There's an Angel's Hand Upon Your Shoulder
This is based upon a true story, I went to Ireland back in 1990 to live and find work.
Although the time scale doesn't fit the story I decided to shorten it for interest purposes, I lived in Co. Waterford for six months before I actually found the job on board the Orchidee. I worked for 2 seasons which took me up to the week before the accident, and lived in a holiday caravan in Tramore when I came ashore.
This story is dedicated to my friends, Jimmy Power (skipper) and Bobby Doran (Deckhand) who both lost thier lives on the 22/09/1992.
Prologue. Irish News. 23/09/1992.
An Irish trawler with a crew of three was hit by a large French trawler during the hours of darkness on September 22nd, Tuesday morning. The 56-foot wooden vessel, the Orchidee, sank quickly. Due to a collision between the French f.v. Agena and the Irish f.v. Orchidee. One member of the crew was recovered by the French ship within 30 minutes. The search for the other two continued until night time but to no avail. The two missing men were named as James Power (28) from Dunmore East, Co.Waterford, and Bobby Doran (19) of Bridgetown, Co.Wexford. Mr Power was skipper of the Orchidee. The lone survivor was Ken Pierce (23), also of Bridgetown. The accident occurred in British territorial waters and RAF helicopters were quickly on the scene. A Sikorsky from Shannon was also on its way within 15 minutes. It was later involved in the rescue of an RAF crew which had to ditch its Sea King helicopter during the search, all crew members were safely rescued.
Chapter 1. Travelling to Waterford.
The ferry eased into Rosslare harbour at 1.05am Sunday morning, the sea had been choppy and the ferry had rolled slowly across from Fishguard.
My first view of Ireland came from the busy terminal, people streaming from the ferry down the walkway toward the Customs check-in area which lay at the entrance to the terminal.
I walked alone carrying my rucksack of clothes following other passengers who were arriving here either for a holiday or to return home, the swell of people bottlenecked as they approached the check-in area, Custom officers stood by a gap that allowed passengers into the terminal and exit, they picked people out from the line and asked them to follow them to an area where they could be searched, I was fortunate not to be amongst those chosen and flowed out into a large room filled with people heading toward the exits I looked up and saw a sign which read Welcome to Ireland, Cead Mile Failte.
And I headed toward the sign which pointed toward the Train Station.
Outside of the terminal was cold, the air was fresh coming in from the sea, the salty spray could be heard rushing toward the rocks by the shore, people were walking quickly voices echoed along the passage as cases and bags were dragged behind.
I entered the station and walked toward the ticket office, where a queue had formed.
I waited while the queue ahead slowly thinned out until I stood before the widow where a man looked up and smiled briefly asking me where I would like a ticket for in a thick Dublin accent, I replied “single to Waterford please.” the Inspector handed me a ticket, I paid him in 'Punts' which was the currency at that time, and asked him when the train was due and from which platform.
“Platform 2 through that door, at 1.45. He replied.
“thank you I said.” I walked away picking up my rucksack and headed toward the door.
Outside on the platform stood in groups, men women and children, the platform was brightly lit with sodium lights that cast a glow along the tracks.
I leaned against a cast-iron pillar that supported the overhanging roof, I looked around at the waiting people who were involved in various conversations. Children stood silently close by their parents, some clutching toys others sat in pushchairs asleep.
I looked at my watch the time was 1.40am, I looked up the track in the direction that the train would come hoping it would be on time.
A man next to me asked me the time, I looked at him he was dressed in dark trousers and blue jacket, his hair was neatly combed and he wore glasses, he spoke with light Irish accent and had blue eyes, I told him the time and he replied “are you on holiday?” I looked him in the eye and said, “no I'm going to Waterford in search of work on the Trawlers.” He looked at me and said, “have you worked on the Trawlers before?” I told him I hadn't and that it was an adventure for me. I asked him where he was going on the train he told me he was going to Wexford to see his brother and then have a break before returning to England.
As we were sharing small talk about the journey across on the ferry the track began to make a whirling noise and I looked up to see the approaching train then said, “well here’s the train.”
The man nodded and picked up his bag as the train rolled along side slowing down to a stop.
I waited while some passengers ahead of me boarded the train then stepped up and walked into the carriage, I found a seat next to the window and shoved my rucksack onto the luggage rack above the seat, I sat down and made myself comfortable as other passengers boarded behind me.
The seat next to me and the two opposite were empty, the table in front of me had an empty soft drink can, a newspaper and some empty sandwich containers, the previous passengers had left behind.
