After finishing cadet school, where the learning curve is steep and the life lessons are plentiful, Edward soon receives his first glimpse of the Mediterranean as he arrives in Marseilles, France.
On an adventure marked not only by hardship but also joy, Edward's travels take him to the North Sea, the Baltic, the angry North Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the South Atlantic - but it is the night he spends with a beautiful woman in Buenos Aires that will change his life forever.
In this coming-of-age tale, Edward battles the sea, the weather, and his own emotions as he enters into manhood.
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Salt in the BloodA Young Man's Obsession with the Sea
By David E.C. Read
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 David E.C. Read
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was the only time he had seen his father cry. What was more upsetting was that his mother, standing beside his father, was also crying.
Edward Paige's parents, Roland and Mary, were on the platform of Grimsby's railway station. As he leaned out of the train's window, the cool breeze ruffled the blond hair atop his lean, six foot frame. They had said their goodbyes on the platform; a hug and kiss from his mum, a handshake from his father. Finally, the train started moving away from the station, but he continued to look back. His mother's brimmed hat was slightly askew atop her shoulder length hair, and her arms held her coat tight against her slim body. She had a damp linen handkerchief scrunched up in her hand which she lifted to give a final wave. His father, cap over his short-cropped dark graying hair, arms straight down at his sides, stood motionless close by her side, watching.
Edward returned the wave, pulled up the window by its thick leather strap until the latch slipped under its lower edge, and then settled down in his seat. In one way he was thankful that the uncomfortable goodbyes were over. He was also a little fearful of the fact that he was now alone on his way south, to London.
His destination in London was the office of The Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, soon to become Shell International Petroleum Company, at Ibex House in The Mineries. There, he was to pick up travel documents for his journey to the south of France to join his first ship, a Shell Tanker, as a Deck Apprentice. It was early December, 1955. The weather was grey and cold, which fit quite well with how he felt inside. He was sixteen years old.
He soon brightened up, however, at the prospect of the four hour journey south that, for Edward, was an adventure in itself. He had not done much traveling, and had only ever been to London twice. He had never left England before, and now here he was on his way to Marseilles in the south of France; quite an adventure! As the familiar houses and streets of his home town slipped by, the landscape soon opened up to reveal the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside. He wondered when he would see his home and his Mum and Dad again.
As he sat looking out the train's window he had mixed emotions coursing through his body; excitement, loneliness, freedom, and fear of the unknown, and his thoughts drifted off to the events that had brought him to this point.
Chapter TwoHe'd left school the previous year at the minimum age of fifteen, which was a time that hadn't come soon enough for Edward; he had not enjoyed school at all, although he had done rather well in class. His father had found him a job down the fish docks, at a fish house just around the corner from where he himself worked. He had loved the atmosphere of the docks; the fishing boats, the sea, the constant bustle, and the honest, hard working, and friendly people. The work was tough, but he enjoyed the physical activity and went at it with the vigor of youth. Over his old working clothes he wore an oilskin apron with bib, and leather clogs on his feet that had wooden soles with metal 'horse shoes' nailed to the soles and heels. You sure couldn't creep up on anyone and surprise them wearing those! Wrapped round his legs, overlapping his clogs to keep his feet dry, were oilskin gaiters tied with string below the knees. He was just a young version of everyone around him, but more gangly and clumsy.
His first job in the mornings was scrubbing the wooden fish boxes and lids that were used to ship the fish off to their various destinations across the country, which was accomplished mainly by train. The washing was done by having the box on the ground next to a fifty gallon drum of fresh water, and slopping the water out with a hard bristled broom into the box, then scrubbing all interior surfaces like a maniac. Each box held about fifty pound of fish when filled, and after cleaning they were stacked upside down to dry, with the lids leaning against them. This took an hour or so depending on the estimated amount needed for at least that day, to supply the four workers who would be filleting the fish and filling the boxes. It was busy all day. Ray, the foreman, was of medium height, and always wore a tie with his work shirt, as did Edward's father. The tie was held in place by a short sleeveless pullover, and his dark hair was combed down with Brylcream. Like most men that worked down here, he was as strong as a horse, and kept everything flowing with quiet authority. He seemed to work harder than anyone. He laughed and joked with everyone, making Edward feel right at home; he was a great person to work with, his authority never questioned.
Next was the job he really liked, because it got him out-and-about among the throng of workers in this bustling, busy port. He had initially accompanied one of the experienced hands, pushing a large wheel barrow to pick up kits of fish from the various pontoons. After a few weeks he had been sent off alone, and he went about his work with great enthusiasm. Unknowingly at the time, he had inherited a great work ethic from his father. An ethic that ensured you worked hard for the person that gave you your pay check, and remained faithful to them. The philosophy - if you don't like the job, go work somewhere else; simple really.
