Friday, 27 August 2010

Ilfracombe, Day Two: Come Hell or High Water

"Lundy, southwesterly, 3 to 4, increasing 5 or 6 at times. later increasing 7 to gale 8, veering south Easterly, moderate or rough, occasionally very rough later, rain or showers, fog patches, moderate to poor, occasionally very poor."

That's what we didn't know...

What we did know was that we'd booked a four hour deep sea trip for eleven thirty and at dawn the conditions were looking good, if not excellent for it. A slight sea, overcast but dry. If it continued this way then we'd have a great time.

Just yesterday I'd caught the TV weather forecast whilst downing a pint at village pub and that had predicted a fine afternoon with southerly winds and light breezes...

Looked like it might be reliable.

Just before seven, the rain started. Nevermind, you know what they say, 'rain before seven, clear by eleven,' and all that old tripe. What was there to worry about?

We got to port at eleven, I bought a cheap cagoule to keep the worst of the weather out, as the rain had not yet eased, had a cuppa, then booked in and boarded our boat along with a family party comprising of a dad, his sons and their girlfiends, and another dad and his teenage son, together with us making up a contingent of nine for the afternoon. A little crowded, but not quite as bad as a full complement of twelve, which is five feet of leader times one dozen, and all swinging around in the tide and in the mouths of fish in a space on the sea bed no larger than the average living room! It can be a bloody mayhem of crossed lines if the tide is running hard, the boat is moving around and the fish are about in numbers.

I hoped the skippers mate was up to it, as it's his job not only to safely boat all the fish and unhook them too, but also rebait everybody and untangle them as well.

Is that a Union Jack we see there, or a red flag....?

Steaming out of Ilfracombe, the sea was mild mannered and the wind, well, there really wasn't much to talk of. We anchored a quarter mile offshore and set out for an hour there, before venturing offshore to ground off Morte Point promising some of the heavyweights of the Bristol Channel.

Bait was mackerel of course, it being the charter skipper's bait of choice for just about everything and just about everything loves its greasy slick. Hooks were a whopping 5 or even 6/0. Heavens, were we expecting small sharks here? Rods were the standard charter boat complement of cheap modern or battered ancient articles, some held together with tape and luck, teamed to 1960's or 70's Penn 60 multipliers, reels which seem to go on for ever and ever. Line, blue, heavy, thirty pounds, perhaps? Lead, a pound and a half, a running rig, and a hooklength of four or five feet.

I headed for my favourite peg at the right side of the stern, a position which gives all the best options as far as I am concerned. I got it. Down went all the nine baits to thirty feet and we waited the obligatory twenty minutes for the fish to come up the scent trail to them. I was the first angler to get a bite, my bait being dead centre of the scent trail, and then up came the first lesser spotted dogfish, foul hooked in the top of the head. I let it go as its capture was unsporting. Over the next hour I had a further two LSD, both keepers, Steve had two also and pretty much everybody else had a few each with only one angler blanking.

By the end of the doggy session the sea was increasing noticeably, the wind rising and the rain coming in waves. Some of the anglers were looking decidedly pale, not puky as yet, but visibly on the way to throwing their breakfast to the gulls. We upped anchor and started the journey out to the ocean proper.

The ride was easy enough across the run of the relatively small chop encountered that was heading westward out to the Atlantic from winds pressing down the channel from the direction of Western Super Mare, but then we entered the shipping lanes, where suddenly the sea increased dramatically....

Just as soon as we reached the mark, and the skipper began the process of dropping anchor, which is a particularly queasy time for the uninitiated, the vessel making all kinds of unexpected odd moves and lurches until it finally comes around and settles down into a predictable and stable ride, with the stern downtide, over the side rail went the young lad with dad holding grimly on to his shoulders, and out, went the entire contents of his stomach. ...

The poor little sod.

He had my utmost sympathy - stuck fast aboard a boat riding like a tossed cork upon a seas deteriorating rapidly, and with no way out...

I've been there, too.

Dad looked concerned also, only not for sonny boy, but, as is the way with anyone suffering the terrible hell of sea sickness, with his own vile plight. Only he was amongst grown men not visibly suffering, so he was keeping a heroic, stoic lid on his guts. Let it all out, I say.

And we hadn't even begun to fish, yet...

We dropped our leads and baits overboard (the tide took the heavy leads out at forty five degrees and a hundred feet down) and waited once again, for the twenty minutes it usually takes for fish to find the baits. Steve, was first in, from a drop back bite, apparently. Up came a fish that as it broke surface was a surprise to all - a baby tope of a pound and a bit. It came in like a deadweight - towing its own body weight of lead behind...

