Aboard The Sam of Ladram – Part 1: Meeting The Crew

November 15, 2019

After chatting with the shore manager Draco and then later with skipper Jon Joll, arrangements were made for me to go to sea with the crew of the Sam of Ladram. I packed my bags and headed down to Brixham on what was a dreary wet end of October morning.

The rain and howling wind had ramped up in just a few hours and as I arrived by midday it was relentless. It was also set to get much worse. The week ahead had been forecast as a 7 to 8, with one decent day nestled somewhere in the middle. There was even talk of a 9, possible 10 late Sunday, though hopefully we would land before that monster arrived.

Sturgeon tablets were taken and wrist bands were set in place both elastic tight. I was clearly taking no risks. It had been a good while and even though I knew what to roughly expect from a stormy return, the sea is a funny old place at the best of times; there is no other feeling of being rocked repeatedly from side to side while trying to maintain a confident balance, or the idea that this assembly of steel and wood was to be home for the best part of a week or so. Thankfully we were leaving in the evening, which meant I could take it easy to begin with and if my stomach did show early signs of annoyance, I could quickly bunk down with an early night.

Jon Joll, or Jon Jon as he was more commonly known across the fleet showed me around the Sam. The layout was as similar as it was different to every other vessel I had been on previously. The galley looked homely, the wheelhouse modern and roomy and the deck gave off the immediate impression there was plenty of space to work within while the crew went about their business. I also found out that the Sam use to be the Lloyd Tyler, a ship I had seen on many occasions during my time down this way. She was also nearing her 50th birthday. Maybe it was just me but I loved the idea of being on what was another slice of history; names may change, crews come and go, yet the ship, weathered and beaten would continue on, a lick of paint here, a refurbishment there, battling ever changing elements with little respite but utmost respect from all, doing only what she knew best.

As feet touched the deck I soon met with the crew and to my surprise, one of them had been onboard the William of Ladram during the rough week of Storm Doris back in January 2017. Greeting me with his unique charm and unabashed sense of humour, wrapped in a welcomed handshake was Stanley, a now 20 year fisher and recent full-time Plenty of Fish’er. It was good to see him again and great to see him doing well, especially as I often wonder about the various skippers and crews I have met along the way; where they are at now, what they are doing on any given day, which vessel they are currently on. To meet up again and find out those answers makes what I do all that more sweeter.

The Sam also had two lads from the Philippines, Johnny and Benny. Johnny’s English was absolutely fantastic, and not just in the sense of speaking or understanding. His ability to banter with the best of them was through the roof, though I suppose four years on the Sam could do that to anyone. Married with two girls and now 24, he had been fishing out of the Philippines since the age of 8 on a variety of tuna boats. Johnny had lived a different life entirely versus mine; back then I had little knowledge of anything but action figures at 8!

Benny, a seven year fisher had been on the Sam for four months now. Married with one boy back home, both him and Johnny would soon be back there to reunite with family for a good few months prior to Christmas. From the beginning there was a slight shyness about him, though it didn’t take him long to play up to the camera.

The Mate onboard was Richard Carroll, or ‘Brewster’ to his friends. This was his third year on the Sam and twenty third as a fisher, with next year perhaps his most significant. In April Richard would undertake his ticket, making that giant leap from Riker to Picard, if you knew your Star Trek order of ranks that is. As I sorted through my clothes in the sleeping quarters, I noticed Richard’s bunk opposite mine. Adorned across his back wall was a series of colourful photos of his wife and kids. It was a beautiful montage of everything he had on dry land and clearly what drove him out here and there was an immediate part of me that wanted to photograph this. Torn, sometimes the hardest part of being a documentary photographer is knowing when to capture the moment and when to capture it for yourself, I just stood there, my camera continued pointing down and I simply stared at the imagery of his for a few moments longer. I guess some things are better left for those they are truly meant for and I headed back on deck.

To be continued.

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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