I picked up the paper and began looking through it when a voice said, “Is this seat taken?” I looked up to see a lady with a little boy standing to my left, I informed her it wasn't and she placed the boy next to the widow and before she sat down next to him, she picked up the rubbish off the table and placed it into a bin by the exit to the carriage.
The train was beginning to fill up as passengers boarded, people were walking past carrying cases and bags looking for somewhere to sit, the lady opposite me with the little boy was settling him down talking to him quietly asking him to try and sleep until they arrived at their destination, her voice was soft and lyrical her accent melodic and soothing and the little boy closed his eyes and rested his head upon his folded coat.
The journey between Dublin and Waterford takes approximately 2 hours 18 minutes, so I settled myself down for the journey, I was tired and hungry and just wanted the trip to be over so I could focus upon the next item on my agenda, finding somewhere to stay until I found a job.
The train pulled in to Plunkett station Waterford at 4.05am, the station seemed busy for the time of night, hustle and bustle on the platform as the train unloaded. People walking toward the exit, a guard stood by taking tickets as the passengers flowed through the gate.
After leaving the station I walked across Rice bridge into town, I wasn’t sure where I was heading, I’d made no advance booking for accommodation as I was hoping to stay with a friend who had a flat, but it was to early to knock his door so I decided to go to a hotel and see about staying overnight.
I walked over to the Fitzwilton hotel, which is on bridge Street opposite the bridge, and walked into reception I walked up to the desk and asked the clerk if there were any rooms available, he told me that there was. He asked me how long I would be staying and I told him overnight. The clerk asked if I would be having breakfast I replied no I would be leaving at 9.00am. The clerk picked up a book and began writing, he asked my name I told him, he turned around and picked up a key from off the board with a brass key fob, on it was the number 119. He asked me to sign the register and asked if I needed help being shown to my room, I declined and asked for directions instead.
The room was clean and functional, a single bed lay in the center each side was a cabinet. Lamp on the left and Telephone on the right, a wardrobe opposite the window which looked down upon the street below, a door led to the bathroom right of the widow inside a shower a sink and toilet, all very clean and bright, by the sink hung a white towel on a rail. I turned toward the bed dropped my bag upon the floor and flopped down face first on the bed. I lay there a few moments then sat up walked over to the curtains, closed them got undresed and got into bed. The next thing I remember was waking up at 8.16am next morning, I stretched out my arms yawned then swung my legs over the side of the bed. I went and showered then shaved got dressed and re packed my bag then left the room and walked downstairs and out to reception.
At the desk I placed my key and another clerk turned around smiled and said "Good Morning." I said good morning and asked for the bill. I paid for the room picked up my bag and left, turned right onto the main street and headed into town to find a local cafe and have some breakfast.
I met my friend Brian, he lived above a shop on the quay, we went into a local bar that served breakfast, the bar was traditionally Irish inside, there were men sitting at the bar drinking and talking, we chose a table and sat down.
I ordered a Bacon and Egg Sandwich and a mug of tea, Brian had a breakfast and a pint of Guinness.
Brian was pleased to see me we talked about this and that and laughed at each others recollections of the time that had passed since we last met. I told Brian that I had come over to find a job on the trawlers, hopefully to make a lot of money.
Brian and I discussed the fishing industry and he told me about a friend he had in Dunmore East.
The friend Brian talked about worked on-board a boat and he told me he would be able to help me find a berth.
I decided to wait a few days before I visited Dunmore, I wanted to stay with Brian and catch up.
We visited the old haunts and met some friends, we went to Tramore and went to the beach we fooled around at the arcade and went to a club on the night got absolutely drunk and returned to Brian's flat in a taxi, the few days I stayed with Brian went really quickly the Irish love of hospitality is renowned the world over and the day arrived that Brian was to take me to meet his friend in Dunmore. We walked along the winding country road toward Dunmore, it was a fair few miles to walk but I knew it was easy to hitch-hike in Ireland, we only walked about quarter of a mile when a car slowed down beside us, the man inside rolled down his window and asked if we were needing a lift, we told him we did and we both got into the car. Brian sat in the front I sat in the back the car pulled off and headed along the road.
Nobody really spoke on the journey, the man driving negotiated the twists and turns like a rally driver, I was sliding from one side to the other as the car sped down the country lane, he obviously knew this road well and I remembered that people in Ireland drove speedily along country roads, it wasn't unusual.
20 minuets later Dunmore Harbour came into view, seagulls flew overhead squawking loudly as they passed, the sea air was fresh and fragrant as it spilled through the open window.
