Aboard the Sam of Ladram – Part 3: At Sea

November 29, 2019

The weather continued to build towards the treacherous storm scheduled to hit late weekend. Swells grew larger and more fierce than the few days prior, rocking the Sam and those inside without care or consideration. Dinner had become a case of firmly holding your plate or bowl as you slid from end to end along the leathery pew. Noise was also a jarring constant, particularly as the stern’s large propeller fiercely churned a thud thud thud as it rose out of the water. Add the howling wind and swirling everything else and you had quite an incongruous Ballard.

The deckhands continued to don their safety jackets with each and every journey out on deck, though had the water been silky smooth, this requirement would have been no different. Jon Jon’s views were strong when it came to safety and the lives of those onboard and failure to suit up came with just a few warnings before you were off the Sam.

I did feel more prepared to shoot in these extremes. I now came with my own oil skins, a gift from my time onboard the Falkland’s Longliner, CLF Hunter and while what I had was still a far cry from the ever increasingly expensive waterproof housing I would love for my equipment, I was able to endure what was thrown at me for far longer than previous. Having a handheld GoPro on a stick as an additional option also helped bring about a few different angles and approaches to my work.

As forecast, I was finally blessed with that one decent day and a calmer sea, as dark clouds broke revealing a much missed blue sky. I took the opportunity to shoot a series of portrait shots, something I felt was missing from my first commission with Waterdance. I was also able to continue with my questions, spending some time with Richard at the helm, with Brexit being next on the agenda.

I’d say UK fishing is in a good place, Richard commented. It is the EU that is a joke, so too Brexit. They are using one of our best cards to make a deal. As an exporter, leaving will be better long term for our country.

A glance at the radar showed a Belgium vessel beginning fishing operations 22 miles Southeast of Brixham, it’s intended destination following its fill, home to Oostende. With one of the three new Super Trawlers making the news this week in the English Channel, one had to wonder what our great pioneers of the seas and the many generations of British fishermen and women over the years what would make of those in charge and this almost lackadaisical approach to our waters. Something about these giants on our waters didn’t sit well with me and with Jon Jon back in the wheelhouse, I asked him about how fishing had changed.

The industry is far more controlled. It use to be small holdings, independent people owning a ship or two, now it’s multi-billion pound companies in charge of many, but that also brings with it more modern fleets. Fishing is certainly more expensive, but then it has always been about figures. There is a lot of stress on the skipper and there is always an over-reliance with health and safety, but that’s just how things are nowadays. It is a good thing of course. We go out to sea, we work the weather, you’ve got the safety of your crew to consider, as well as maintaining the equipment.

So where were we at with the future of UK fishing? In terms of our next fishers, probably not so great. There is too much hardship, they don’t like the weather, they’d rather be a Youtuber, Jon Jon said sternly. The first question I’m asked is ‘Have you got wifi?’, the second, ‘Have you got deck machinery?’, the third, ‘What is my percentage?’. ‘What can you do?’, I’d ask. ‘Not much’, came the reply. ‘Well that’s your percentage!’. Even with advancements in technology, we still need crews. Not everything can be automated.

With this written prior to the forthcoming General Elections, perhaps it was just fate that my eye troubles happened when they did. I was now able to see the change unfold from the front lines and add my voice to that of the fishing community; though this was a voice as eager as it was naive in many ways. Fishing had become a livelihood heavily impacted by current events and with much uncertainty on the horizon, I felt these next few years would be just as erratic as the waves we were steaming though as the Sam now headed back to port.

During the very early hours of Saturday morning we landed in Brixham, a day earlier than planned, as Sunday’s impending storm arrived much sooner than expected. My return to sea, aside from the weather, the wintery dark hours, the rough swells, the heavy winds and stinging rain, could not have been a more enjoyable experience and this was entirely down to the wonderful bunch that was skipper Jon Jon and his hardworking team onboard, Mate Richard and deckhands Stanley, Johnny and Benny. While I was glad to be heading home, I would have happily stayed for another week.

Back in my room, showered warm and dry, I began editing away with hot tea on tap. Despite everything I had come away with from this first week back at sea, my main focus couldn’t seem to shift from that super trawler in the English Channel and how these huge ships would soon affect the many lives and livelihoods within our fishing industry. While I seriously wanted to get onboard one, it didn’t change how I currently felt.


Fishing was clearly moving fast with the times, but when there is now a debate of how we have handled our times, surely there must be reservations with these super trawlers and where all this is heading, especially after years of UK fishers adhering to quotas, replenishing stocks and continually respecting the environment in which they worked in. It just seems a little irresponsible for what was essentially the largest hoover in history to suddenly turn up out of the blue, on the blue. Looking back, perhaps that student was indeed asking the right questions about the impact fishing can have on an environment. It was just unfortunate his questions were directed at the wrong party entirely.

Tony Fitzsimmons

Tony Fitzsimmons is a documentary photographer and aspiring photojournalist based in the south-west of England. Waterdance have commissioned Tony to go out to sea with our fishing crews to document life on board the Waterdance fleet. Please note: any views expressed in these posts belong to Tony or the crew members, and are in no way representative of Waterdance Limited.

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