One of the new generation of MCA surveyors emerging under a graduate training scheme, Charles Blyth joined Brixham based Waterdance’s 33 metre beam trawler Margaret of Ladram for a trip, aiming to gain an insight into the practicalities of commercial fishing – during the hottest week of the summer.
A year into a four-year graduate scheme, he explained that he came straight from university to the job, for which graduates with RINA-accredited degrees in naval architecture or marine engineering are generally candidates. As part of the scheme, budding surveyors are required to spend time at sea, and a trip on a beam trawler was seen as an ideal opportunity.
‘Next I expect to be spending a trip on a container vessel,’ Charles said.
He explained that this was a seven day trip on Margaret of Ladram with chief mate Sean Beck sailing as skipper, replacing regular skipper Adam Cowan-Dickie who was on a well-earned trip off.
‘The mate was Steven, and the others were Zac, Gary, Roland and Roger, who was also the cook,’ he said.
At Sean’s suggestion, Charles opted not to share the deck crew’s six-on-six-off routine, and instead worked a twelve-hour turnaround that allowed him time to work with both shifts and also to spend time in the wheelhouse to get acquainted with the bridge routines.
‘This is a ship that runs like clockwork,’ he observed after his week on board Margaret of Ladram. ‘Sean and the rest of the crew were very welcoming and helpful, and from day two I was working with them – doing what they do to earn their money.’
During the trip he was given a taste of everything on board, from hauling and shooting the gear to sorting and gutting the fish, to working in the fishroom to pack the fish in boxes.
‘Of course there are areas of the ship that are naturally a dangerous environment. It’s an unstable platform and you’re working with machinery. But my biggest safety concern was the fishroom as there’s ice and the floor is slippery down there. The floor has a non-slip coating, but with boxes being moved around, this wears away.’
‘The attitude on board to safety is absolutely first class, things like no going out on deck without a life jacket. There was also a safety briefing at the start of the trip, with the alarms sounded and the muster stations identified. Everything about the way Margaret of Ladram and its crew operate is highly professional,’ he said, commenting that there were a few surprises along the way – mainly pleasant ones.
‘Apart from seeing how important safety is, it was good to see hygiene taken so seriously as the ship is immaculate throughout. I was also delighted to see as soon as we sailed that the environment and protecting it are taken very seriously by all of the crew. The waste we generated was separated for recycling and stored securely on deck until we returned to port,’ he explained.
‘It was surprising to see the extent of environmental pollution which was present in every haul we made from the sea. The waste collected ranged from cans to old bombs, and a surprising number of shoes. Every haul was littered with various bits of plastic. Thankfully everyone on board was keen to retain any litter which was collected, and this was sorted and stored along with the waste generated by the ship for processing ashore. I was also amazed to see the volume of spent ammunition and ordnance hauled up throughout the trip. A lot of it is safe to handle but there is no guarantee there won’t be something potentially live and deadly in the hauls that they bring up.’
Charles Blyth commented that while he is no stranger to manual work, having been a labourer during his university years, he was still unprepared for the work rate on board, not least with the switch to sandy grounds and shorter tows to ensure that the catch quality remains high.
‘I could see right away that the easiest way to earn the respect of the crew would be to get stuck in, while balancing that by not getting in their way. Those guys really work hard. They certainly work for every penny they earn. So this was a hugely valuable opportunity to get first-hand insight into how they work and the hazards of fishing.’
‘The only other surprise was just how positive and welcoming the Margaret of Ladram’s crew were. It was great experience and 100% worthwhile to spend time on such a well-run vessel with a highly professional crew.’
‘This was a unique opportunity for a young MCA surveyor to get out there and really understand what fishermen do,’ commented Waterdance MD Nigel Blazeby.
‘As a company, Waterdance is keen to work closer with all government agencies Involved with fishing to ensure we have an industry that is safe and compliant across the board from vessel standards to fishery regulation. Opportunities and joint working like this go a long way to bettering the small but vital fishing industry we work in.’