The fish were purchased at early morning auction by the company buyer, who worked in the office above the fish house. After purchase, five or six labels were slapped on the top surface of each kit of fish, which bore the initials of the merchant, in this case J.C.S., and a note was made of their location. The buyer would then move on to the next auction. There could be cod, haddock, turbot, plaice, sole, halibut or hake, the latter having sharp fin spines and large sharp teeth, dictating care in handling. Not all merchants dealt with all the fish types - some specialized in hake, catfish, salmon, rock salmon or roughy, for the London market.
"Aye, son! Grab the barra and pick up kits from the East, North and West walls, thar's ten in all," yelled Ray.
Edward propped his broom up against the wall, pulled off his oilskin apron, put on his jacket, and off he went. The barra (barrow) was some seven feet long with big curving handles. It had a flat bed with a metal loop at the end some two and a half feet tall against which the kits of fish were stacked, and two ten inch tires near the front end. It also had two large metal loops that served as legs at the handle end to allow the barrow to sit level while loading or unloading. A kit weighs ten stone or one hundred and forty pounds, which was about the same weight as Edward. The barrow would often be stacked with twelve to fourteen kits, but when balanced correctly, the handles could be lifted with one hand, and held quite easily at a forty five degree angle. It was the pulling and pushing that became the challenge. It was always prudent to check that the tires were properly inflated before use.
To get back to the fish house, ramps up and down the various pontoons, cobbled roads and railway lines had to be navigated. When he had a full load it was quite a struggle to get back. Getting up enough steam to make the up-ramps was nigh on impossible for him and a cry for help would always result in one or two workers laughingly helping to push the barrow to the level pontoon, with its smooth concrete surface. This was easy pushing, but always at a slow steady pace as it was a devil to stop the barrow once it was in motion.
He liked to stop for a few minutes and watch the various activities going on around him. One of his favorites was two guys stood side by side, each skinning catfish. This was done by means of a hook on the end of a long chain, which was attached to the girder of the roof above. The large fish, some three feet long, were hooked through the eye sockets on the end of the chain. The men would start with a cut across the fish behind the head. Grabbing the cut edge with the knife blade and strong fingers, they took a step back and pulled down hard towards the tail of their respective fish. This brought the one side of skin off in one piece. As the skin came off, the fish swung away from them, sometimes in unison, which was quite a sight! Each of the skinners had two forty gallon metal drums beside him, and the skin was thrown into one of them. The fish swung back and they skinned the other side, again letting go and throwing the skin into the barrel. As the fish swung back again, the skinner would grab the fish by the tail and detach the head from the body with a powerful swing of his broad bladed knife, which actually resembled a small machete. Once again the chain swung away, and the beheaded fish was dropped into a metal kit at the foot of the barrels. When the chain came back from its final swing of the cycle, the head was taken off the hook, thrown into the second barrel, and replaced with another fish. Then the whole process started again. The men worked fast, with very little chatter.
The men didn't have to gut the catfish, as all fish landed at the docks were already gutted. This was done by the fishermen at sea, right after the catch, after which the fish are washed with a hose before being stowed below in the pounds, (divisions in the hold for the storage of fish), on layers of ice. This ensured that the fish would be fresh and clean when landed for market. During the process of gutting cod, the livers were collected and later boiled to extract the valuable oil.
Time to move on, he lifted the handles and leaned into the barrow to get it moving, I wonder what they taste like, he thought to himself of the catfish. Growing up within his happy family it was never a case of, 'I wonder if we're having fish for dinner today?' It was always, 'I wonder what kind of fish we're having for dinner today?'
Later, when he asked about the taste of catfish, his dad had pulled a face, saying, "They're no good, they're just junk fish."
He took his father at his word and dismissed catfish from any future menus. All of his family, including his two sisters, loved fish and strangely enough always would. His father only brought home what he called the premium fish; haddock and cod, (both fresh and smoked), plaice, Dover sole, halibut, turbot and kippers! The latter were smoked herring which, unlike all the other fish caught by trawling, were caught by drifters with gill nets. Trawlers use a net called the Trawl, which is cone-shaped and dragged along the sea bed. It captures everything that enters the open mouth; except the very small fish that can swim through the mesh, while a gill net is hung vertically in the water just below the surface like a long sheet. The openings in the mesh of a gill net are sized so that when herring try to pass through the mesh they're easily able to get their head through, but the opening is too small for the rest of their body. When they try to back out, the mesh gets caught behind their gill covers, hence the name 'gill net'. Smaller fish, again, are able to easily pass through the mesh, while fish larger than herring can't get through at all, so only the desired size herring are caught. Large fleets of these vessels followed the fish along the east coast of England and Scotland.
