Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The most sustainable fisherman of all!

I have caught so few fish, I have decided to quit! If every fisherman caught as many fish as I have, the oceans would be teeming with fish. We could walk from England to France on the backs of giant cod. I've fished sustainably, but the fish haven't sustained me.

So this is my final posting to this blog - I'll leave it as a record for other who may be considering similar plans.

There are several fishing methods I have dismissed without even trying:
  • Trawling: I might have the power to pull a small net downwind in a gale, but I can imagine the danger of snagging the bottom in such weather. It always was a dangerous occupation!
  • Drift netting: Much more feasible from a sail boat, but too much by-catch. Chucking dead dolphins back into the sea would spoil my day.
  • Potting: I'm in a prime area for potting, but retrieving pots needs accurate manouvring which is hardly feasible with a sailboat. If I was allowed an engine, I could use the sails to get to and from the fishing grounds and the engine just for retrieving the pots. But to have an engine I'd have to have a commercial license which isn't feasible.
  • Longlining: As with potting, retrieving the line means driving down the line accurately. Not really feasible under sail. In some benign conditions it may work, but a change in the wind direction could mean the line could no longer be picked up.
So, here are the methods I've tried:

Wrecking: Rod and line fishermen typically drift over a wreck, catching fish as they pass the wreck. Around slack water, they can anchor by the wreck. I can't drift over a wreck - well I can, but hoisting sail to get back to the start of the drift and then dropping sail to fish another drift would be a ridiculous amount of work. So I figured I'd learn to anchor in just the right place. Once I had the anchor down, I could adjust my position up/down tide by changing the length of anchor line I had down, or across the tide by altering the anchor line position athwartships, setting the catamaran at an angle to the tidal stream.

I knew I'd need to anchor accurately, so I created a database of all the wrecks in the area, and wrote some software that enabled me to find them easily. I also paid quite a bit for a fishfinder, so I could see the bottom well - sail right over the wreck to be certain of the position, and see if there are any fish there. At each wreck, I'd spend some time looking at the tide and wind, before deciding on a spot to set the anchor, and drop back towards the wreck.

This is far more difficult than it sounds! At slack water, not too much of a problem. But the tide is more complex than I'd realised. Out at sea, it doesn't just flow back and forth. It's change of direction is often circular. It goes right round the compass. Of course, most of the time, it flows one way or the opposite. But even then, the speed of the flow is constantly changing. Which alters the position of the boat a little as the anchor line goes tighter or slacker. And the speed of the flow has a greater effect on where the fishing lures end up. I've realised too that the flow varies with depth, certainly in strength, and I suspect in direction too - just as the wind direction varies as you go higher into the atmosphere. When the tide is flowing fast, your line is taken away from the boat in a parabola. Without a massive weight, it is impossible to reach the bottom with the lure. On top of that, if the wind changes direction...

So with wreck fishing, I've ended up spending most of my time trying to get the  catamaran into the right position, then fishing with different weights on the line trying to get the lures into the right place. It's been a lot of work (especially as I don't have a windlass, and we had to winch the line back by hand. Pulling up over 150 metres of line by hand is hard work, especially if the wind is blowing!).

There's another problem with anchoring over wrecks. It really pisses off the line fishermen who drift over the wrecks. They can't do it with a boat anchored there. Anchoring over a wreck pretty much claims the wreck all for myself. And there are so many line fishermen targeting any wrecks within 20 miles of the shore - well, I don't think I could cope with that much unpopularity. And the wrecks further offshore - which are far more productive anyway? Well, out there there are ships. And none of them expect any boat to be anchored so far offshore. So I'm at a great risk of being run down. Having decided that a ship is on a collision course, the only option would be to drop the anchor line overboard and set sail - not something that could be done quickly enough.

Trolling: The system I devised for this, the modified downrigger, works great. I can sail about at up to 3 knots, and still have my lure close to the bottom. But unless I hit a shoal of bass, I won't get many fish this way. The fish are at the wrecks, and sailing backwards and forwards past a wreck with the lures down is hard work. Turning a sailboat requires a lot more work that turning the steering wheel of a motorised boat. I plan to use this method from a motorboat (fishing to fill my own freezer) to allow me to fish over wrecks even when the tide is flowing strongly.

Trolling with a longline: Once I'd given up on the idea of anchoring over wrecks, I had really set my hopes on trolling with a longline. Towing a line such as this:
trolling a longline
past a populated wreck should catch a lot of fish. It means I just have to sail to a wreck, and carry on sailing to pull all those lures right through the right place.

However, try as I might, I haven't succeeded in getting the line set without the snoods (the short pieces of line between the lure and the mainline) wrapping themselves round the mainline, and sometimes, even the droplines (the lines between the float and the weights) getting entangled with the snood/mainline mess. I thought having a lead weight halfway down the snood would prevent the tangling, the lead holding the snood from the mainline. When small weights didn't work, I tried larger ones, but that was worse. Eventually I realised that setting a longline while dragging the line through the water means that at some point on the descent, a snood will lie parallel to the mainline, and will inevitably spin to some extent, wrapping itself round the mainline. The size of the weight doesn't really matter.

When engine-powered boats set longlines, they anchor one end to the seafloor then drive off, paying out line and connecting snoods as they go. I can't anchor a line to the bottom, as explained above. And to pay the line out, the boat has to be moving, even if slowly. The snoods end up tangled. No doubt if I persevered, there would be times I'd succeed in getting the line down OK, and pulling it past a wreck, get a decent haul of fish. But more often, no doubt, I'd get tangles or lose some gear. (One day, my basket of snoods was blown over by the wind. It took me 6 hours to untangle the mess.)

The other major problem!

An occasional good haul of fish might seem worthwhile. After all, my fuel costs are zero or close to it and I can cover almost any distance for free. My ice boxes can hold ice for several days, even through hot summer days. But a great problem I can't solve is crew.

