At 13 years old I gained a scholarship to the Kingston upon Hull High School for Nautical Training, to which I travelled every day by bus to learn about all things nautical. My first taste of the sea was when I embarked upon a trawler at the age of 14 for a ‘pleasure trip’. The School organised trips every summer for a number of the boys, two to each ship.
My friend and I were told to take a kit bag with changes of clothes for three weeks, but the first thing we found as we boarded at the fish dock was that we should have had a ‘donkey’s breakfast’. This was a mattress stuffed with straw which would be discarded at the end of the trip, but the crew soon fixed beds for us in their ‘dormitory’. This was a space with ten or so ‘bunks’ under the forecastle where they spread lifejackets as mattresses, fishy smelling blankets and our kit bags were our pillows!
We sailed into the River Humber and eventually out into the North Sea where the sea was flat calm. ‘The calm before the storm,’ the skipper told us. But we had been at sea school for a year and had heard all these tales before.
On getting out of bed in the morning we found that we were being thrown violently back and forth across the cabin. The way out was up a vertical ladder – which was seldom vertical – and on reaching the upper deck we found we were looking ‘down’ at a steep angle to the wheelhouse, though moments later we were looking ‘up’ at it. Then there was nothing as a huge wall of water cascaded over the bow.
A crew man came forward when the water subsided and told us to follow him with arms tucked round a lifeline that had been stretched from forward to the after end of the ship and, as the water subsided again, we dashed aft and jumped into the accommodation just as a wall of water, 3 feet deep, sluiced past us. Sleeping on the mess room benches, we stayed there for three days until it was safe for us to find our bunks again.
I was seasick for two of those days!
At 77° North, within sight of the glaciers of Spitzbergen, the fishing commenced and continued for nine days, and we were involved in almost every aspect of this dangerous task, from gutting fish on the deck to working below in the fish hold, where the gutted fish shot down a chute for us to stack and cover with ice.
On the way home, a delightful job we had was to clean out the cod liver oil boilers. All the sinews and other gunk that had been left behind was scooped up, placed in buckets and lifted to the deck. Woe betide us if we overfilled the buckets, as the contents would splash out and cover us in a stinking mess as it was being hauled up over our heads.
I eventually arrived home some 23 days later where my mother would not let me in the house until I had taken all my clothes off in the garden!
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.