Trawlers or Deep Sea

24th June 2008, 09:35
Have any sparkies worked on trawlers and deep sea? What were the differences, which did you prefer? Were sparkies employed by Marconi on trawlers?

John Ringrose
24th June 2008, 16:21
I did both.

Went with Blueys - young daft and packed in. As I am from Grimsby went on trawlers for a while before going with Cunard.

At that time I found the work far more interesting on trawlers and far better gear. However much longer hours - basically Chinese watches - go on and stop on. No life - rough all the time but really eye opening. I was pleased I did it.

Marconi did have guys - usually for Consols but many like me sailed direct. I sailed with B.U.T and Bostons.

Ron Stringer
24th June 2008, 17:00
Were sparkies employed by Marconi on trawlers?

In the mid-1960s Marconi's Hull depot was still supplying over 150 R/Os to fishing vessels. Not being directly involved, I can't say whether Hull Depot also supplied FV R/Os to boats sailing out of Grimsby, or if the Grimsby depot supplied the R/Os to their own boats.

25th June 2008, 01:55
In Grimsby, ROs were direct employed by Ross, Northern Trawlers and Bostons. Marconis supplied Consolidated Fisheries and made up occasional shortfalls with the other companies. Many ROs stayed on the same ship or with the same Skipper for years. I think in Hull, most ROs worked for Marconis.

Trips were generally about 3 weeks (to Iceland, Norway Coast and what was known as the "White Sea", actually round the North Cape of Norway to the Russian coast. The weather was mostly bad to horrendous. Fiddles were always on the tables and everything was eaten out of soup bowls. Stay in port was usually 3 days. With Marconis you could extend this by getting out of a ship and asking for another one. Probably the Direct employ companies wouldn't have put up with that. There was also an entitlement of a couple of weeks annual holiday.

In the late '60s pay was about 12 Pounds per week plus "poundage". Poundage was the share of the catch - I think it was 7 Pounds for every 1000 Pounds that the catch was sold for, the same as received by a deckhand. A payment for liver money was also received - in Grimsby it was just paid, but in Hull the RO had to boil the livers. With the demise of steam ships this practice disappeared as the livers were processed ashore. Luckily I only ever did it on one ship.

With a reasonable trip, the pay averaged around 40 Pounds per week, significantly better than the 15 Pounds per week paid by Marconis for "Big Boating", as the MN was known.

Radioroom and Bridge electronic equipment was miles ahead of what was supplied to Merchant ships at that time (except on some of the older ships). I never saw "scrambling" gear for radiotelephone calls on a cargo ship, but I did on trawlers! Also Decca Navigators, Decca Plotters, Loran, etc, etc.

Watches started after breakfast and basically went all day but you could often have a siesta after lunch. Generally it was an 11 or 12 hour day. Each company had W/T radio skeds in which the skippers told each other lies about where they were and what they were catching. One ship was nominated as "control", passing it on to the last ship to arrive at the grounds when they sailed for home. The Skeds of other companies were also monitored as info re fishing was often gleaned from them - especially when some lazy ROs didn't code up their messages, although uncoded messages could be "red herrings", excuse the pun. Additionally, there was a large amount of company radio traffic and the fishermen were prolific "wire" senders - many of them had their own code books, purchased from newsagents in town, in order to keep the word count down.

Most of the radio traffic went through Wick Radio once the ship was at the fishing grounds. Continuous watch was kept on 2182 kc/s RT and one or two of the trawler W/T channels. At Iceland, it was a good idea to tell the Skipper if you heard "Ayer" (spelling?) being called on 2182 as it was probably the Coastguard plane calling up the gunboat!

At the end of the trip you walked off the dock feeling ten feet tall, that's if your legs didn't fold under you!

That's about it from my memory of my short time fishing - think it's fairly accurate. Like John Ringrose, I'm glad I did it, but, comparing the Fishermen's Mission in Isafjord to a Motomachi sleazy bar: no contest!

John T.

25th June 2008, 03:57
This is all great stuff. I never understood why sparkies would choose trawlers over the 'big boats' I guess the lure was the money. When I was a young fellow all I wanted to do was see the world, money didnt matter.
Thats the great thing about SN, all your questions can be answered.

25th June 2008, 04:19
Norm, another attraction was the smell - stale fish, Old Friend tobacco and diesel. Lovely!

Actually, I do like that fishy smell and whenever I get a whiff of it, I'm instantly transported to Grimsby's North Wall of 40 years ago.

John T.

25th June 2008, 09:18
Actually, I do like that fishy smell and whenever I get a whiff of it...

John T.

Memories, memories..[=P] :) :)

25th June 2008, 10:50
I see you met that bird with the seashell tattooed on the inside of her thigh, BA!

John T.

Gavin Gait
25th June 2008, 11:21
From my time at the trawling I have seen scramblers used on the VHF ( Sailor base unit with the attached scrambler unit ) but mainly by pair trawl teams to talk to each other ( used for course changes , the Skipper of one boat is always in charge with each taking turns haul about , and for letting each other know how much fish they got out of each haul ) although I have seen them used between a group of skippers who worked beside each other on a few occasions.