I can't keep watch 24 hours a day. I need at least one crew member. Hauling in the longline is a two-person job. And really, it needs to be someone who can handle the boat, and who has experience with sailing at night, able to recognise which way ships and fishing boats are going just from the lights they are showing. That way, I could sleep. The crew also need to be on hand as soon as the weather is good for fishing, able to stay out for several days, and have something else to be getting on with between trips.

There are any number of keen anglers out there who would love to visit some of the far off wrecks. But since I can't drift them over a wreck, their rods and lines would be no use. Somehow, they just don't get the same kick out of  hauling in a longline as they do from reeling up a fish with their rod bent double.

I have had quite a few crew during my experiment, from experienced sailors to complete novices. They've all come for a sail, a lark, to help with my experiment, or even, to have a shot at making some money. I'm sorry for the disappointment of these latter types, and am grateful for the help of all of them. The fishing gave us an excuse to go sailing, and to play about with various schemes and we certainly had some laughs along the way.

And the fish of the future? Well, if the oil runs out before we run out of fish, the fish populations will likely rebound, and we'll all be able to catch fish from the shore, or little boats using 'inefficient' methods may be good enough. I guess it's our technical efficiency at catching fish that has reduced their number to such a level where we can't really catch fish without using even more technical efficiency. While that remains the case, I don't think there's much prospect for fishing under sail - in the English Channel at least.

    Monday, 26 July 2010

    The end of the line?

    My last trip was shorter than planned, but more tiring, so I've had to catch up on sleep a bit before reporting.

    My inexperienced crew were on time, and we got to Brixham by 8:30. On the way to the mooring, I called in at the ice factory to check whether there were any trawlers due in to collect ice. It would be nice to use my new engine installation, motor the catamaran round to the ice, load up and be off again in a few minutes. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be that way. The engine installation works great, and at half rev's with just the 6hp engine, we were able to do 4 knots, and manouvre quite easily. But when we got the ice quay, there was a trawler occupying the space, just beginning to load up. All we could do was circle about, trying to avoid traffic, as we waited for the quay to become free. Long after they'd loaded ice, the trawler showed no signs of moving on, so I had to go alongside and ask when they'd be going. Of course, since my boat looks like a yacht, not a fishing boat, the skipper had no reason to think that I was waiting for ice.

    I wanted just 200 kg of ice. I can't expect the ice man to do anything other than give priority to trawlers, who load up with many tons of ice. Oh well, we got alongside fine, and shot the ice straight into the fishboxes, and left the harbour at 11 am.

    The wind was forecast as northerly, force 3 - perfect for reaching the 20 miles to the wrecks where people have been catching bass. Within half an hour, the wind dropped to nothing at all. After an hour or so of flopping about, I cheated, and remounted the engine and motored for an hour, till the wind arrived again.

    But it came from ENE and light, which meant I had to tack to the wrecks, and I couldn't get more than 3-4 knots. And the tide was against us - which meant we didn't arrive at the wrecks till 6 pm.

    Still we set the long line, using bigger weights on the snoods to prevent the snoods spinning round the mainline, and an improved system for setting the lines between the floats and the weights.

    I left it down for 4 hours, sailing in increasing wind, but with just a storm jib up and a well-reefed main to keep the speed down to 2 knots. We sailed right over two wrecks, 3 miles apart. Well, according to my navigation software we did, but I couldn't verify it with evidence from my fishfinder.

    My fishfinder is PC-based, and connected with a USB cable to my laptop. One fundamental flaw with this setup is that if I put the USB cable from the fishfinder into a different USB slot in the laptop, the fishfinder won't work any more. Changing the order of where I put the USB cables mucks up the com port settings, and the fishfinder becomes unusable. I know this because I've done it before. It took the best part of a day, uninstalling stuff, cleaning out the registry, reinstalling etc. Of course, I then labelled the USB ports - GPS, fishfinder, phone. No problem. Till I carelessly used the wrong USB slot again! Doh!

    Were we really over the wrecks? Very probably. Were there fish on the wrecks? I don't know! When we pulled the line up, we had just one small fish, a pollack or a pouting, which wasn't even hooked - it was hanging on the the tail end of a lure, and let go when it came to the surface. But worse, the snoods were almost entirely wrapped around the mainline, despite changing the weights half way down each snood. And some of the braid that goes between the floats and the weights was also entangled with the snoods and mainline, and some had to be cut away. What a disheartening mess!

    We clearly couldn't use the trolling longline method again this trip, without an enormous amount of work sorting out the line - and without a clue as to how to prevent the same mess happening again.

    I sailed slowly about the area of these wrecks, considering what to do next, while the crew got some sleep. I thought I might try the rods and downrigger set up. This was a setup designed to work on places like large banks, where I could troll lures some distance, sailing back and forth. It would be hard to use over wrecks, fishing and sailing back and forth with the required accuracy.

    While I pondered such things, and why the trolling longline had tangled so badly, I had a busy time avoiding a couple of beam trawlers that were working the area around the wrecks. Their courses were quite unpredictable, and they had such bright deck lights going, I was convinced that their skippers were unaware of our prescence. They wouldn't expect a yacht drifting about the area, and I guess they didn't look. So, I had to sail away from the area. No way could I leave my crew on watch in these circumstance! No sleep for me!

    The wind was now from the NW, blowing from Brixham, and quite hard. Even with storm sails up, we were doing 4 knows close-hauled. So I left it at that a while, working my way slowly upwind so that in the morning we'd have an easy short sail back to the wrecks. But the wind was very variable, and there was still the odd boat around. I could see that I couldn't call on the crew to do a watch, and that I wouldn't get any sleep that night. Tomorrow, I'd be in no fit state to fish, and if we wnet back to the wrecks in the morning, the charter boats would be back fishing them, and again, I couldn't leave my inexperienced crew in charge amongst other boats.