It was released of course, as all tope are nowadays.

By this time the sea was getting, how shall we say, interesting? And the stern was probably no longer the best place to be fishing in all honesty with real effort needed just to stay in touch with the lead with the stern bounced up and down as the waves passed under us. I sat down with my feet outstretched, rod resting on the rail and just allowed the waves to jig my rig (a moving bait was now inevitable) as standing with the rod was getting a tad unstable and very wearing. The wind suddenly increased too, and, as the wind tends to precede by some time the waves it actually creates, I dreaded to think what was coming next!

Within ten minutes all the waves, even the smallest were now white capped and the largest were proper white horses with wind blown foaming crests starting to create spindrift (the tell tale of an eight on the beaufort scale) slamming hard into the prow and spraying water all over us lot at the back. I was really enjoying myself, though. I have to say that best reason for conquering sea sickness is so that you then get to go and actually love the roller coaster ride of a big sea in a small boat, rather than pray for death to deliver you from it.

Another tope approaching double figures then fell to the rod to my left, who's expensive leather hat was blown into the water during a complicated landing procedure involving two other lines, and soon after I too was hooked up to a heavier fish, that upon being pumped up to the least twenty feet of the hundred we were fishing in, suddenly went berserk and upon hitting the surface, performed a spectacular double tailwalk...


A tope of eight or nine pounds, My first ever! An estimated weight of course, in such conditions. I even risked the health of the camera by taking a snap of it before it was released. The picture is possibly the best way to describe the sea by this point as it was taken as straight and true as I could make it - so far as I was concerned this cock eyed view point of the nodal points of abnormality, had become my normal reality

But that was the last of the tope. I had a pout to my last bite and then the skipper decided, wisely, to cut and run for calmer waters, as by his reckoning, there was even worse to come. A BIG part of me wanted to stay, I have to say.

I fickin' luv it!

The home run was probably the worst part of all for the poor sufferers huddling in the cabin, the boat slamming into high waves at awkward angles and the skipper even cutting the power completely whilst traversing the worst sets of the tallest of them at forty five degrees, a manoeuvre that makes the boat pitch, roll and yaw horribly, but with every minute that passed, the waves were getting appreciably smaller and port was inching nearer, and when we eventually reached the sheltered seas within spitting distance of the rocks of Ilfracombe, the relief around was tangible.

Steve was soaked through but my cheap (but very effective) cagoule had managed to fence off the upper body so I was warm and dry in parts. I'd somehow managed to keep the camera dry and free of danger even though the water had wicked up to my waist and down the neck, mostly by not getting it out of its little protective pouch to take pictures (hence the lack of descriptive images, sorry)

People managed to lurch out of the cabin with feeble grins and wobbly legs, even the skippers mate, had lost the decidedly odd grimace that he'd had bolted to his face for the past few hours. We fished the last half hour out in a weirdly confused, but by comparison with what we had just been through, calm sea, but only one fish more came to any of the anglers, a gurnard of a pound or so.

Out at sea could be seen a flotilla of craft, charter vessels, fishing boats and sailing yachts all headed for shelter in the harbour. We got there before them, disembarked into the murky town and made for the public toilets for a dry clothing change, then it was time to head to the pub for a pint before the long journey home through the unseasonable rains.


As I sit here writing this missive, a day on from the experience, I am aching in places you would not imagine. It is good exercise, this boat angling lark. A little harsh on the wallet, if you must travel from the Midlands to enjoy it, but ultimately, well worth the while.

Flat calm to vile in under three, that's the sea...

Easily the roughest ride I've ever endured in such a small craft. Great fun though.

I'll be writing a piece on conquering sea sickness for those who might like to beat it but my general advice is this - If you want to do boat trips but don't know how you'd like it, only sign up to an hour and a half mackerel trip in the sheltered waters just offshore, first, and step up from there only if you think you really can handle anything larger. Don't ever book into an eight or twelve hour session unless you really know you can stand it. And don't cave in to your mates.

Get used to the sea, by degree.

Once you leave port there's no way back, but by the ticking of an awful, awful clock.

1 comment:

  1. A ripping yarn by all accounts there Jeff. Given I turn green on a roundabout I think I'll keep it terra firma.

    And with 'LSD' and 'doggy session' within the post as well, you'll be getting some wierd hits this weekend pal...

    Avast me hearty!