The chugging sound of the engine echoed across the harbour, and the mingled smells of diesel and old fish wafted behind us as we left it for the open sea. The sun shone brightly, and there was a tang to the air, that unique smell that could only be found out on the sea itself; the smell of ozone, and kelp, and the heavy saltiness that settles on your tongue as you take each breath. As we sped along in Winston Evans’ years-old fishing boat, the waves slapped at the bow, and left ripples behind in its wake. There were thirteen of us in there, a number that, if I had been superstitious, would have made me pause, but I wasn’t, and it didn’t, and none of us thought anything about it, until afterwards.
We were all determined to enjoy the beauty of the day: Winston, our skipper; myself and my husband, Bob; and ten holidaymakers, all eager to be out there, catching the mackerel that were so abundant at the moment. A couple of seagulls flying above the boat cried out occasionally, as if in anticipation of any spoils thrown from the overeager holidaymakers, and it seemed that they were encouraging us all to make more speed.
As if in answer to their cries, the skipper let out the throttle, and the boat surged forwards, slapping at the waves like a child in gleeful play. I immediately felt a touch of nausea, and I swallowed hard, and took a deep breath of the cold, clean air to counteract it. The nausea subsided, and I sighed quietly in relief, not wanting to spoil the trip for anyone.
I was actually a very reluctant passenger, and had only agreed to the trip to please my in-laws, who were safely ensconced on the beach, looking after our two-year-old daughter. They had cheerfully paid for the fishing trip as a ‘treat’ for Bob and I – this was a treat I could have done without, but I hadn’t had the heart to dampen their enthusiasm. So here I was, beginning all the signs I knew meant I was in for a rough time, and feeling stupid at being too cowardly to say anything before we had got too far out to do anything about it.
It was with some relief that we eventually found ourselves at the “perfect spot to catch a bite,” as the skipper phrased it, and I was relieved to feel the boat slow, and then gradually stop at last. The skipper came out of the tiny wheelhouse, then went to the bow of the boat, and released the cable that let the anchor drop down into the depths. It made a satisfying ‘splash’ as it hit the water, and some of the holidaymakers started snapping pictures of each other, set against the backdrop of the empty ocean around them. Bob stood up and stretched, then casually made his way to the aft of the boat, his body easily adjusting to the rise and fall of the waves; he moved along to chat to the skipper about the fishing, as he was interested in getting as many mackerel as he could for our freezer.
As I sat there, I stared ahead at the horizon, and gradually became aware of the rise and fall of the bow in my sight. I immediately felt a hot flush to my cheeks, sweat springing to my brow, and my stomach gurgled in rebellion at the sight. I drew another quick breath of air, hoping to stave it off, but immediately felt a strong surge of nausea again. In panic, I quickly stood, then leaned over the side of the boat, frantically taking deep breaths, but all I could see below was the boat going up and down in the water. With a wail of embarrassment, I immediately threw up every scrap of lunch I’d eaten just thirty minutes before, and sat crouched there in misery, empty stomach heaving away.
I felt a hand go to my forehead, pushing my hair away from my sweating face, and supporting my head, and I smelt the woodsy aftershave Bob always wore, over the sharp scent of bile. “Why didn’t you say you felt ill, love? You didn’t have to come, you know.” His tone was concerned, but my feelings of guilt at not having the nerve to say anything, gave it an accusatory sound.
“I didn’t want to spoil mum and dad’s treat,” I wailed, as yet another spasm wracked my body. Behind me, I could hear exclamations from others on the boat and, just a few feet away, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone else losing their lunch, and further on again, another unlucky soul. It started a chain reaction that ended with only the skipper and Bob in full control of themselves, and eleven miserable, shivering wrecks leaning over the sides.
Bob handed me some tissues he’d found in his jacket pocket, and I wretchedly tried to mop up, dabbing at the tears that streamed down my pallid face, my hands shaking in reaction. I looked down and, to my shock, the head of a dolphin sat in the water, mouth grinning away at me, and bobbing with the swell just below me.
“You’ve just missed lunch,” Bob called down to it, with laughter in his voice. This broke the ice, and set people laughing who, seconds ago, had been utterly miserable. With that, I felt able to turn around and face the boat-load of people who, instead of fishing, were all now huddled around the sides, trying to recover.
“I’m so sorry, everyone,” I mumbled, almost afraid to look at those around me, “I was fine until I saw the bow going up and down . . .” I trailed off as my stomach lurched, just at the thought of the movement.
“That was your mistake missus,” the skipper chimed in, “one of the worst things you could do, is that. No wonder you decided to feed the fish, instead of letting them feed us!” The people around me laughed half-heartedly at his joke, and a sense of normality gradually came about, with strangers chatting to each other as if the best of friends.
I sat, shivering with the cold of reaction, and I felt drawn, almost old. I didn’t want to suggest curtailing the trip, as everyone had paid a fee to come out there, and so I sat in silence, Bob’s jacket wrapped around my shivering shoulders, while everyone recovered, except me. In no time, everyone started to get out the fishing lines provided by the skipper. Bob came and sat besides me. “It’s okay, love,” he murmured quietly to me, “you won’t need to stay here too long. As soon as the dolphins appeared, I realised there’s no chance of catching many fish. I expect Winston will just let them try for a while before taking them back. They all seem to be having more fun taking pictures of the dolphins than they do fishing, anyway, so I don’t think they’ll be that disappointed.” He hugged me gently, then moved off to show a novice how to set the barbless hooks onto the hand-lines, and I sat there, feeling every movement of the boat, and wanting to die, or do anything that would stop this utter feeling of nausea – and I prayed for the time to go by speedily. I was determined, if I made it back safely to shore, that never again would I step foot on to a fishing boat – and, to this day, I’ve kept that promise!