    So as the wind died slowly through the night, I just hoisted more sail, and set off to return to Brixham. Six mile froms Brixham the wind died entirely again, so I fitted the engine and motored again. Why not? This wasn't fishing any more!

    The engine worked great, and I was able to motor right up the mooring and pick up the mooring without help. Three hours motoring in total used just 4 litres of fuel.

    But of course, no fish! Again. Back at the mooring after a lot of work, and no sleep, again!

    Sunrise, approaching Brixham in the dying wind.

    Wednesday, 21 July 2010

    Sustainability of line-caught fish clarified

    The more time I spend fishing, the more I learn. But I've spent so much time working on the boat the last few weeks, I've had to resort to going for a beer with a couple of marine biologists to carry on with my learning.

    They tell me the reason all the inshore wrecks are so devoid of fish is that they are frequently netted. Boats lay nets alongside the wreck, and pick them up 12 or so hours later. The nets catch almost everything, including dolphins. Often, nets become tangled on the wrecks and have to be abandoned. These are the wrecks line fishermen find 'snaggy' - we lose our lures on them. Of course, the nets continue to catch fish, even though they are not retrievable.

    Tomorrow, I'm going to fish the wrecks in Lyme Bay - the bass have arrived at last. I saw last year that some of the wrecks there were netted - I might have to sail by a few before I find one that is suitable for line fishing. If I see a boat pulling in a net from a wreck, I may stick around to watch what comes up.

    Finding crew is often a problem. Until I catch reasonable quantities of fish, pay is minimal or non-existent. Being available to fish whenever the weather is reasonable and going out for 2-3 days or more, working shifts (we need someone on watch at all times) - somehow, people find the prospect unappealing. However, I have persuaded my 16-year old daughter and her boyfriend to try a trip. Last time she sailed, I think she spent most of the time playing with Lego bricks on the floor of the cabin. I don't think he's sailed at all. Should be interesting... and we will also have on board a professional photographer, who wants to document a trip.

    With my new engine installation, inexperienced crew, and a passenger with a camera, what could possibly go wrong?

    Tuesday, 13 July 2010

    Thoughts on sustainable fishing

    Now that I've found the fish, if my longline techniques work as hoped, it should be no problem going back and getting them as soon as the weather clears. Till now, I've been the most sustainable of fishermen - using no fuel, and catching no fish - sailing about dripping fresh water onto the sea as my ice slowly melts.

    We know there's a problem with trawling. That's why we have quotas, regulations on net sizes and designs, limitations on days at sea, and boat scrappage incentives. More bureaucratic constraints to counter the effects of improved technology. A modern trawler is computerised and loaded with fantastic echo sounders and satellite information giving sea temperatures and of course GPS. Trawlers can now predict where fish are likely to be, go there directly and precisely, see the sea floor in 3D, see where the shoals of fish are and trawl their nets at just the right depth to scoop them up with clinical efficiency.

    Pretty good really, apart from the indiscriminate nature of trawling - so that fish that weren't targetted or that are subject to quota are thrown back dead. And of course, the never mentioned dependency on cheap oil.

    The solution often put forward to this industrial fishing is small scale line fishing, which almost eliminates by-catch and doesn't wreck the sea floor as beam trawling does. But there are problems with line fishing too!

    Line fishing is only really productive on wrecks. The sea floor in the English Channel is mostly flat and barren, but there are thousands of wrecks dotted all over the place and fish congregate around them. The wrecks provide shelter and with all the nooks and crannies, a diverse environment where many species can flourish. I have a theory that the iron in the wrecks may promote life in the sea too, iron being a limiting factor for plankton. But that's just my theory. Anyway, the wrecks are where the fish are.

    The wrecks have been mapped, because if you are trawling, catching your net on a wreck can wreck the net or worse. So trawlers like to go round the wrecks (though a skipper may go as close as he dares). The wrecks provide some shelter for the fish from the trawlers. Wrecks are like mini-conservation zones.

    Except even the small scale fisherman is now armed with all he needs to exploit the wrecks. I have a pretty complete (I'm pretty sure) database of all the wrecks in the English Channel and beyond. And all the reefs, banks, rocky outcrops. I've got GPS - who hasn't? Many of the wrecks have their positions marked accurate to within 10 metres. So now many of the wrecks have nets laid alongide them. Which spoils things for line fishermen, so they favour the unnetted wrecks.

    From my trip on Sunday, systematically trying wrecks further and further offshore, it is clear that the inshore wrecks are virtually empty of fish. You can catch some decent fish, but it takes time, jigging your lure about, waiting and waiting. On the wrecks further out, you drop your lure and get a hit right away. That's where the fish are.

    But they are being cleaned out by line fishermen. Commercial guys and armies of anglers on charter boats. Look at this fishing report for Dartmouth based trips. The charter boats don't bother with the inshore wrecks any more. They go for the mid-Channel wrecks. Mid-Channel! The wrecks halfway across. Trouble is, if you go any further out, you meet the French line fishermen coming the other way! The wrecks in the middle are the last to be targetted. I heard that one of the most experienced commercial line fishermen working out of the Dart was considering going as far as the Western Approaches to find unspoiled wrecks. Previously productive wrecks were now producing nothing more than small pollack. Those fishermen with their 'sustainable' methods are clear-felling the fish populations on the wrecks!

    Where will it end? It will end where the fish are so far off as to be uneconomical for the deisel-powered line fishermen to reach. And that's where I come in, able to cover great distances for free. If I get my methods sorted out, I'll be able to clean out the places other fishermen can't reach. And I'll be able to sell my fish as sustainably caught, (line caught, no by-catch, no harm to the sea-floor) and close to zero carbon consumption. The grim irony blackens any green credibility I may appear to possess.

