I joined a boat in Peterhead (not one of the boats above, mine was slightly larger) and it afforded me the opportunity to get wet…… “Peter Reid fae Peterheed is deed. Volvo for sale” (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=m_C0axennQw) from the radio. Not very funny when you read it, but after listening to the YouTube’s HB Flash you’ll get the idea. Myself and work mates have wasted hours offshore listening or repeating the above sentence and it never fails to raise a smile. Last time I was in Peterhead I didn’t really have much to laugh at. It’s a pretty run down town on the North East of Scotland. Peterhead was a bustling harbour back in the day, but factory fishing and greed have destroyed fish stocks which has resulted in the financial decline of many fishing towns on the East Coast. I have personally witnessed large schools of fish in the North sea and hopefully it will never get as bad as the Grand Banks. Have you watched that movie? The perfect storm where Marky Mark and the pediatrician catch enough fish to make their trawler sink……it’s a myth.
My job is to build subsea oil fields. We put robots the size of small cars with hydraulic propellers, big robotic arms and lots of cameras underwater. We use it to construct “lego brick” type pipelines and manifolds. These can weigh several hundred tons each. It’s not the icebergs melting which is raising the sea levels, it’s the amount of metal placed on the seabed by the oil business every year since the 1970’s which have caused the sea levels to rise.
I have had countless hours, off the coast of New Foundland with a camera under the sea and I have yet to witness a fish. If it was a competition for seeing only one solo eel, a multitude of starfish and spider crabs, I would have excelled, but no fish….very depressing. We must preserve the remaining stocks and abide by the fishing restrictions, like the Candadians put in place only they were twenty years to late. We can never stop greed but we can make it harder for overfishing to happen. If we are diligent now, we might end up with bounty full oceans again.
I can understand the desperate feeling of Peterheads town with little industry to fall back on to generate interest for its surviving occupants. Fishing is not just a job it’s a way life being constantly aware of the enviroment. When was the last time you noticed a warm South Westerly wind swing to a North Easterly during the afternoon? For fishermen it’s in their soul and they are acutely aware of tides and wind conditions. It will not just to fill their pockets or bellies, but it enables survival and let the seagulls follow them during the sail back to a safe haven. The thrill and anticipation of pulling the netted bounty onto the deck and discovering a treasure of varying sea creatures, must be great way to spend your brief time on the planet. It’s one of life’s joys to catch a mackerel. It’s so green it’s like there’s electricity flowing through it. If you’re impressed by the grey and blue marble effect, standing deciding what’s on tonights menu at the fish counter in Tescos, then pulling one out of the sea will blow your mind. I have only ever caught two mackerel. The first one I was so shocked at the vivid jade colour that I took the fish down the rocks to confirm it’s species with my buddy. The fish jumped out my hands and back to the watery savanna (the last sentence can be read to the tune of “Born free as free as the grass grows, as free……”). Both of us caught one more fish that warm sunny afternoon on river Yealm, just outside Plymouth, that’s down on the English Riveira, not up in the Venice of the North, as a work colleague once described his home town, we were to busy laughing to tell him he was talking out of his rear end. “The Blue Toon”, is it called that because it’s named after its football team, (similar to the third best team in Glasgow after the “Dandy Randy Jags”, go on the “Thistle”) or because it’s baltic? Who knows, anyway back to the swimming, it’s what you signed up for……
I ran from the vessel right round the harbour because the bridge was up to allow some boats through. I followed the water round to the wee marina. There does not appear to be much for the locals in Peterhead to occupy their time and I was a wee bit concerned they would amuse themselves by running off with my trainers and clothes that I had to leave on the shoreside….
The swim, including a wee beach run, is around 4k. I walked to the end of the beach. It’s a dead end and you leave the beach by a small path a couple 100 yards back or you can scramble up a big rock defence. I was never going be able to relax whilst out swimming leaving my items on the beach, but I could see my bag and hopefully there was not somebody too “high” or too daft to mess with some edjit’s (me) stuff who was out swimming in speedos in the sea in March!!
