27th October 2001
I went for a walk around again today and got chatting to one of the crew. I say got chatting, but in actual fact he spoke virtually no English and I spoke virtually no Portuguese. We somehow managed to get by and he offered to show me around. He showed me where the crew slept. It was shocking to see how they are all packed in like sardines right at the bow. It must be hellish in there when it’s rough and the bow is punching through waves. He showed me a massive knot fender that he’d been tying; it was really impressive and must have taken days to tie. He introduced me to his friends, some of them I had already met yesterday. They were all sitting in a smaller cabin, which housed 6 bunks. A glass and a carton of wine was swiftly pulled from a bunk and some wine poured out for me. The glass was full of fish scales and smeared with grease but I didn’t like to refuse, figuring it would be better to have bad guts for a day than spend 3 months on a ship with a crew who thought you were a stuck up prick.
Somebody started to play a guitar, and by the haggard looks of some of the men, I had arrived late to the party even though it was only early afternoon. They had had some tough times, especially seeing their friend decapitated and mutilated in the winch. It must have been horrific. Not only did they witness that, but then had to remove his mangled remains from the winch to transport back to dry land. I couldn’t blame them for wanting to drink cheap wine to pass away the time until they reached land again.
After half a pint of vino tinto they showed me around the fish factory and processing area. The bloke with the dog (the dog was called Pirito (Pirate), but I didn’t catch the bloke’s name) also had a pet finch in a tiny cage. He told me that there were lots of finches like this in his garden at home and I wondered if the bird was wild caught. There was another dog tied up in the factory, who jumped up and snarled when we walked in. Apparently he had bitten three of the crew, with one bite being severe enough to require stitches. It was sad to see the dog tied up like that, not much of a life for him, but what else are you going to do at sea?
It was good to spend time with the crew. They don’t resent my presence at all and are much more open and relaxed. The officers would much prefer that they didn’t have an observer on board, which is understandable since it is my job to report any illegal fishing which goes on, and therefore I am effectively policing them. Having said that, nobody has been outright rude or unfriendly, but the atmosphere with the officers is more strained and formal. I’m like a bitter pill that must be swallowed. I hope that when we begin fishing I’m not suddenly the bad guy.
There isn’t much to fill the day; I read, eat, sleep, wonder about and write. Meanwhile the Santa Maria relentlessly chews up the Atlantic and spits it out the stern, putting more and more Atlantic between us and the fishing grounds, and less and less between us and the Azores.
I have changed some of the names of the people and vessels to protect the identity of those involved, but this is otherwise a true account of my experience. If you enjoyed reading this diary extract please feel free to share it. If you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe by clicking here, and ensure you never miss a post.