    Monday, 12 July 2010

    Fish for the Freezer

    Just a day's work from completing the outboard project on the cat, and I'm offered a trip on a friend's brand new turbo-diesel powered fishing boat. With the weather prospects for the next few days ruling out fishing on my own boat, I figured I could take the time out. Besides, if I took my laptop and we used the wreck finding program, I'd get the chance to see which wrecks were populated with fish. The boat does 30 knots, so in theory, we could get to some real out of the way wrecks. We can't sell any fish, being unlicensed, but there's room in my freezer.

    The boat is not yet fitted with an auxiliary engine. This bothered me. Sailing is usually slower, but a mast and sails are much simpler and more reliable than an engine.

    4:30 start! Not to catch a tide, or avoid bad weather later. Not to increase fishing time either, because we can always just keep fishing through the evening. But an early start seems to be a tradition amongst anglers, the grogginess from getting up in the night making a peculiar memorable day more likely.

    The wind was light, but wind during the night had left quite a swell, and 10 miles out of Dartmouth we'd had to slow down to 8 knots or so. It would be hours before the swell died down, so we abandoned our objective of the Hurd Deep and the Channel islands and headed back towards Dartmouth, to where the swell was less, and then west to the Cat Banks. The ride was rough. It was a case of either wedging yourself in somewhere, or standing up and using your legs for suspension. Breakfast was off the menu, and even ordering breakfast would be difficult over the whine of the turbo.

    Years ago, the Cat banks could be pretty reliable for cod, ling and pollack, and sometimes bass. Yesterday, we caught one cod and a few small pollack, but first time for me, a John Dory, the only fish I've heard of with a proper name. Never seen one before, but apparently this is a big one:

    As the swell died, we made our way further out into the channel, wreck by wreck. Nothing but small pollack and pouting, that we threw back. We kept some of the bigger pollack.

    Finally, at 4 pm, we got to a wreck about 40 miles from Dartmouth, between the shipping lanes. Here there were fish. Lots of them, and right away I had first a big cod, then a big pollack:

    These were the biggest fish of the trip, looking less than spectacular after a night on ice. Normally, I'd fillet and freeze them right away, but this trip was different....

    We caught several more cod, and many pollack, and we got fish every time we drifted back over a certain spot. When I say 'we', actually, I mean mostly 'me'! I got the John Dory, the biggest pollack, the biggest cod - in fact all the cod but one. So...

    • I'm a better fisherman than the other three very experienced fisherman.
    • I was dead lucky.
    • I used the best lures.
    It might be nice to think the first was true, but I think the third option is most likely. Three Jelltex shads with a 12 oz. Fishtek lumo pirk on the end. Like in the picture on the left. These weren't the actual lures I used - I left them on the boat. On the rig I used, the bottom shad was a Jelltex lumo shad, and that caught I'd guess one third of the fish I got, the rest hitting the pirk.

    That the others didn't switch to what I was using straight away suggests that they were thinking I was just lucky, and that their efforts with live mackerel, sidewinders, pirks without the softbaits, softbaits without pirks etc were sure to pay off some time soon never happened. What makes this odder still is that the owner of the boat is the owner of Fishtek! The guy that designed and made the lures - so of course, we had heaps of Fishtek gear available.

    Anyway, after a rewarding session like that, I make no apology here for rating Fishtek stuff and adding the link here. These lures are even better than the manufacturer claims! That's the case Pete isn't it? Either that, or you reckon it was all luck, because it couldn't be the first option could it?

    The fishing stopped when the near spring tides got into full flow, and we could hardly get to the bottom any more with our lures. We set off back towards Dartmouth, intending to hit another wreck on the way when the flow had dropped a little, but still 35 miles off, the engine quit.

    It was obviously a fuel problem, despite the gauge reading 1/4 full. We had a 20 litres tank, tipped that in, prime pumped the engine a couple of times and we were off again, but this time at a gentle fuel-conserving speed, and headed directly for Dartmouth.

    3 miles out of Dartmouth, just as we were getting the camera out to take some snaps of our catch, the engine died again. Out of fuel. No auxiliary engine. The fuel gauge was still reading 1/4 full, so we unscrewed a bulkhead and some straps to pull out the tank. It was very nearly empty. The pickup pipe was fine, reaching close to the bottom. The best we could do was to hold the tank at an angle to gather the remaining fuel into a corner, and rerig the pickup pipe so that the end was submerged in the corner.

    That got us home, but only just, and very late. The engine conked out again, right at the mooring. And I conked out before I could fillet and freeze the fish, so they were left covered in ice for the night.

    A memorable day then, as intended I expect. Fish in the freezer, and I'll be having John Dory for lunch for the first time - it's supposed to be really great tasting. We'll see.

    The fact that the inshore wrecks are now empty of fish has got me wondering again about sustainable fishing, but I haven't finished mulling over that, so I'll leave it for another posting.

    Friday, 18 June 2010

    A new outboard bracket - repairs and improvements

    Nice fishing weather going by, but I have decided fitting an outboard to the cat has to be a high priority - apart from greatly easing the loading of ice and getting in and out of harbour (and potentially, unloading fish!) it will allow me to work the boat single-handed. Sometimes the weather is great... and all potential crew are busy doing other things.

    So I've almost finished building an outboard bracket. The problem with many outboard brackets for catamarans is that they hang low enough under the cockpit floor to catch the waves, making noise and slowing the boat down. And I'd been told by the previous owner of the boat that going downwind in a storm, waves overtaking the boat from behind would frequently wash water right over the engines. So in trying to find a solution to these problems, I went to Millbrook in Cornwall to have a look around. Only one catamaran currently in the yard used outboards, but the brackets were an inspiring design:

    This bracket is hinged at the front. Though the engine would need removing first, the bracket could potentially be raised level with the cockpit floor. However, the engines, like the engines I got with my catamaran, are 9.9 hp Yamaha's, weighing around 50kgs each. That's too much weight to lug around at sea, lifting an engine into a locker.

