women to work for men and ease their lives – the Prophet said so and he reckoned women and girls didn’t go to Heaven, they just died, bar the prettiest and they were taken to Heaven to minister to the wants of men. I reckon Muhammad was a darn good man and made a fine religion.

The Christian religion is all ‘You mustn’t do this and you mustn’t do that’. I reckon the parsons have made it all quite different to what Christ wanted. He was always chums with the fishermen and publicans and sinners and if this religion was like the Christian religion today none of the fishing crowd would have followed him.

I like the old Norse religion too – Thor and Odin and their crowd had a good religion. I feel darn sorry for the old jarls and Vikings in the Sagas being driven into the North and killed by the followers of the White Christ (term used by the Vikings because the converts wore white robes). I reckon the Vikings, Moors, and Aztecs were a better crowd than the Portuguese and Spaniards.

All the crowds had civilizations without Christianity and they stuck to their religions. I reckon the Catholics were right to have the Inquisition. If a nation has a religion all the crowd that isn’t true to it ought to be tortured – only its got to be a proper religion where everybody knows what are the rules of it like the Catholics.

Bertie looked at Mick in a worried fashion – “Why on earth do you keep thinking about deep things like religion, Mick? No other fellow of our age does.”

Well, sailors and fishermen and mountain folk do. The Malays are always talking about the Prophet and the Koran, and sailors talk about God; not like Sunday School people, but wondering what God’s like and whether he takes into consideration Jack’s hard life, or whether he’s like a Yankee Skipper with Gabriel and Michael and St Peter (Peter, a Jewish fisherman, was called to be a disciple of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry) as mates and boatswain. Most reckon they’ll get a square deal up loft but skippers and mates and bo’suns and shipowners they’ll get chucked into Hell. Well, let’s get moving.”

“Let’s get out on the side of the Window first,” replied Bertie and swinging on their rucksacks they made off down the stream by which they had camped. A hundred yards and they paused – the tiny burn dropped over into a huge cleft of incredible savagery – wild rocks, great precipices dripping water with nowhere a possible route to be seen.

Thousands of feet below lay a wonderful view of the Indian Ocean, its long rollers breaking against the white beach of Muizenberg – All False Bay backed by its mighty mountain ranges lay before them – just under was the famous Constantia Valley with its ancient Dutch Homesteads, its vineyards and orchards and the beautiful suburbs of Cape Town below.

A while they gazed awestruck at the immensity of it all, then turned to once again continue their tramp.

 

From Boatsheds to Battlefields 5 What are you going to do with your flowers?

End of 4th Entry: Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out in search of flowers.

Once out of the gorge the boys set off at a fast swinging walk back to the tunnel top from where they continued on eastwards once again spreading out to search for flowers.

Turning to the South the lads, still picking an occasional flower, worked up to where the Disa Valley, dammed in two places by stupendous stone walls, formed two blue lochs.

Backed to the East by the mass of heather and bracken-covered hill which formed the back of Table Mountain, a tiny moor flanked the West and North, the head of a glen filled with pines bounding the Southern end; the two great reservoirs which supplied Cape Town with water presented as wild and beautiful a sight as any Scottish mountain scene.


woodhead dam

Woodhead Dam

Passing over the hundred and the twenty-foot wall of the Woodhead Reservoir Mick and Bertie worked the moorland to the West until they came to the pines. Regaining the path they passed a little white beach on which the blue wavelets broke playfully, then striding outreached the head of Skeleton Gorge.

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Leaving the path the boys struck up a brae face and began to reap a good harvest of red crassula and cluster disas until coming over the braehead they arrived at Window Gorge.

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At the shelter, rucksacks were again discarded and a fire made. Both lads were now beginning to feel the heavy tramping and climbing. Blackened, sodden with sweat, scratched and muscle weary they thankfully lay basking in the sun too weary to unpack food or feel inclined for it.

“It’s a queer thing now,” remarked Mick “how girls spoil everything. If we had had girls with us we wouldn’t have had any fun. Just walking on the paths talking silly rot. It’s the same with a boat – have a girl in her and the day’s wasted. If there’s a wind you’ve got to reef down and watch other chaps carrying full sail. I hate girls and fellows that are always mucking around with them.”

Bertie grinned – “You’re a queer lad Mick – all you Boatshed mob are like a crowd of heathen – girls are all right – better than a lot of Malays and half-caste and sinful old white men that have been in gaol. Man, your brothers and sisters must feel rotten when they see low fishermen and flower sellers greeting you.”

“Then they’re blooming snobs – the fishermen and flower sellers always take off their hats and say Sir in the streets. They’ve got darn sight better manners than the stiffs one meets all dressed up. They’re men not blooming stiffs that sit writing and tallying figures all their lives. Chaps that play tennis and walk about with girls – that’s not life man Bertie.”

Flowers seller, Adderley Street, Cape Town. Franco Frescura Collection.

“A chap isn’t a milksop if he plays tennis or walks about with girls – if he doesn’t he’s low and a disgrace to his family and he’s sure to end up poor and looked down on – ends his life sitting in a corner getting the family’s scraps and cast off clothes – a chap must be steady and work his way up otherwise he will be a burden or have to join the Salvation Army or go into a home or be like old George, or old Bowman doing odd jobs and getting drunk – all your sailors and soldiers and other chaps that aren’t steady end up that way.

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Night watchmen, porters, doorkeepers and so on – look at Smith and Williams, they were at Oxford and are of a good family yet roving around has landed them with the Malays.”

Image result for Malay Cape Town 1900sWomen and children from Cape Malay circa 1900

Mick grunted, “Heaps of respectable people end up badly and lots of adventurous people get rich and powerful its just if one gets a chance and grabs it.”

“That’s all rot! Let’s get coffee made.”

As the two lunched Bertie looking at their spoil remarked “What are you going to do with your flowers Mick? You haven’t got a girl.”