I don't know if a scrambler unit could ever be used on SW though as it needs a good clear signal to work from my experience.

The equipment onboard the newest trawlers are state of the art now. All have 2 or 3 VHF DSC units , 1 SW unit ( vessels over 30m may carry 2 I think ) , Satellite navigation systems ( 2 or 3 PC connected displays which show the charts with an overlay option for the bad ground / wrecks / tows / fishing info ) , 3D display sonar units , Satellite TV , Satellite Broadband for the internet / Email / etc , 2 Radars ( ARPA type and another , lets you track a few dozen ships and if they are fitted with AIS you can see which ship it is on the display )

Non of this is cheap but it means that the new trawlers , even the under 10m length ones , have far more equipment aboard than we did in the David John 20 years ago

K urgess
25th June 2008, 11:30
When I signed on at Marconi's in 1966 I signed for deep sea.
I was asked if I would consider trawlers at all. Pity I can't remember my response to Tom Bridges. Probably something a lot less polite than "Never in a million years".
A lot of the lads at college with me were doing conversions from Specials to PMG2s or higher. They did fishing trips during college holidays to pay for the course and the vast quantities of beer and Chinese we consumed. Several times I gave them a lift down to Fish Dock when they joined or went to visit their new signings.
I think my decision that it was not for me came when one of the lads signed on a trawler that had been on the bottom of the river for a while before being refitted. It looked as if they'd just hosed it down before putting it back into commission.
I have a different take on the fishy "rum, bum and baccy" smell from these visits and from working on the dock when I swallowed the anchor.


25th June 2008, 11:43
I don't know if a scrambler unit could ever be used on SW though as it needs a good clear signal to work from my experience.......................

Hi Davie,

No probs with using scramblers on HF - I've known them used from 4MHz band right up to 28MHz - but as you suggest they do need optimum frequency selection.



25th June 2008, 11:54
...the seashell tattooed on the inside of her thigh, BA!

John T.

Ahhhh... is that what it was? In the dim light of the shop doorway I thought it was a kipper...... silly me!:) :)

K urgess
25th June 2008, 12:03
Sailed with a Marconi 2009D "speech inverter" on the Esso Lancashire in 1973.
It's parked on top of the Atalanta in this ( picture.
Quite a few scheds with Esso in London using it as can be seen from the sched list pasted to the front.
Apart from the emphasis on echo sounders (Fishfinder, etc.) and a lot of nav equipment I didn't notice any real difference between trawler gear and deep sea stuff in the 60s. It seemd to be mostly a lo of gear stuffed into a small space.

25th June 2008, 12:47
The scrambler on trawlers was used for secrecy - not sure why Esso would need that. After a I left trawlers I sailed on ships with one radar and a DF on the bridge and a load of crap in the radio room (not that I cared) - you were spoiled Kris. Bye the way, is that a poxy Seaguard behind that Yeti in the photo?

BA - It's supposed to look like a kipper, if it smells like one, run!

John T.

K urgess
25th June 2008, 13:18
You know what oil companies can be like, JT.
Especially if you're carrying AvGas or whatever to Guam for the bombers going to Hanoi. (EEK) Plus the chance she may end up in the Mekong delta if necessary (don't think she ever got there).
I sailed on those junk equipped ones as well as you can see from the radio room equipment thread. Don't think I saw many Lifeguards and that's definitely a Seaguard. Magic machines but you had to have the "knack". [=P]
It weren't all sunshine and roses deep sea. Usually Marconi hadn't much of a say in the gear on their contract ships unless they could get it condemned.


25th June 2008, 13:46
I came out of college in the early 60's with a ticket and but no boats. At that time there was about a 6 month waiting time to get away with Marconi.
I had two other options then. I could sign on a whaler for a season or get a job with the UK deepsea trawler fleet. I chose the latter and got started with Redifon in Hull. As I am from a fishing background it was not too much of a culture shock. It was mid winter and on my first trip on the St Elstan, (Thomas Hamlins)we broke down in the North Sea in bad weather. The 2nd engineer had got inebriated and forgot to oil the white metal in the pistons and severe damage was caused. As the St Elstan was a converted coal burner, this operation had to be done manually.
We manage to limp into the fjords and got up to Harstad where major repairs were carried out.
Once underway we headed up the the White Sea but fishing was poor. We then went into Honingsvag for more fuel and went up to Bear Island. Our trip took about 5 weeks rather than the normal 3.
I stayed with Redifon for about 9 months and then went on to join Marconi in Grimsby.
After about 3 months there, I got the chance to go "real" deep sea and joined a Shell tanker, the Vibex.
It fealt like a holiday after the trawlers


John Ringrose
25th June 2008, 14:45
Well J.T has given it all really. When on the Ross Kelly with Dave Scott circa 1971 I was on 25 a week basic plus 6.60 in the thousand plus oil money. That trip I ended up with approx 62 per week which wasn't bad for that period. Not called the 3 day millionaires for nothing..