    My new outboard is a 6hp Tohatsu, weighing 25 kg. That's light enough to be able to lift off the bracket and put into a locker (something Seafish require me to do at sea, to still qualify as an engineless fishing boat). So I figured, once I've put the engine away, why not put the bracket away too, and fill the gap in the cockpit floor with a removable floor section? That's what I'm building now, a bracket like the one on the cat in Millbrook, but removable rather than just hinged.

    Here's the state of play so far:

    Most of the stress will be borne by oak along the top and at the back. The rest is plywood epoxied together. Being a complex shape, I'm having to glass it in several goes, so it's taking a little time.

    Meanwhile, I've rebuilt the winch that was playing up. Taking it apart, I saw that the wrong sort of grease had been used the last time the winch was serviced, causing some corrosion that I had to smooth to a good surface with wet/dry sandpaper, before rebuilding using the right grease. Good as new now. Unfortunately, I'll have to do the same to the other two winches on board, but it can wait.

    The outboard has gone back to the shop for its first service.

    I've sorted out the mess that was the spinnaker.

    I'm changing the clips on the longline snoods from fiddly snaps to bigger clips - much easier to connect/disconnect. This should enable me to set my lines much more quickly. While I'm at it, I'm attaching a lead weight to the middle of the snoods to prevent them from spinning around the mainline. This should enable me to actually catch some fish.

    I'm making other changes to simplify my use of downrigger lines. I'll post about this if it proves successful.

    Enough! My last dose of epoxy on the outboard bracket is hard enough now to allow me to get on with the next session.

    Sunday, 13 June 2010

    First trial of new techniques

    Loaded six boxes of ice, and we were off into a messy seaway with a gradually fading wind. Perhaps we took our preference for fair weather a step too far...

    Becalmed on the Skerries bank for the afternoon. A good spot to gather bait, but once we had some bait, we'd have the chore of refreshing their water to keep them alive, so we waited till the wind began again. When a breeze arrived, we fished for sandeels, and found only a couple of mackerel. Oh well, we can try for bait at the fishing grounds, or rely on softbaits.

    The wind came from the south west, as did the tide, so we pulled up all sail and tried to get round Start Point before the tidal stream became to strong but we didn't make it. Managing only 4-5 knots in a light wind, having to tack through a current of 1-2 knots directly against us - do the trigonometry - no progress. It had been a long day, having been up at 5 to make preparations for the trip, and getting the ice and so on, so the prospect of sailing against the wind and tide round the point for most the night held no attractions. We decided to anchor at Hallsands:

    and managed to dump our anchor right on the outer anchor symbol.

    Hallsands at sunset:

    and Start Point:

    Our GPS has an anchor alarm function - if our position moves by just 20 metres, the alarm is fired. Unfortunately, the alarm isn't very loud at all, so I moved things around so I could sleep with my head next to the GPS.

    The anchor held, but I was awoken at 2 am by the noise of waves slapping against the hulls. Looking out, I saw that the wind had increased and shifted to the north, the increased fetch allowing the waves to build. The wind was still pretty light though, so I lay awake considering the options. If the wind increased and the anchor didn't hold, we wouldn't have long to retrieve the anchor and get the sails up and before we were driven onto Lobster Rock, or Shoelodge Reef or something else hard and just a little way downwind. At the moment, the tide too was heading south, and with the wind and tide in the same direction, the water was relatively smooth. When the tide turned at 4 am, we'd have wind against tide, which builds waves much larger than just the wind can manage. We get no more sleep after that time. Then also, the tide would again prevent us from getting around Start Point.

    At 3 am we went out into the dark to pull up the anchor and to raise the sails, to get around Start Point before the tide turned. Normally, it would be easier to raise the sails first, but since our route was downwind, we could do without the complications of sails flogging about in the dark as we were on the foredeck getting the anchor up. We could just raise the jib later.

    Without a windlass, getting the anchor up can be hard work! So we lead the anchor rope across the coachroof to a sheet winch, and Fred winched from the cockpit as I pulled from the foredeck. We had to stop for a minute so Fred could come and see the sparkling fluorescence on the rope, but otherwise, it went smoothly. With just the jib, we went round Start Point slowly, but I didn't want to turn into the wind to enable us the get the mainsail up until we were clear of all those hazards, made more hazardous due to the dark.

    With all sail set in the breeze, Fred sailed for the Catlin banks as the sun rose. A couple of hours later, I took over the watchkeeping and we arrived at 7 am. I set about laying a longline so that we could be fishing as I had breakfast.

    The longline was fiddly to set up. All worked as planned, but there are a lot of lines involved and my makeshift line-handling equipment slowed things down, as did the snood clips being too small to easily connect to the mainline. It took 1.5 hours to set a length with 25 hooks. The next time would be quite a bit quicker, as some things I had to do wouldn't need doing again. I'd set the the length of line between the floats and the weights at 25 metres, so the lures would be close to the bottom:

    The wind was light and fickle, and it took a fair bit of work to get the boat to sail for the banks at a gentle 1.5 knots - fast enough to make the lures wiggle, but slow enough to keep the mainline low. Storm jib and double reefed mainsail in a force 1-2!

    After breakfast, we drifted over one of the banks, and I was disappointed to see on the fishfinder than the depth was closer to 35m than 25. Some of this would be due to the tidal rise, which I should have accounted for. So the lures were 10m from the bottom - not very useful, and tedious to pull it all in to reset. So we left it down, and sailed over slowly the other bank, which was a bit shallower, but not much.

