Creative Sabbatical – Penzance #1

Posted 20 August 2013 in Residencies

Spent the day lobster fishing off the Cape Cornwall coast with local fisherman Stephen Tregear. He’d accepted my offer of a free hand for the day, as long as I was fit enough and with the understanding I was working on his boat at my own risk.

Every summer, Stephen runs about 20 strings of 10 lobster pots. A day’s work consists of pulling up, harvesting, then bating 10 of these strings (100 pots), and putting the catch in his store pots. Today, he also wanted to move some strings to safer spots – there’s harsh weather coming in. The ocean was already a bit ‘floppy’. Normally he does the job single-handed, but my job today was to board, stack, and bait the pots; sort the catch; and cast the strings back out. (As an artist, my job was to was to have an experience outside of my norm, which this 5-hour trip certainly, physically, did).

Once launched from the slipway, Stephen gave some quick instructions on how to work safely; keep a low centre of gravity, a wide stance, and all ropes and pots in front you; how to handle lobster and crab, and what’s undersized and unwanted. How to open, clear out and bait up (herring or white bait) the 3 different types of lobster pot. Finally, how to work the outboard if he happens to fall in.

Navigating between hauling up the strings, there was not much talk. The engine, the sea and wind put paid to that. What talk there was, revealed Stephen’s depth of knowledge of this environment, and the skills he’s developed to earn a living from it. The tides, the tin mines, geology, history, and especially the lobster/crab habitat 60 feet or so below. I ask how he knows where it’s best to lay the pots? It turns out that he’s dived much of the seabed here and knows that lobsters prefer a rocky habitat with stretches of sand they can burrow into. It’s as if he’s got a mental map of the sea floor, knowing the spots where the ever-shifting sands could collect. On the boat, (or the giant wobble board) he multi-tasks with an efficient, nimble dexterity honed over 40 years on the job, that put my clumsy attempts into stark contrast. I like to think I improved with practice, and after I’d lost my breakfast to the Atlantic.

There’s no picture to accompany this post. The oil skins, life jacket and thick rubber gloves, combined with the sheer hard work and the ‘flop’, made it impossible for me to reach into a deeply buried waterproof pocket to pull out my small snapshot camera. There were moments I wished I could have taken a picture. Fishing off the coast of an industrial heritage site, with the old tin mine chimney stacks and engine houses as if hewn out of the cliffs and the sea spray hanging in the air make for a pretty amazing daily work backdrop. Can’t find a picture of this on google.