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By Mike Brosnon

It's Tough out there on the Briney


This is a part of the history of a boy called Mike.

It is the fourth of these stories and those of you who have read the others may remember seventeen year old Mike in 1950, while walking along the wharf at Port Chalmers, got chatting to the captain of a big, deep sea trawler  'The Taiora' and was offered a job on her.

Mike couldn't believe his luck so with just enough time to whisk home to get some gear it was off to sea we go.

The hard old Scottish seadog of a Captain Jock Black, salted off the coast of Aberdeen in the North Sea, took a shine to young Mike as he was a good worker and keen to learn beyond the scope of the job.  A deckhand was just a labourer really but Mike was a bit more ambitious than that.  In no time Jock had taught him to mend nets, splice hemp and wire ropes, even a bit of navigation, eventually offering him the mates job. Mike declined this as he didn't want to get stuck in this one job.

The navigation stood him in good stead as four years later when he and the Captain had come ashore,  both living in Dunedin, Mike used to go to Jack's house at nights to learn navigation.
You might wonder why, having left the sea, but salt was still in young Mike's veins and having saved up 2,000 pounds, he had decided to have his own fishing boat.

Boats were very expensive built in New Zealand, approximately 12,000 pounds for a 50 footer, but in Britain he could buy a beamy 60 footer for 3,000 pounds.  So the idea was to buy one there and sail her back to New Zealand.

Hence his many nights with his navigation books, globe of the world and Jock's sexton, with his head down studying.  There weren't the polytechnic courses those days.

After a while Mike started to think about this.  A year's fishing and income would be lost in the time it would take him to get the boat home.  It was all about these newfound crayfishing beds on the West Coast.  Why, the crays were so thick then.   'The Taiaroa', really there as mother ship, one day for a lark dropped the trawl in Jackson's Bay for half an hour and filled 24 large coal sacks of them. That was just crays crawling across the sand from one reef to another.  Oh for fish stocks like that today.

Mike needed to get going sooner, so haste was important.
 
He knew he could get a boat built in Tasmania for a lot less than in New Zealand.  A bit rougher, not the finish, but every bit as good.  Bit like Australians, he thought!  Millar & Tunnage built beautifully finished boats in Port Chalmers but Mike could not afford this.

So, working again with the Captain, they had a boat designed.  She was a 52 footer, triple skin, counter stern, with a 7 ton freezer.  It was the freezer space that was important, especially as he would be steaming all the way between Jackson's Bay and Port Chalmers.  So, the boat builders in Hobart were waiting for the OK to start and then--------------!

" Of all the plans of Mice & Men that often come to nought".   Mike met the lady who was to become his wife.  Now Fleur was an excellent swimmer and Mike, not at all!  She used to tease him saying "a fisherman who can't swim" (turns out most couldn't) .  Well, with her discouragement and Mike starting to think, being married to a beautiful young lady with him away at sea most of the time didn't seem such a good idea.

That then was the end of Mike's sea saga.  He bought a little farm on the slopes of Mount Cargill, got married and lived happily ever after-------------- .

His great old (well he was only 57) friend the Captain, died in his sleep in a Balclutha Hotel, having the day before, supervised floating one of the company's fishing boats off the rocks at Kaka Point.

Mike lost a friend he had envisaged having for life.

He still looks back on that time in his life with affection. 


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