    A fisherman friend had come out in his boat and had a couple of small ling and small pollack, and I gave him a couple of buckets of ice to keep them fresh.

    Hauling in the longline, we had our first fish with this method:

    But that was it - a lot of work for one small pollack. Notice the green snood line is twisted round the mainline - I need to add weights to each snood to prevent this from happening.

    So, we had tested the trolling longline idea, and found ways to improve it. And from the evidence of our poor haul, the view on the fishfinder, and our fisherman friend's catch, there weren't many fish about. So there seemed little point in resetting the longline.

    More important was to try out my other new method, the improvised downrigger setup:

    This worked just as planned, with the small weight on the fishing line sinking the float on the downrigger line. We were easily able to keep our lures close to the bottom sailing and up to 3 knots. Details of this system are available here. Unfortunately, trailing lures through nearly empty water doesn't make fish come by magic.

    Our fisherman friend came back in the afternoon for more ice. He had a few fish - a few small ling, a few small pollack, and an embarrassingly small cod. I think he done better because he'd used live bait, and he had been running about all day trying one spot after the other. Oh well, I had plenty of ice to spare.

    It was time to call it a day. A small pollack and a couple of mackerel is a pathetic haul, but I'd tested by setup, and found ways to make improvements for next time, and next time, we'll go further to find the fish, the Channel islands perhaps.

    Meanwhile, some things to fix. The Rutland Charge regulator, which prevents my battery becoming over charged from the solar panel has died. I had to bypass it, but I need it repaired so that the battery can regain a full charge after each trip. I put some wooden wedges into the gap between the daggerboards and the daggerboard cases. One of the wedges has slipped down, jamming the daggerboard so that it can't be raised. Tricky. I'll have to winch it up, but before I can do that, I have a sheet winch to fix - one of them has become quite stiff of operate. And when all that's sorted out, I need to sort out my longline materials before I'll be ready again for another trip.

    Our return journey was fast, as we set off with a favourable tide and wind. We raised the spinnaker for the first time, and I was disappointed to be slowly overtaken by a couple of monohulls close to the coast. When they furled their jibs and left their mainsails up, I remembered that whenever I am overtaken by another boat, it is usually because they are running their engine!

    The spinnaker stayed up till we got to Berry Head, where there were lots of little boats fishing for mackerel. The sock refused to come down over the spinnaker, so we had to drop it onto the net between the hulls, full of wind as it was. Tricky, but we managed it, and sailed round to the mooring with just one tack, leaving behind a monohull that was motoring behind us.

    Oh yes, I have a bundled up spinnaker in a bag to sort out too.

    Thursday, 10 June 2010

    Off fishing

    Finding crew has frequently been a problem. Offering a share of the catch doesn't count for much if the catch is tiny. I sail according to the weather, and if it blows hard for a week, there is no work. Work is 'occasional', and so only occasionally attractive to people with jobs and other commitments.

    Today I have crew, booked for the next three days. The unpleasant weather is passing, and the wind is dying to a pleasant breeze. I have hopes that if my new techniques can catch a reasonable quantity of fish, I'll have less trouble in future finding crew.

    Hurray! If you're really keen, you could watch us preparing to leave on the Fish Quay webcam, watch our departure on the Brixham Breakwater webcam, and monitor our progress across Start Bay on a much better webcam. If you watch carefully, you might see us stop by the Skerries on Start Bay to gather some sandeels, before disappearing into oblivion (round Start Point) to look for the bass. Good luck with that.

    Now, where's my sign? Ah....at last -

    Wednesday, 9 June 2010

    Fair weather fisherman

    The boat is ready to go, and for a change, crew is available. Winds are light, but tomorrow there'll be heavy downpours, so I'm postponing going out till Friday. The forecast for Friday till Sunday is perfect - light winds, and if the forecast is reliable, we should get following winds for both the trip out and the trip back.

    When I tell people I'm trying to be a commercial fisherman, a phrase I often hear is 'out in all weathers'. As if fishermen are expected to endure everything the weather can throw at them and just carry on fishing. It's a strange idea because heavy weather just makes everything an effort - even going below to make a cup of tea can seem not worthwhile. Heavy weather is tiring, and makes accidents more likely. I'm a fair weather fisherman, and am glad to have it that way.

    I guess the reason some fisherman have to be out there day after day is that they have so much invested in their boats, they can't afford to have the boat idle while they go and occupy themselves with gentler work. And perhaps some fishermen may not have other work to do. My boat was a tiny fraction of the cost of a trawler, and a day tied to the mooring buoy isn't a huge expense. So with other work available, I can choose my seasons and weather, even postponing a trip by a day to avoid rain!

    Friday, 4 June 2010

    Dinghy repairs, and new windows for the catamaran.

    My dinghy is an old Wayfarer sailing dinghy, with a centreboard. When I returned from my last trip, it was half-full of water. It had sprung a leak at the junction of the centreboard case and the hull. I guess I had damaged it lugging boxes of ice on board. It was a weak point of thee dinghy that I'd considered removing, but I left it in place, the sooner to get fishing. False economy!

    So now the dinghy is out the water, the centreboard case chopped away, the slot filled with offcuts of Airex foam, and then glassed over. While I'm working on the dinghy, I'll fit a chain I can use to lock the outboard in place. I had been taking the outboard home with me, but it is heavy and if I keep struggling back and forth with it, one day, I'll drop it in the water. Probably better to risk theft, and do what I can to make it difficult to steal.

    Meanwhile, I have been given a whole set of new windows for the boat! New, thick sheets of Perspex, cut to shape. The original windows are old and crazed and ready for retirement. When I fit the new windows, I'll be able to sit indoors and keep watch. Even in pleasant weather, it's nice to get out of the sun and the wind for a while and relax. And when it's cold, it's great to leave the boat to the Autohelm, and sit inside with a cup of tea. Not sure when I'll get to fit the windows though. I need nice dry weather to do that, which is also fishing weather. Perhaps, if the wind falls really light, we might do it as we sail to the fishing grounds.

