Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
Beaufort wind scale: 0. Mean wind speed: 0. Limits of wind speed >1. Wind descriptive terms: Calm. Probable maximum wave height in metres: –. Sea state: 0. Sea descriptive terms: glass
Scott Reef in the morning and as the sun begins his haul upwards fixt upon the zenith the sea is glass coruscations of red reflected iron ore deposits in the Kimberly. Dawn is magnificent. The ocean is stilled like opal opulence save for the wake astern a lone trawler as she ploughs her way along the contours of the Nor-West Shelf. Mackerel skies are reflected, ruddy refractions of the dawn’s early light.
Frigatebirds (Fregata ariel) slowly circulate the heaven. They ride the thermals circling the trawler and scream to each other. They fall down to the ocean and re-ascend on the thermal until almost the very Eye of God before falling again from the sky. They swoop the boat’s wake screaming and then ride the thermal rising higher and higher until mere specks in the sky.
The trawler is at the centre of a hungry microcosm where a biomass of predation awaits the next which-up and the gluttony of by-catch: a congregation of Booby Birds (Sula leucogaste), having roosted overnight on the booms, blink sheepishly, a pod of Long-Nosed Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) catch air belly slapping, a singular Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) stalks in the boat’s wake, carving the broken water with the scythe of his tail.
A Dolphin Fish (Coryphaena hippurus) male and bull-headed like a bullet herds an air armada of Flying Fish (Cheilopogon olgae) from aquaria to aqueous. Fish take flight in salvos, prolonging flight in ricocheting skips along the oceans glass. The Dolphin Fish traces their trajectories, aiming for the next and final splash and prey. One Flying Fish, more avian perhaps than others, more agile in flight when frightened, launches himself like Icarus towards the sun: it takes flight and …
Shit-Lips, Cat-Knackers and The-Dog-Fondler
Three youths sheltered in the inboard lee of the poop deck, behind the sorting trays where they could not be seen, and smoked illicit cigarettes. The Skipper (Arse-Hole) had decided to give up smoking and there-for all smoking had been banned.
They are callow with youth and Play-Station; unused to work. They range in age from 16 to 20. They have spots and facial hair ranging from fluff to tufts of bristles. They are pasty, ill exercised and unsuited to the rigours of a life at sea and yet they come of their own will, drawn to whatever lure the sea held for them.
They pass around a desultory cigarette; a hidden rebellion, an act of defiance in face of what they perceived as tyranny on the high seas: a cruel and unusual punishment. On boarding the vessel they had been awarded nicknames for the trip, as The Skipper said they needed their sea names or else they would never gain their sea legs and be able to stand up in the storm: Shit-Lips, Cat-Knackers and The-Dog-Fondler.
‘Shit-Lips: shy one, eh? Don’t say shit, eh? Shit-Lips!’
‘Cat-Knackers: a fookin’ cat’s got more hair on its ball-bag than you got on your chin, son!’
‘The-Dog-Fondler: his parents bred greyhounds. The name was awarded after a conversation regarding stud breeding techniques.’
As they pass around a desultory cigarette, a Flying Fish (Cheilopogon olgae), more avian, more agile when frightened, launches itself towards the sun, taking flight and easily clearing the gunnels. The fish crash-lands amid the three youths. They are startled by the sudden explosion of rainbow scales and dragon-fly wings beating upon the steel deck. They ditch their cigarettes and lighters over-board for deniability, fearful like school-boys caught smoking behind the shelter shed by the head-master. When nobody appears the youths are taken with the notion that The Skipper (Arse-Hole) had somehow thrown the fish at them.
The-Dog-Fondler: ‘The cunt is throwing fucking fish at us now: arse-hole!’
The Flying Fish beats itself insensate in a welter of pea-cock scale and mucus as the heat transferred through the steel deck from the engine-room desiccates. It flops slower and less and then stops completely, mouthing silent fish prayers for release.
