McConks SUP reading corner: The Fisherman – an ocean lesson for all.
And now for something completely different…
Sitting on the quayside, bathed in late summer sunshine, the weathered fisherman tended his nets, expertly picking away unwanted debris and splicing holes too large to make each interwoven link sound again. His daily yield depended on each net being just the right configuration to ensnare his intended catch, let smaller sea life escape and not cause harm to those bigger marine dwellers if accidentally tangled. If bigger fish were captured then the old fisherman did his level best to free them back to their previous life. No unnecessary fishing, or overfishing as some describe it.
The fisherman’s face glowed in a leathery fashion with too many hours spent in the glaring sunlight and being whipped by fierce wind and stinging salty rain. He looked up from his perch briefly, stained blue captain’s cap jauntily atop his white-haired head. Approaching from his left were two men, around thirty or so, clutching boards and paddles. As they edged closer the fisherman could hear their excited chatter. Both men were rabbiting on about the waves off to the main beach behind the sheltered harbour wall. The waves weren’t big, currently, but they were groomed smooth by the slight offshore wind.
Briefly, the fisherman arched his gaze towards the open sandy beach and observed a slow-moving swell approach the shallows. What started as an open ocean pulse of energy quickly started to fall over itself and ‘wall up’. Soon enough the wave crested and its lip began to feather signalling the imminent breaking of the wave. It curled elegantly before reeling along the sand bar, each droplet of saline spray glinting in the bright light, dancing like diamonds. The fisherman laughed wryly before turning back to his nets, briefly eyeing the two surfers again who were also transfixed.
Their behaviour became more animated and chatter volume increased. Then one spotted the fisherman. ‘Hey mate. How’s it going?’, one of them asked. The fisherman looked up and smiled, the warmth of his return greeting almost as balmy as the sun. ‘You’re a salty sea dog,’ the tall one carried on. ‘So you must ‘get’ weather and stuff’. The fisherman chuckled at this and said, ‘You could say that…’. The taller surfer paused and then carried on. ‘What d’ya reckon about the surf? Gonna get bigger, isn’t it? Proper pumping!’.
The fisherman rested his nets and threading tool on the quayside wall. He gazed out to sea, away from the beach and towards the horizon. Out in the distance, dancing on the haze were more boats bobbing about. He rubbed his chin, briefly looked up to the sky and then focused his attention back on the two men. ‘Well?’ Asked the second in a slightly more arrogant tone to the first.
‘Yep, the surf’s going to get big alright. But it’ll be accompanied by some strong winds. It won’t be too clever to go surfing in that kind of weather,’ said the fisherman nodding subtly at the equipment each man carried.
The second, brasher, rider let out a huge guffaw. ‘What d’you know old man? The forecast reckons it’ll be all-time and perfect!’ Loud mouth’s friend looked embarrassed and nudged his friend hard in the ribs. ‘What?’ the arrogant one turned to his mate. ‘It’s true innit? There’ll be some big waves but it’s gonna be perfect. What does an old fisherman know? He don’t surf!’.
As the years had crept on and age increased the fisherman had learned when he was wasting his breath. He’d been involved in similar conversations at times in the past. When confronted by a know it all there simply wasn’t any point arguing. Instead, the fisherman shrugged his shoulders and went back to his work.
‘Come on,’ surfer two said. ‘There’re waves to be ridden and some chunky ones incoming. Let’s get on it and show this old-timer a thing or two about surfing. You ready to watch us shred mate?’ The fisherman barely looked up, instead focusing on his nets. There was a subtle, knowing smile that appeared briefly, but he let the two ‘watermen’ carry on their way. The first surfer bowed his head as he hurried past whereas the louder of the two continued his blaring appraisal of conditions and how he couldn’t wait for ‘Big Saturday’ as he put it.
Around mid-afternoon, the first weather front swooped in from out to sea. It came with howling winds, lashing rain and a serious storm surge. There were waves alright; the type of waves that you could fit buses in to. Salty behemoths marching from the depths before throwing their furious energy directly on to the sandy beach. The fisherman peered from behind his curtain and listened to the rain drum loudly on the glass. He sipped his tea, shivered slightly and heard a huge gust of wind whip around his small cottage. There was a door banging somewhere out back and he heard next door’s dog begin barking. Briefly, he thought about the two surfers and whether they’d managed to score their waves. He considered what they’d been saying about forecasts and how he’d never looked at one in thirty years. All his weather knowledge and ability to predict Mother Nature’s moods had come from hard graft and experience on the sea. He rarely got it wrong, after all his livelihood depended on it. But he didn’t like to boast. Watching, learning, noting and waiting is how he’d describe his education to those that wanted to know.
The following day was still a little breezy but it was only the remnants of the storm in effect. The fisherman donned his thick double-breasted jacked, grabbed his hat and headed to the harbour to inspect for any damage. On the way he met a few locals who were all deep in conversation about two surfers who gotten into trouble whilst braving the furious seas. One was described as being completely arrogant and determined to surf regardless of the conditions. His friend was more cautious but had gone in after his friend, apparently.
The fisherman learned the RNLI had been called out after both riders had been swept out to sea and down the coast. It had been touch and go for a while, as the rescue boat fought extremely difficult conditions to locate the men. At one point an RNLI volunteer had been sideswiped by a wave and washed off the lifeboat’s deck. Fortunately, he’d been tethered but was left dangling over the side as colleagues tried to get him back on board. After a few torrid hours, the surfers were located, both suffering from hypothermia and exposure. It was lucky they were both alive.
The fisherman shook his head, pulled up his coat’s collar and headed towards his vessel which was gently bobbing in the remnant wind and chop…