    Monday, 31 May 2010

    No more single-handed engineless sailing!

    First trip of the season... not so good. No crew, but I was keen to try out my new fishing techniques and equipment - if I can come back with some fish, I expect I'll have less trouble finding crew. But a trip like this won't sound attractive to budding crew members... :(

    Saturday night, I decided to load the boat and get the ice, sleep on the boat at the mooring and set off for some fishing grounds towards Plymouth that proved productive last year. Not brilliant, but somewhere with fish I can try my techniques. Saturday night isn't a good time to get ice. The ice man bunked off a little early, and I was a little late, so I missed my chance.

    Sunday morning, trawlers unloading fish take precedent, and I don't get my ice on board till 10:30. It's blowing force 4-5 in the harbour, but I reckon the wind is gusting round the cliffs and it'll be calmer at sea. It's not easy setting off from a mooring in an engineless catamaran in gusty conditions. I was lucky to get away with it. I'd rigged a rope from the mooring to the port side of the cat, so when I dropped the mooring forward, the boat swung side on to the wind with all sail up. Unfortunately, the flapping jib tangled the sheets together, but the mainsail caught the wind, and we were off, soon picking up speed. With only the mainsail catching the wind, and the jib flapping uselessly, I couldn't help the boat rounding up into the wind and heading straight towards the only thing between me and the sea:

    If I tried to tack into the wind, I might fail, and the cat would hit the hulk, or I might succeed, in which case I'd be clear of the hulk, but heading towards the shore and the boats closer in than me, and still with the jib sheets tangled. So I had to try to bear away - which would inevitably accelerate the catamaran. The mainsail alone, unbalanced by the jib was too powerful a force for the rudder. So I let go the tiller, loosened the mainsheets as far as they would go, untangled the jib sheets, and tightened the leeward sheet. All the time we were accelerating towards the hulk, but there was no time to look. With the jib now balancing the main, I was able to dash for the tiller and turn hard to leeward. A motorboat behind me I noticed stop to watch the impending collision. But it didn't happen! The cat shot past the hulk in a tight turn at 7-8 knots, missing by no more than a couple of feet. Once past the hulk, we were in the clear, and I could engage the self-steering and sort out the ropes and fenders as we left Brixham behind at a good pace.

    Once around Berry Head, we were hard on the wind, and it was stronger than I'd hoped, so I had to reef the mainsail. We didn't lose any speed, but the boat sailed easier. A quick scan of the horizon:

    and it looked safe enough to go below and make some sandwiches. By the time I'd made them and eaten half:

    We'd overtaken a 60' schooner under full sail.

    Lovely to look at, but they aren't half slow, and they don't seem as able to go as close to the wind as a catamaran. Maybe they didn't have enough crew on board!

    In Start Bay, it was wind against spring tides. The tide was in my favour, but against the wind, so the waves were steep and the ride rough. By five o'clock, the tide had turned against me, and the wind began to die a little, as forecast. I was getting tired too, having been up and at it since 5 am that morning. So I decided to have a try at anchoring just outside of Salcombe, which looked nicely sheltered from the west. There was no question of going right into Salcombe across the bar and up the steep-sided river without an engine. But maybe the outside anchoring spot would be shelter enough:

    No good! The anchorage near the range was too rough, being affected by swell coming round Bolt Head. And the anchorage in Starehole Bay was too close to the cliff, shadowing the wind, and being hit by gusts from different directions. To risky to try under sail - so I tack back out to sea to try for Plymouth.

    No good either! The tide was flowing at 2 knots against me, and the wind was dead against me too, and dying. I tacked back and forth for a little while, but made little progress.

    Problem! Very tired, and no prospect of getting into Plymouth till after the tide had turned, and still against the wind, not likely before Monday lunch time. Salcombe anchorage no good. Staying at sea all night alone would  mean setting an alarm to wake my every 15 minutes so I could get up and scan the horizon - there were many ships a few miles south. Even though I was now at the fishing grounds, it seemed I'd be too tired to spend a day fishing and then have the energy to sail back. It was time to turn tail and head back.

    I considered anchoring in Start Bay, but the swell was still high, and with the spring tides, I might get 2 knots of current at full flow. I didn't fancy trying to get some sleep anchoring there. And Dartmouth was no good either - too steep sided to allow easy sailing in and out, unless you have a south wind to take you in, and a north wind to bring you out the next day. So it had to be Brixham! And quick, because the dying wind meant I'd be lucky to get there before the tide turned against me again!

    By 9 pm, the wind was hardly ruffling the surface of the swells, but my light weight head sail pulled in tight made good use of the NW breeze, managing up to 7 knots with the benefit of the tide.

    I got back to Berry Head by 3 am, and used the last of my wakefulness getting to the mooring. Tricky at night, trying to see moorings and boats against the lights on the land behind. I dropped anchor near the mooring, and then used my dinghy to take a line to the mooring, and pulled the catamaran to the mooring. It might have been alright left on the anchor, but it seemed worth the effort to fully secure the boat, so I could be certain of an uninterrupted sleep.

    Here's how I pick up a mooring at night in zombie mode, and you can see too the course I took when I left.

    It's always best I think, under sail at night single-handed without an engine, to do a little victory loop before finishing the voyage. :)

    Next trip, I'll go with crew, or I'll have fitted the little outboard so I can get in and out of harbour.

    Friday, 28 May 2010

    Ready at last!

    The boat's good to go - though I haven't finished with the baitwell, so I'll just have to use lures and whatever bait we can catch as we go along. Sunday/Monday look good weather wise. Not so promising crew-wise, so may have to go single-handed.