Beaufort wind scale: 5. Mean wind speed: 10. Limits of wind speed >13. Wind descriptive terms: Fresh breeze. Probable maximum wave height in metres: 2.5. Sea state: moderate. Sea descriptive terms: whitecaps, spray
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) takes the afternoon watch as per usual; the wind blows up in the afternoons and he likes to be on the helm through the afternoon and evening when the sun is less in his eyes. He has had little sleep in the past six days since leaving port. He has been catching steadily, profitably and with an almost full green crew save his engineer many hours have been spent on deck breaking them in. He half dozes in the chair with the afternoon sun slowly setting abaft and abeam his left shoulder as he trawls the afternoon shot to the nor-east, away from the sun and quarter to the rising swell. A lit cigarette smoulders, trapped between two fingers in a closed fist held in place by crossed arms. It is an ad-hoc yet well-practised guard against sleep proper with burnt fingers a wake-up.
He can hear the three youths whispering urgently to each other in the galley. He has seen the ‘look’ in their eyes and he knows what to expect; he’s done this a hundred times or more: pasty youths, ill exercised and unsuited to the rigours of a life at sea. The youth he has named ‘The-Dog-Fondler’ has drawn the short straw.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) says, ‘Come on then … out with it!’
The youth blushes and stammers.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) says: ‘Le’ me just check I got this right. You want to get off? You speak for the other two? And the reason you want to get off is that, and I am quoting you here: we’re just not enjoying it as much as we thought?’
The youth blushes and, stammering assent, nods.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) says: ‘Je’S’us’ fucking Christ. The fucken’ things I gotta do …’
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) orders the youths out of his fucking wheel-house to wait for him in the galley. The youths comply quickly and not without some anxiety; The Skipper (Arse-Hole) is Old-School, ’Nam. Imposing, a fright. They assemble stood-to.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) appears with share fishing agreements in hand; he says: ‘Je’S’us’ fucking Christ … Sit down for fuck’s sake! Here you are: Contracts. One signed by each of you. One for Shit-Lips. Ahh. Cat-Knackers, and for you, Dog-Fondler. One for you too. Do you all see your own signatures?’
The youths all nod, eyes down they won’t look up, they can’t: he is the very devil to them at this moment; The Skipper (Arse-Hole) waits to see if they would make this easy for him, if they would dare to lift their eyes in defiance and peek at the apparition of their night terrors: The Skipper (Arse-Hole) enraged.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) says: Je’S’us’ fucking Christ … the fucken’ things I gotta do. Turn to page … page 11; clause 11.3 paragraph B. Let me read it to you, just in case there are any literacy issues here:
‘Cessation of duties as a partner. Any partner who wishes to end their participation in the enterprise shall, Except in that of the cases outlined in paragraph C, give two weeks notice at the minimum. Paragraph C states exceptional circumstances as: death; injury; illness; family emergency. Hmm. Just not enjoying it as much as we thought? No. With me so far?’
The youths all nod, eyes down.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) continues: ‘Paragraph D, immediate cessation of partnership other than described in paragraph C: ‘Any partner who insists on an immediate dissolution of partnership, other than as described in paragraph C is liable for all costs associated with the facilitation of the immediate dissolution of the partnership including though not limited to fuel, berthage costs, replacement crew transportation costs. Etcetera. Etcetera. With me?’
The youths all nod.
‘So let us count the costs for getting off immediately. I assume that’s what you meant isn’t it? You’ve all had enough and you want to go home now?’
The youths nod.
‘Mmm. ‘Fuel. Three days from Dampier … 2.5 tonne of fuel per 24-hour operation is seven and a half tonnes of fuel by 0.87 specific gravity to get literage is—mmm—rough, rough, 10,000 litres at—well Dampier is one of the most expensive ports for fuel too, so let’s call it dollar 80 for the fuel—is, what’s that, 18 grand? So 18 plus your airfare and the airfare of your replacement from Dampier to Perth, 800 or so, for two is 1600. Plus stores, berthage … Do you know what it costs per day to tie up alongside the wharf? It is $2000 a day. Expensive parking bill isn’t it?’
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) continues: ‘So are you telling me you want to get off now, with all of these costs or would you rather finish the trip like men so that you could say you went out there and did it, didn’t like it but did your time as an upright partner and finished the trip and unloaded and got paid? Up to you: but if you want to get off now it will cost you.’