The man told us he was going to pull up by the church on the hill as that was his destination. We said that was OK and thank you very much for the lift, and got out of the car.
Dunmore is a very olde worlde village, the houses on the hill surrounding the harbour were perched like models on the horizon, beautiful, sublime.
Brian and I walked down to the harbour where boats were moored along side each other, he told me that he'll look for his friend and introduce me.
We walked down to the berth's and Brian pointed to a boat, “Over there.” he said, and I looked and seen a wooden hulled boat green in colour, it lay third in line to a couple of red and white trawlers.
The sun shone brightly and made the hull's vivid in the sunlight, the boats creaked gently together as the sea slowly heaved and sighed, I looked at the boat as I stood on the edge of the dock, all I could see was the deck and the wheel house with the mast and nets that were rolled around a drum on the stern, a big rusty door hung on the side at the stern which was used to pull the nets open on the sea floor.
Brian called over to a man who was coiling a rope on the deck, he looked over shouted “Hey.”
The man looked up and waved, “Hey Brian.” the man called.
I was trying to take in everything around me the sounds, the smells, the people who were busy doing different things some were repairing nets on the dock others were loading supplies some were talking and joking others were stood watching.
The man came across the tethered boats and climbed up onto the dock grasping Brian's hand firmly,
Brian introduced me to the man who turned out to be Jimmy the skipper.
We walked up to the Strand public bar and sat down at a table. I had explained to Jimmy that I wanted to work on the boats, Jimmy told me he needed a cook this trip, his other cook had not turned up. I told Jimmy I could cook and he said to me OK then mark you can help with the stores I’m waiting for them to arrive. I said "no problem."
then Jimmy said “I'll show you your bunk on board follow me.”
Chapter 2. Trawling on the MFV Orchidee.
I stowed my bag on the bunk Jimmy had shown me, the quarters were quite small in the middle of the boat, underneath was the engine room through a trap door. There were 4 berths in all 2 each side one above the other mine was at the bottom on the port side.
In the middle was a square table with a raised edge to stop things falling off in a swell, below the first berths either side was a bench which had two uses, one being storage for bottles and cans of food the other to sit on whilst at the table, Jimmy had untied the boat and berthed next to the dock so he could load the stores, he used the crane to bring the stores aboard and I stowed them in the compartments below, all the fresh meat and milk was stored below in the hold amongst the ice where the catch would be stored. It was a busy time preparing to go out, Bobby who had turned up showed me the 'ropes' and after the stores had been stowed we pulled a pipe aboard and lifted a hatch so we could load up with ice from a huge machine on the dock.
Once the ice had been loaded we fuelled up, a thick hose connected to a tanker ran to the fuel tank and the gallons began to flow into the boat.
After that was completed we had to bring on board the plastic boxes which held the fish in the hold, there were at least a hundred stacked in bundles and lifted on board by the winch and placed in the hold.
We were all busy preparing for the 'off'' the check list began to be completed and all the 'chores' were finally done.
The galley at the rear of the wheel house was quite small, a gas cooker fed by bottled gas was on the port side, a little stainless steel sink next to it, pots and pans hung from rails above, behind me was a small steel table bolted to the bulkhead, the wheel house was up above reached by a ladder.
I went into the wheel house which had a swivel chair in the centre, in front of it was the wheel, to my left was sonar and depth equipment, to the right was the radio and communication equipment.
Below that were drawers housing charts and maps.
Above the wheel lay the compass which was housed in a wooden box with a glass lid, left of that was the throttle, to the right and above was the radar which was displaying dots and dashes and the coastline as it circled around.
Next to the throttle were buttons and dials and gauges and switches which all related to some function or other. I was not sure of what did what it all looked complicated to me.
“Untie aft.” Shouted the Skipper, from the wheel house, I pulled the loop of the thick mooring rope free of the iron tether on the dock. “Let go for'ed.” Shouted the Skipper and Bobby did the same, we both then jumped on board and quickly pulled in the ropes and coiled them on the deck. Bobby called over “Pull in the fenders.” pointing at the tyres hanging over the side, and I pulled over the rail 5 car tyres hanging from ropes onto the deck, while Bobby did the same on the starboard side.
The diesel engine began to throb louder as it moved slowly from the dock, Jimmy moved the bow toward the breakwater and headed out to sea.
“Put the Kettle on Mark.” called Jimmy as we passed the lighthouse on the point, and I went below into the galley to make steaming hot mugs of tea.
