MFV Kerry Jane

You may remember that my oldest son Robert had literally run away from school and home, aged fifteen, to enrol himself into a commercial fishing course at Grimsby. You may also remember that he had an initial (traumatic) first trip on the giant trawler Ross Cougar after which he came back home to a job in a metal galvanising plant. But all he really wanted to do was to skipper his own small boat and fish the Solent waters for money. He and his mother worked on me for some time before I gave in. I went to see my long-suffering bank manager and secured the loan to buy a twenty eight foot metal hulled converted lifeboat. Why did I do it when I knew my son was not always entirely 'balanced' in his mind? Head in sand stupidity I guess. Looking for solutions where in all reality there were none.

There is an oyster fishery in the waters around Southampton, between the mainland and the Isle of Wight. In the 70's and early 80's anybody with a suitable boat could go out - from November to, I think, February - to dredge the gravel beds for their high grade 'Belon' oysters. Later on the fishery became a fully licensed closed shop for the benefit of that band of local, well established fishermen, none of whom were overly pleased to see the arrival of my (that is, Robert's) boat or its young crew. I had bought Kerry Jane from a guy in Langstone harbour. Robert and his brother went over there to take her out to sea and bring her round on to her new moorings in the adjacent Portsmouth harbour. I waited dockside, heart in mouth, but had no need to worry. Both young men were very good at boat handling - even a boat as unsuitable / unhandlable as that old Kerry Jane. Looking back, I think it's called being sold a pup! We had a lot of work to do on the boat before the season opened. Amongst other things I had to learn the arts and crafts of steel welding .

The oyster fishery season opens on the stroke of midnight. By then every boat with a winch is milling around in the darkness, in ultra close proximity one to the others over the gravel beds off Calshott, all ready to drop their dredges. Dangerous stuff, much accompanied by bluff, counter-bluff and profanity! I still have two oyster shells at home. The smaller one is the very first oyster dredged up by Robert's Kerry Jane on that first midnight. It cost, I used to say, slightly over ten thousand pounds sterling. The large one is a perfect example of a mature Belon (Atlantic) oyster - much better eating than the gnarled and twisted Pacific oysters that are mostly what you get in British restaurants. I helped crew the boat when I could. Robert would be skippering the boat with Stu on the winches and me sorting out the legally sized oysters from all the undersized ones and the stones and rubble that come up in the wire mesh dredges. It was serious fun whilst it lasted.Great satisfaction when you put into Portsmouth Docks to unload and sell your catch - until you realised that for every bag of oysters you had, some of the real old pro's had two or three. When the oyster season ended I financed the acquisition of trawl and long lining gear. Trawl net for catching plaice and sole, long lines for bass. In spite of all our efforts, for two full years we ran the boat at a loss. Hard times even though full of hope - mostly unrealised. I remain convinced that the pressures of that old Kerry Jane and my need to get some kind of a return from her operations contributed to Robert's increasing mental illness.

When the boys were out in Kerry Jane without me, when I got home I used to go down to the sea front with my binoculars, watching and waiting, hoping and praying. Low points and high points ...Perhaps the former was when the boat's engine gave up the ghost and she had to be towed, in the early hours, into Cowes for repairs. Kerry Jane was never anything but marginally seaworthy. Not good when you understood the risk to the life and limb of my young sons and their friends who would form her crew. And another low when Robert (and/or I?) was taken to court and fined for landing undersized oysters. High point? Definitely when I went to the harbour to see the boys landing a massive catch of long-lined bass. Mother lode at last? No, just another swallow that that never did make a summer.

Because we were 'commercial', for tax reasons I had to form a company. I called it 'KJ Fisheries'. And because a company needs to keep proper accounts I prevailed upon a reluctant Delia to study accounting at night school. To her own surprise she secured her O Level. I further prevailed on her to go on to study for her A Level but all she got was a second O! Never mind, she took the burden of doing the boat's books off me and her knowledge came in very handy when I left Sweetheart to form my own consultancy, and again when we started our micro business in cards etc up here in the Highlands of Scotland.

For a further couple of years, Kerry Jane lay on her moorings without being mechanically sound enoiugh - or her skipper being mentally well enough -to earn her keep. Eventually I called the boat salvagers in Southampton, glad enough to let them tow her away free of charge to be broken up. End of that chapter. As I say, it had not been altogether an unhappy one but I was glad to be rid of the worry of the boat at a time when I had plenty of other worries. Amongst others, the experience had left my son Robert unwell and adrift. Joan and I were by now very, very concerned for him and his future.

In ending my previous bio-blog I said I would be writing about Julie and her snooker ambitions; Stuart / Seth and the dog shows and Robert and the commercial fishing boat. However, this blog being quite long enough, Julie and snooker and Stu and Seth will have to await the next episode! One thing to say though; never a dull moment!

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