Edward lost control of the wheel barrow going down one of the ramps, hit the railway lines at the bottom, and tipped his load over the dirty road. Stop dreaming boy! he admonished himself. Many hands sprang forward to help; they righted the wheel barrow, dumped a wooden barrel of ice on to the road alongside the scattered fish, wiped all the fish on the ice, put them back in the kits, and put the kits back on the barrow. Soon he was on his way again as if nothing had happened. A great bunch of guys!.
He finally got back to the fish house, and sat on the handles of the barrow while his workmates unloaded the kits, taking them inside for filleting. "Good job lad!" came with a pat on the shoulder.
He didn't respond, but as he put the wheel barrow to one side, out of the way he thought. Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life ...? Hell, No! I have to do something better than this.
On this trip he had picked up (literally) haddock, cod, and plaice. The haddock averaged about three pounds in weight and the cod seven. The plaice were about a foot long and were usually shipped with just the head removed, on the bone with skin on. When these were cooked at Edward's home, just the dark, rough, skin was removed while the soft white skin of the underside was left on. This helped to keep the fish together when cooking and was also quite edible.
He loved to watch the guys as they went about their job of filleting. Quick, deft movements of the razor sharp knives soon separated flesh from bone, and if not careful would do the same to their hands. The filleting table was a six foot trough, with water, in which the fish were dumped. On either side, was a one and a half inch thick wooden board for putting the fish on while filleting. There were two filleters per table, facing each other. It was a cold job that gave them cold, wet, swollen hands. They constantly stopped to sharpen their knives with a metal steel, pressing one end of it into the wooden filleting surface, or held away from them like crossed swords, while the knife was slashed up and down on both sides. If ever a knife slipped, all reaction at the table was to jump back with hands in the air.
"Never try to stop a knife from falling, or anything else around here for that matter. Just get out of the way and let it fall," he was advised. It was good advice that he would always remember.
The fillets were placed carefully to one side for weighing and packing later. Haddock bones with head still attached were thrown into a barrel. With the cod, however, the head was detached from the long bones and thrown into boxes to one side. Later these large heads were dealt with by removing two delicacies - the cheeks and the tongues. These were carefully separated into different containers.
All the barrels of waste bones, heads and skins were put outside the main doors and collected daily for shipping to fertilizer and fish meal factories. Holy smokes, I have to get out of here. I can't do this for the rest of my life, was Edward's repetitive thought.
Chapter ThreeEdward had had a yearning to go to sea for as long as he could remember. His father had spent twenty years on Trawlers and Drifters as a deep sea fisherman. He had spoken to his dad about going to sea and was told what a hard, dangerous life it was, and not very adventurous.
"If you want to go to sea you should go in the Merchant Navy; far better and safer and you will see a lot more of the world." This really gave Edward food for thought, and visions of plying the world's oceans filled his mind.
His father had worked through the ranks until he earned his Skipper's ticket, which was a Certificate of Competence obtained through written and oral exams. This Certificate confirmed him as qualified to command a fishing vessel, which he did on trawlers that traveled as far as the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Because of this, Edward's thoughts became constantly focused on being an officer rather than a deckhand. This seemed much more romantic. How to go about achieving this was the next step. He was to get great encouragement from his fellow workers when he mentioned it to them.
"Go for it lad, get the'self outa this mess and go and see sum'in o' the world!"
Enquiries had led Edward and his father to the Hull Trinity House Navigation School, located across the Humber River from Grimsby, in Hull, Yorkshire. Hull was a place he had been to on a few occasions with his father, who had to make the trip in order to supervise shipments of fish down to London, for his company in Grimsby. He never did understand the logic of this; going from one fishing port to another to ship fish somewhere! However, he had always enjoyed the trips and the hard working people, and their lives on the fish docks. Sitting in the cafes with them drinking big mugs of thick, strong tea he'd felt like a grownup, yet was still small and fragile among these large, strong, energetic men.
It was on one of these trips to Hull that Edward had watched a freezer lorry being loaded with boxes of fish. The load was kept cool by cylindrical shaped ice blocks of solid carbon dioxide called Cardice. After the brown paper wrapping was ripped open, the Cardice was thrown in among the boxes, and the large fridge type doors were closed and padlocked.
The driver, Bill, a friend of his fathers, had said; "Aye Rolly, why don't yer let the lad come down to London wi' me? It's a good trip and he can see the ships in Tilbury, and I'd enjoy the company."
"What do you think son?" his father asked.
"Yes, Yes, Yes!" was Edward's enthusiastic response.
Excerpted from Salt in the Blood by David E.C. Read Copyright © 2010 by David E.C. Read. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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