The galley was small, pots and pans clanged together as the boat rocked, I could feel the swell as the boat crested the waves in the channel, I'd never been on a boat like this before, I began to feel sea sick and quickly made my way to the wheel house.
I told Jimmy I don't feel to well my guts are all over the place, he laughed and told me I'd get my sea legs soon enough.
I asked Jimmy where we were headed and he told me “To the Smalls.” I replied, “Where's that?” He looked at me with a big grin upon his face and said, “The bay of Biscay.” “How long will that take?” I asked. “Well now Mark, it'll take about 10 hours to get there, so you go below and get some sleep you'll need it.”
I went down the ladder onto the deck to talk to Bobby.
Bobby was looking over the rail smoking a cigarette watching the harbour move slowly away.
I walked over to him and said, “Jimmy told me to get some sleep it'll take 10 hours to get to the smalls.” Bobby looked at me and replied, “Yeah I know, I like to say a prayer as the harbour leaves us behind, it's gonna be 4 days now till we see home again.”
I looked in the direction of the harbour and hoped we would return safely with a good catch.
I turned away from Bobby and entered the door leading to the ladder below.
I climbed down the ladder and took off my boots, then I pulled the curtain on my bunk and fell inside, the boat was going up and down my stomach felt awful, I could smell diesel, sea water, and oil, which didn't help any. I tried to make myself comfortable on top of the sleeping bag and the dull drone of the engine and motion of the boat soon made me fall to sleep.
I awoke hearing a shout, “Wakey wakey rise and shine.” Jimmy's voice sounded from above. I opened my eyes and realised where I was, suddenly I thought where am I. Bobby called over and said, “Hey Mark, are you awake?”
I pulled back the curtain and looked out to see Bobby pulling on his boots. “Yeah I'm awake, where are we.” I asked sitting up. “It's time to shoot the net.” Bobby replied, pulling on his oil skins.
I grabbed my boots and pulled them on, the boat seemed to be rocking even more. I didn't feel to bad now so I got up put on my oil skins and followed Bobby up the ladder on to the deck.
It was pitch black, the only light was from the lights on the boat, a flood light lit up the deck, the sea was splashing over the rail as the boat heaved and fell, I grabbed a rail as I stepped over the raised step that led out on to the deck, I pulled my jacket closed and Jimmy with his head out of the side window said,”Go over there.” Pointing to the stern. “Chain the door to the cable like I showed you.”
I went to the stern and fastened a cable to the chain, Bobby was already doing the same on the other side, the boat rocked as we prepared the net. Jimmy then moved the throttle and the boat began to move forward, “Loose the chains.” he called, I released the chains and the door dropped in to the sea with a splash, Bobby did the same and the net began unrolling over the stern followed by floats that banged as they clipped the iron rail and vanished under the water.
The net finally vanished below the surface, 2 cables uncoiled and let the net drag along the bottom, now that was completed Bobby and I returned to the cabin to have a hot drink of tea.
The net is towed for 4 hours, before it is heaved back on board and the catch deposited in to a holding trough to be sorted, gutted, packed in to boxes and stowed in the ice down in the hold.
After having a drink and something to eat I returned to my bunk, I still felt a little queasy, Bobby was talking to Jimmy up in the wheel house, I thought I'd rest a while to see if my stomach would settle, then promptly fell asleep.
I awoke being nudged by Bobby, “Hey wake up, it's time to haul the net.” he said.
I opened my eyes and swung my legs off the bunk, Bobby was pulling on his boots and I rolled out to do the same.
By the time I had got myself ready Bobby had already gone up on to the deck, I followed him and took up my station at the stern of the boat.
Slowly the winch began to retract the cables on to the drums, Jimmy was looking out of the window from the wheel house, it seemed to take ages for the cables to wind around the drums until the doors suddenly clanged against the side of the boat.
I had to chain the door to the iron frame release a U bolt then the cable could continue to be wound and the net would begin to appear floating on the surface.
Bobby went around to the port side and threw out a line to catch the 'cod end' of the net then pulled it on to the boat. A winch then pulled up the net and held the catch above the trough, Bobby then pulled a piece of rope attached to the net and it opened depositing the catch in to the trough.
Then the net was released back over the side and allowed to float at the rear, then Bobby and I had to 'shoot' the net again, and after that was done we could sort out the catch while the boat trawled again.
Inside the trough were a mass of sea life, there were Atlantic prawns pink in colour, cod of all sizes, lemon sole, monk fish, crabs, debris from the ocean floor, and other fish I didn't recognise.