Beaufort wind scale: 7. Mean wind speed: 29. Limits of wind speed >33. Wind descriptive terms: Near gale. Probable maximum wave height in metres: 5.5. Sea state: heaped. Sea descriptive terms: breaking waves
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) had planned to take the shot off and (finally) get some rack, but with a mini mutiny to quell and an early evening squall complete with lightning striking the water all around as the sea heaps up in confusion he continues to man the helm and trawl stern-to the weather until it subsides. He plays his wheel-house stereo loudly, all country with the Red-Headed Stranger and Townes-Van-Sandt. It is not his first rodeo, not even nearly.
He switches off all the radios, satellite phones and any navigational equipment requiring ariels or powered operation for fear of lightning strike. He checked his
nav-lights as operational and killed the deck-lights to better enjoy the show as all around him opened up in neon blue sheet flashes. The heavy ozone stench of vaporised seawater permeates.
A congregation of Booby Birds (Sula leucogaste) flock around the trawler searching for a safe haven against the storm and they crash-land on the foredeck and huddle against the leeward bulkheads cawing and calling to each other for reassurance. The Skipper (Arse-Hole) laughs as their number builds and birds continue to crash-land in explosions of feathers and raucous calls. He braves the squall to shoo at the birds on the bow, screaming their call at them and waving his arms until the congregation, spooked and shooed, take wing; they circle the wheel house in a vortex of dark beating wings and screams.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) laughs and laughs and laughs.
The vessel trawls on, quartering a stern swell, Hauling-the-Trawling until the squall moves on and away with the lightning show disappearing over the horizon line. With the wind’s abatement the sea begins to settle with the white caps less frequent and smaller, more orderly, more easily navigated.
A pod of Long-Nosed Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) catch air belly slapping, launching themselves at the faces of the swell like torpedos, revelling in flight.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) dozes in the chair as he trawls the shot out to the nor-east, away from the weather and quarter-to the settling swell.
Beaufort wind scale: 0. Mean wind speed: 0. Limits of wind speed >1. Wind descriptive terms: Calm. Probable maximum wave height in metres: –. Sea state: 0. Sea descriptive terms: calm (glassy)
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) hauls the trawl through to the crack of dawn and then rouses the crew and begins winch-up. He asks the engineer to operate the winches as the hypnotic roll of the wire on drum is soporific and tired as he is it is unsafe for him to do it. The Skipper (Arse-Hole) cat-naps on the wheel-house floor; power-sleeping for 40 minutes as the hydraulics hum and vibrate and the strain runs through the wire and down to the deep where a hungry microcosm, a biomass of predation awaits the next which-up and the gluttony of by-catch.
Haul trawled, The Skipper (Arse-Hole) asks the engineer to operate the lazy-line winches; The Skipper (Arse-Hole) wants to spill the bags himself, to see if he should seek out fresher pastures where the scab of life is thicker, less trafficked: more profitable.
The shot proves meagre with the weather from the squall held responsible. The Skipper (Arse-Hole) decides to steam south towards Rollie Shoal. He leaves the crew to their duties and sees to the morning meal: bacon and sausage and beans, eggs on toast and coffee. The crew put the meagre shot away quickly and are called in to wash up for breakfast. The engineer leaves the helm to the open miles of empty ocean and descends from the wheel-house via the hatch for his share of the morning meal.
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) is tired with a delirium of hilarity and jokes, laughs and joshes with his boys as he serves them breakfast in man-sized serves. They are told, ‘Get that into ya’ and ‘put some meat on your bones’ and ‘two, four, six, eight, bog in: don’t wait!’ He jokes with the engineer and they swap tales of school days and compare punishments with expiations and detentions and ‘the Cuts’. The youths are horrified and voice their disapproval:
C.K: ‘They hit you?’
D.F: ‘And there was nothing you could do about it?’
The Skipper (Arse-Hole) is tired with a delirium of hilarity. He jokes and laughs, laughs and jokes and joshes with his boys until tiredness finally takes him to his cabin and sleep. The engineer retakes the helm as the crew clean the galley and the trawler steams south, trailing birds like kites in the morning sun.