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Trawler fishing in treacherous weather


Why is the trawler dangerous?
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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Well, the trawler. It was a great idea, seemed to be. A typical writer's idea when he's getting overweight and so on, at a desk in Oxford: go out at the very worst time of year on a trawler. Let's see how bad it gets. You know, you want the full experience. So it's got to be in January, preferably when there's a hurricane coming in. Now I just thought you could go and get on a trawler. Well, it took me a year to get permission to go anywhere near a commercial trawler. So I had to... well, I did a scientific cruise on Her Majesty's Research Ship, the Scotia. And that was a very, very bad preparation for commercial trawling. I didn't know, but she has the most sophisticated U-tube stabiliser system in the world at that time, because actually she'd been built to listen to submarines beneath the thermocline, where the warm current's coming up and cold current's coming down. It lowers that sort of James Bond, and can listen to submarines while pretending to be a trawler. So you need it to be absolutely stable, and this thing was stable. So I thought, well, Force 10, no problem.

[Q] Why is it difficult to get on a trawler?

Because there's no health and safety, it's fantastically dangerous. You go overboard, the skipper's not going to stop fishing just for you. And so on. It's absolutely out of bounds. No passengers, no civilians allowed anywhere near it. You're meant to know what you're doing. And of course, I didn't. But at least I went, as it were, as a scientist from the Aberdeen Research Station. But actually I went on the lowest possible civil service rank. I was assistant to a student. That's what got me on board. Wonderful man, Luke Buller. But yes, as I'll tell you, that was far more frightening than anything. After all, to die with an eight-foot-long Yanomami through you, pinned to the side of the tree in the middle of the forest. How classy is that? You couldn't really get any better. And to get a poison arrow from the Babinga, I mean, again. Even to be ripped to bits... actually, you wouldn't be ripped to bits, you'd have one bite to the head from a leopard, that's kind of one-on-one, isn't it? It's personal. Whereas when this hurricane did come in, the violence of it, the unremitting, ghastly force of it, the fact... the fact that it was so inhuman. Nothing one-on-one about it. And also, at the back of one's mind, you think, well, so many trawlers sink, go down, I mean, you get... You might get a whole page in The Orcadian, or The Shetland Times, and a little tiny bit in London. I mean, what kind of a death is that? Horrible. Yes, ghastly.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: The trawler, FRV Scotia, Scotland, Aberdeen, The Orcadian, The Shetland Times

Duration: 4 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009