We were trawling mainly for Atlantic prawn, that was where the money was made, a good catch would result in a very good wage, I was given a share, there was a share for the boat (food, fuel, etc.) a share for Jimmy and a share for Bobby. That was how the money made from the catch was divided.
Gutting fish on a moving boat is an art, it's difficult work and has to be done quickly, Jimmy would help gut the fish and sort them into boxes, until I was good enough I had to sort and wash the prawns in red plastic baskets.
After I had washed and sorted the prawns, lowered them in to the hold covered them with ice along with the boxes of fish I had to go in to the galley and cook.
I was still feeling slightly sea sick and didn't relish the thought of cooking, but cook I had to, and the meals were high protein meals we had joints of beef, pork, lamb, all types of vegetables.
Every meal except breakfast (which was always a full fry up) was like a Sunday roast with all the trimmings! I found it very difficult cooking on a boat the guard rail around the cooker stopped the pans falling off and burning you, but I soon got the hang of it, and after a few burns and scalds managed to cook good meals.
I never got as much rest as Bobby, because while I prepared and cooked he went back to his bunk, I didn't mind that to much, but some days I was very tired. We shot the net at least 4 times in a day, and on a good week the hold soon filled up with prawns and fish which made it all worthwhile.
After the hold was full and the boxes all used up it was time to head for home, this also depended upon the weather how long we remained at sea, I've been in a force 8 gale and the boat heaved and rocked so much it terrified me! But Jimmy was a good skipper and the sea was in his blood, and every trip I made with him was always dangerous but he always bought us home safely, the days passed into weeks and my confidence grew on board the boat, I made a lot of money working only 4 days a week and saving, I only had to pay rent on the caravan I used when I was ashore at the weekends, and buy food, the rest of the time I was at sea where all my needs were met.
After we arrived back in Dunmore Harbour and we unloaded our catch, we repaired any holes in the nets, cleaned up the boat made provisions for the next launch and visited friends until Sunday afternoon when we prepared to go out again on the Orchidee.
Chapter 3. Disaster!
Sunday 20th of september, I didn't feel very well, the weekend was ordinary I had spent it in the caravan in Tramore. I'd been out to the local bar and enjoyed myself, been to Waterford town and bought some new clothes visited Brian, then went back to Tramore and to bed Saturdy night as usual.
My sleep Saturday night was tormented by dreams, I vaguely remember falling through a fog, the dream although forgotten made an impression upon me. I felt sick thinking about going back on the boat later the next day, the more I thought about going the sicker I felt!
I just couldn't put my hand on why I felt this way, it didn't make any sense. so I got a lift back in to Waterford to see Brian. I told him how I felt and he said to me maybe I was coming down with something, I told him I was OK as long as I didn't think about the boat, I knew that feeling of sea sickness and it felt worse than that I told Brian. So Brian said to me "If you feel that bad about it ring Jimmy and tell him you can't make it."
I decided to call Jimmy.
"Hello Jimmy, it's mark, how are you OK?"
"Yeah I'm fine how are you?"
"Well Jimmy I'm not feeling to well."
"What's wrong with you?"
"Im feeling awful Jimmy dunno why."
"Are you telling me you're not coming today?"
"Would you mind Jimmy?"
"No that's fine, Ken will take you're place."
"OK, I'll see you next week Jimmy."
"OK Mark hope you feel better."
"Thanks Jimmy, take care see you next week."
"OK, no problem, bye bye."
'Click' I hung up.
I returned back to Brian's and told him about the conversation, Brian told me, "Well you're all square with Jimmy, Ken's a good lad don't worry about it."
I remained at Brians Sunday and Monday night feeling the need for compony, not knowing why I felt so terrible even Brian noticed I was visibly shaken.
Next morning I left Brian's to go to the shop it was about 9.40am, as I walked down the stairs I passed 2 decorators who were painting the hallway, I heard one mention a ship being sunk from Dunmore, Because I knew most of the fishermen I stopped and turned toward the man and asked "Do you know the name of the boat?" The man looked at me and replied, "Something to do with a flower, can't remember the name offhand, only heard the news on the radio this morning."
I carried on down the stairs and went in to the shop. I picked up the paper and there on the front page was the headline, 'Ship sunk 2 lives lost'
I paid for the paper and rushed back upstairs to Brian's flat, I went inside and thrust the paper under his nose, I said to him, "Have you seen this?" It was obvious he hadn't and he began to read.
I was sat there in total shock, my mind spinning with all sorts of questions. Brian put down the paper and looked at me and said one sentence. "There's an Angel's hand upon your shoulder."
© 2012 Mark Hodges