    Friday, 21 May 2010

    A baitwell for a sailing boat

    While I am waiting for an engineer to finish a little job on the top of the shaft of my new rudder, I've been working on making a baitwell. I want to fish using live bait, and sandeels and small mackerel are the best all round bait available. They're both easy to catch on the Skerries, a sandbank just out of Dartmouth. What I want to do is fish for my bait on the Skerries before sailing to where the bigger fish live.

    I built a baitwell, and planned to use a pump that currently powers the shower to pump the seawater into it. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap again of copying methods suitable to boats with engines. Boats with engines are boats with a plentiful electricity supply. They don't need to consider the efficiency of things like water pumps. They can pump water up from sea level up to say two metres, and allow the overflow to drain back into the sea. But when I uninstalled my shower pump, I was disappointed to read on the pump that it typically uses 8 amps at 12v. Which is far more than any other equipment I run. My battery would drain in a few hours. The battery I use to run the fishfinder, laptop, navigation lights and other lights, and the self-steering gear. The only way I could run a pump like that would be to also run a generator. I don't fancy the expense, the work of installing it, or the noise.

    But I need a baitwell that I can keep bait in for several days. Sandeels are much easier to catch on the Skerries that out over some deep water wreck. I did some thinking...

    I understand that lifting sea water to a height of a couple of metres is going to consume a fair amount of power. But what I really want to do is simply change the water in the baitwell  tank. If I balance the work of lifting the fresh water into the with the work of dropping the water back into the sea, I'll need far less power. I've found a pump designed to run for long periods (unlike my shower pump designed to run for no more than 20 minutes at a time) using low power - around 1 amp. It's a circulating pump, and now I need to make a baitwell that uses the work of the water dropping back to the sea.

    To do this, I need a baitwell that I can close off with an air-tight lid, and run the stale water through a pipe down to the sea level. With the lid closed, the pump is just circulating water from the sea through the tank, using very little power. With the lid open, the pump won't have enough power to change the water in the tank. The tank will need to be filled using a bucket, and while I'm fishing for bait, or getting bait out of the tank to use, I'll have to occasionally add a bucket of fresh sea water to the tank. But this is the only way I can see of keeping bait alive for days at a time, using only a small amount of electricity.

    So the task for today is to find a suitable container that has an airtight lid. First stop, Newton Abbot dump!

    Tuesday, 18 May 2010

    Boat cleaned and antifouled

    Bringing the boat into Brixham harbour where it will dry out at low tide, and I can clean off the algae and barnacles and give it a new coat of antifoul paint. There's no engine on the catamaran, so we are moving it by tying  the dinghy alongside. It's OK when we have a bit of speed on, so that the catamaran's rudder(s) can steer, but it is difficult at low speed, and stopping and starting. At the moment I have just one rudder fitted! Harbour crowded, and a bit of wind....

    But we got to the harbour wall without a drama. An anchor out to the side allowed us to dry out a few feet away from the wall, so that I could work on all sides of the boat.

    The deck it green with algae. It was like this when I bought the boat. Scrubbing the deck didn't help much, so I left it, thinking sea water would eventually kill the algae and the spray would wash it off. But we've never really had any sea water on the deck, and the algae has thrived!

    I hired a powerful jet wash. There wasn't a lot of time  before the water would come back - two hulls to clean off a thick layer of algae and a few colonies of barnacles, and then to paint it all.

    Last year I added a couple of laminated oak mini-keels to the hulls, just to allow drying out in places like this. Much cheaper and quicker than getting craned out for this kind of work!

    It's not exactly tidy, but it is clean. I had time, just, to get the antifoul on with enough time for the paint to dry before the water came back.

    Clean and shiny boat, off back to the mooring, powered by the dinghy strapped to the side.

    Thanks Fred! :)

    Sunday, 16 May 2010

    New rudder finished

    How to make a rudder.

    First buy some expensive western red cedar, cut into strips a little over half the thickness and twice the length the rudder is going to be, and glue the strips together with epoxy and high density filler. So you end up with a block of wood as thick and wide as the rudder is going to be, and twice the length.

    Then you need to choose the right profile. I measured the rudder from the other hull, and figured it was intended to be a NACA 0014 profile, but it wasn't that accurate. To make a more accurate shape I used a spreadsheet here, and made a paper template which was a half profile of the rudder. I then drew round the shape at each end of the block of wood, and planed the length to the shape:

    Lots of that expensive wood ends up in shavings on the floor. The black thing on the right is the rudder I'm copying. I've shaped the block, cut it in half, and then cut round the sides. The two halves almost ready to join together. But I needed to make glue the stainless steel rudder stock in first, so I routed and chiseled the other side:

    And then glued the rudder stock in with epoxy and high density filler.

    The wood was beginning to warp a little - each half began to bend outward a bit. I guess that was due to the way the grain was running, but once the two halves are glued together, that tendency to warp should be balanced out.

    Here's the two halves joined together and planed and sanded to the final shape. Did I mention the sanding? No? Well, there was a lot of that, and not with a machine either, but with a long board with sandpaper stapled to it. That way, you don't end up sanding hollows into the wood. Hard work, and the dust being pretty toxic, all done wearing a face mask.

    Here's the rudder finished - coated in epoxy and glass cloth. At the aft edge, the layers of glass are brought together and filled with epoxy filler. This is stronger than a wooden edge, as its getting pretty thin back there.

    The final coat of epoxy is dry - now it just needs a light sanding, and then painting with a couple of coats of antifoul.

    Sunday, 2 May 2010

    New season

    No fishing yet, though the bass will be arriving in the next week or two, so I need to crack on.

    Need to build a new rudder.
    Install new autopilot.
    Install a seawater pump for the baitwell.
    Antifoul the boat.

    And then I'll be ready to start.