However !!!!!.

We had a number of problems and went into Isafjord - Reykavik and somewhere else. Hulks of sunken trawlers on the way in. Weather was very bad and I was tied on to the radar mast using a blow lamp to get the ice off.

On the way back we were laid to and dodginig at the Faroes to get all the gear off the decks as it had been bad when leaving the Fishing grounds and couldn't get the gear in.

Whilst we were doing this we took a horrendous green back over the bows which absolutely hammered the bridge breaking loads of windows. The water rushed in and down into the radio room. Very very cold - Of course there was only "Bang Bang Bang" going on in all the gear with salt water rushing in. Davey Scott the skipper just looked down in the radio room and asked "What have you gone pale for??" he turned round to the old guy on the wheel (who by the way had lied about his age to keep at sea) and said "Get the bastard back on course".

During the last three days of the trip I managed to get the radar and VHF going again which is all the skipper was bothered about. When we got back the insurers and repair people were down and we were told that the bridge "Get This!!!!!" had been pushed back some 8 or 9 inches and she would have to slip for repairs.

I went in to Northerns (then B.U.T) to see Ronnie the radio control. I said at first I would go back - however after a few beers in the Hitchin Rail pub I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and got a taxi back to the office. Ronnie was there and merely said "I've been waiting for you - I thought you would come back & resign".

End of my Fishing career. Many other stories to tell but that will do for now.

However I will repeat - the gear was far superior to any I sailed with when Big Boating & I learnt more during that time than ever I did on Big Boats.

Jas m
25th June 2008, 17:26
Afriend of mine was a sparkie on trawlers from Hull and Aberdeen working the Icelandic waters. He was employed by Marconi and 'contracted' to the trawler company. he had the pin money job on the aberdeen boats of the cod livers ...if he boiled them down for the oil!

Bill Greig
27th June 2008, 08:16
On the subject of VHF's and scramblers etc. Back aboiut 1981 I was working ashore with Sait Marine in Aberdeen. We got a call from one of the offices regarding one of their vessels which was due to sail in about an hour. Quote from the office - "There is something wrong with their VHF we can't understand what the skipper is saying". Popped down the quay to investigate. Checked out the VHF, power good, antenna good, tried a couple of test transmissions - all good. It was only when the skipper staggered into the wheelhouse I twigged what the problem was, every man jack on board were drunk as skunks! The skipper was so bad you almost needed subtitles.
And they were about to sail for standby duties out in the North Sea.

30th June 2008, 13:40
I did three trips in '68 for Ross Group whilst I was between PMG 2nd and 1st. Also did some shore work too in Ross House for Barney Warman who was the radio guru then. Sailed on the Kipling, Khartoum and Juno. Compared to deep sea (I joined T & J Brocklebanks in the summer of '68 thence Cunard) the gear was pretty ordinary but it functioned adequately.

I too have memories of persistent bad weather, ice all over the upper decks, rolling like a pig, but I had a great time. Apart from the smell that is - always took getting used to but get used to it we did.

I have one enduring memory of an exceptionally bad night on the Juno. The only time I have turned in wearing a life jacket - had the Tx on standby and the handset already plugged into the alarm generator. Just had to hit the HT and Start buttons as I ran past on my way over the side. It was an apalling night!

The watches were long but I also recall spending many hours in "quiet times" either gutting on deck or stacking in the ice room.

I spent the following 13 years on "big boats" but always recall my days on trawlers with particular affection.

Alan Marsden

John Ringrose
30th June 2008, 14:04
Barny Warman is still alive aged 82. He went back to sea as well after he was the onshore Radio Super.

He was also landlord for quite a while at the Palace Buffet.

His son John was the first and only Trawler Deck cadet.

Don Armour
6th July 2008, 10:45
The amount of "kit" that the distant water trawlers carried (2 radars, 2 echo sounders and a variety of comms equipment) could lead to trouble, there is the apocryphal story of a trawler in the Barents Sea being arrested by the Soviets and taken into port in North Russia on a charge of spying.

The Soviet trawlers at the time carried very little in the way of electronics, with the exception of some of the Okean and Mayak classes which WERE converted for electronic intelligence gathering (no secrets there, it was public domain info from Jaynes Fighting Ships and Combat Fleets of the World) so it's reasonably easy to see why they would be suspicious (unfoundedly) of the equipment on our boats.

I was only ever on trawlers before I took a completely different career path, so I can't comment with regard to "big boats", but there was definitely SOMETHING about it apart from the money (which was, nonetheless, most welcome).

Ah, those were the days, the environment was far from comfortable at times, but then at other times, there was nothing, in my limited experience at the time, to touch it, but maybe the passage of time has mellowed the memory.

Still, it was an experience that I would not have missed for the world, particularly as it has now all gone and, even were I considerably younger, would be unable to repeat.