Into the North Sea I went and begun my swim, in just my speedos. It was cold and refreshing, not as cold the Lochs in January, but I was cheating then with a neoprene suit. This was it…..real swimming. I had to kick my legs to keep steamlined, instead of letting the suit do all the work to keep me buoyant. I was swimming following the shore line, at about shoulder height in the water in case I had a moment and had to get out. Two dogs and female owner caught my eye as I was practicing a new bylateral breathing technic which I am trying to perfect, where you take all your breaths on your right side and think about having a breath on your left. Anyway, I immediately identified the lady dog walker as a bag thief, which is a similar feeling to being a child lying in your bed in dark at night, scarying yourself silly by imagining the clothes strown on the floor were swamp boogie men….. I started swimming back towards my dignity, well it would have been if I had to walk to the boat in my Wren Smuggler’s (like a Budgie Smugglers, but smaller). I felt like a navy seal on a beach raid of a gang of insurgents, as I doggy paddled towards the shore. To my relief, she turned round, threw a stick along the beach for the dog then walked in the opposite direction from my bag. After ten minutes of paddling about I got out had a quick change and ran back to the boat. Disappointed I didn’t really get the shakes……I should have stayed in longer. I ran I passed the lady dog walker 1/2 way home. She had managed to walk her dogs a couple of kilometres without breaking into a car or stealing a few hub caps… Note to self, not everyone behaves like the wee shits you see in the movies. Gotta learn to trust…. Bad work project planning allowed me some more free time for two more swims on the North shore at the Buckhaven harbour. After consuming a big plate of mushy peas covered with chilli con carne, I gave myself a stitch running up Peterhead town centre. The stitch was that bad, I am sure I ended up dragging my left foot in a quasimodo freestyle running technique…..nice.
I managed to find the sea behind Morrisons supermarket. At Buckhaven harbour I checked egress and ingress points. There was an old bloke painting the view from his car as I walked back and forth along the jetty. I chapped his window, mentioned the fact that I wasn’t casing his car but going for a swim. “But yeh can’t swim here” he said. “Why not”? I replied. “Because you’ll die” he responded. “Why?” I said. “Because it’s too cold” he answered. “Oooh away, it’s not that cold” I told him. “I thought you were going to say there’s shark, conger eel or bad currents”, I added. “Just be careful son” was his final response… Stripped off, I tied my bag round the toe rail, climbed down the rusty steps and jumped in. I went down further than expected and with the cold shock I caught a massive lung full of air and when my head poked out of the salty brine therew was nothig but relief. I tried to settle my breathing and then set out to swim away from the pier towards some rocks whilst keeping a keen eye on the pair of swans nearby. They terrify!. Ducks I can handle. Swans make me fill my breeks. I paddled about a bit and because the swans were guarding the beach I choose a ladder with a 10ft climb out as my exit. I decided to get out after 8 minutes, making sure my fingers and feet were able to work for climb out. The cold shakes were not too bad so I managed a sprint like rush home. The following day, I returned to the same pier. The water was slightly higher. There was only one swan today, a bit like me, “Billy No Mates”, and he was not intent on keeping the beach guarded, so I managed an extra few minutes swimming before coming out of the water from the beach. Walking into Morrisons supermarket, I was a bit of a sight, still shaking, hat and shorts on, clutching bags of pork scratching, smoked almonds, chocolate (for the guys on board not me….see previous blog), peppermint and chamomile tea and provisions for the rest of the trip. We were sailing up to Lerwick in the Shetlands that afternoon and I was optimistic about my prospect of a swim round the corner from Greenhead harbour. Maybe it was the rush of endorphins after three quick swims, but when thinking about Peterhead my frown has definatley been turned upside down and I will relish the chance to return. Peterhead is the Venice of the North