We have a forum on Anglers' Net entitled 'Non-Fishing Chat'. It was set up as a place for anglers to chat with each other about non-angling things (although many actually see it as a place to argue with each other, but that's a different story). I think yesterday's, ahem, 'fishing' trip belongs in there.
It should have been so good. The weather forecast was pretty close to perfect and there were reports of thornback rays (roker) being caught at our regular marks. We'd been waiting for this day for so long. Although we've been catching cod fairly consistently the past few months, the idea of a mixed bag of roker and cod, under a bright blue sky, was drooling-down-the-chin material. Oh yes, we were going to hammer the fish today!
It was quite a leisurely start, too, as the timing of the tide meant that an early start would have been pretty pointless. Mind you, even with a lie-in until 6am on the cards, I couldn't sleep and was up and about well before the alarm went. I'd made up my rods the night before and loaded them into the car. All that was needed now was to grab some breakfast, make a few sarnies and get the bait out of the freezer. I wasn't feeling 100%, with a bit of a headache and a slightly sore throat, so a couple of paracetamol went down the hatch. I was so organised that I even found time for a shower before leaving (I apologise for letting the side down, lads. I realise we're supposed to stink to high-heaven when we go fishing, but I'd already seen the news five times over and wanted to kill time!). I then hit the road.
I was off to Steve Coppolo's house. Steve is the resident 'Grumpy Old Man' on the Anglers' Net forums (well, one of them) and also a regular contributor to Boat Fishing Monthly. He's also a good angler and has spent more years than he cares to remember around small boats. We often fish together aboard his 17ft Wilson Flyer, partly because we get on well and partly because our jobs mean that we have weekdays off, when most people are busy at work (Steve is a fireman and I'm a.....err, well, moving swiftly on).
I had to chuckle on the way. I was in a queue of traffic being held up on the country road by a car ahead that wouldn't do more than about 35mph. I could see that he had his roof down and, having been in convertibles before, wondered how much he was 'enjoying' the almost zero temperature and the mist that hadn't burnt off yet. It wasn't a case of looking 'cool' – more one of looking 'bloody freezing'. I had a good idea, from the few glimpses I caught of his rear end in the snake in front of me, what his car was, too. When we hit the dual carriageway, Mr. Cool really put his foot down and hit almost 50mph. As my old Subaru Legacy Estate bombed past him, I couldn't help wondering how a car that probably cost more than my house could be driven so slowly. Yep, it was a 57-plate Ferrari!
It then dawned on me that I'd forgotten to eat my breakfast. Doh! My porridge was left in the microwave. Still, not the end of the world. It wasn't as if I was short of grub. Besides, there'd be no time to eat, not with all the fish I was going to catch today!
Once I got to Steve's, the boat was loaded, hitched up and we were away. We chatted on en route and it seemed that we were both as excited as each other about today's chances. I then remembered that I'd left my suntan cream on the passenger seat of my own car. Oh well, I'd have to keep my skin covered as much as I could.
We arrived at Brightlingsea, paid our launch fees and were told, again, that roker were showing. This just whet our appetites more! Once the boat was in the water, my job was to hold onto it until Steve had parked the car and trailer. This is where Brightlingsea is great, as it's very sheltered. However, the wind did pick up a bit. So much, in fact, that Steve mentioned it when he returned. We both agreed that it must just be a bit of onshore wind and would soon pass. After all, the forecast was a Force 2-3 all day. The engine was started, run for a couple of minutes and Steve took her around to the pontoon to wait for me. Rather than walk back to shore, I decided to lever myself backwards onto the pontoon. I remember thinking that it was a pain that it was a couple of inches too high for comfort, but that I'd be okay once I 'jumped' up in the water and used my arms to push myself backwards......
The inevitable happened. I almost got up onto the dry pontoon but, just as I was at the uppermost pivot point, everything went pear-shaped and the other anglers on the pontoon turned around to see a wader-clad walrus flapping about in the water. One bloke shouted, “Join the club. I did the exact same thing a while back!” How relieved he must have been to see someone relieve him of the “Idiot Of The Week” title. I was the new king in that department!
To be honest, I got off lightly. The water had come into the waders and soaked my top half completely, but my trousers weren't too wet. I was wearing nylon waders and I think that the water pressure had pressed them against me, keeping most of the water on the outside.
My phone, however, didn't fare so well. It was soaked. Every other trip, without fail, I'd put the phone aboard the boat first. This time, however, I was delighted to spot a little pocket in the top of my waders that I hadn't seen before and, stupidly, had put the phone there. One dead phone later, I climbed aboard Steve's boat, Bare Cheek, and stripped off my top half. Luckily, I'd brought a spare top with me. I also had the flotation suit with me, but didn't want to be sweating in that all day. Not in the sunshine we'd been forecast.
My impromptu bath may have dampened my clothes and phone, but it hadn't dampened my enthusiasm. I was still gagging to get out there. I even explained how I was going dry the clothes off in the sun once we'd got to our first mark.
As we left the harbour, there was a bit of a chop on. Hmmm. We then had to cross a bit of sea that is always a bit choppy, so didn't think much of it. As we got closer to our mark, however, the waves didn't get smaller. In fact, the wind was picking up all the time and the waves getting steeper. We'd taken a bit of water over the bow and slowed down to crawling pace. The mark we were going to fish was about two hundred yards away. We knew this, as it's near a buoy and the buoy was right in front of us. However, something just wasn't right. As Steve said, “This wasn't forecast, so flip* knows what it's going to do next.”
To be honest, the decision to head back to port wasn't that hard to take. Conditions were getting worse by the minute. It took an absolute age to get back, though, as we were dealing with big waves and going against the tide. Both of us were soaked by now and this seemed to bother Steve more than it did me. After all, this was nothing new to me. Not today, anyway!
Once we got back in, all the other boats we'd seen leave were alongside us. Nobody was going fishing today. As the wind howled through the masts of the yachts in the harbour, we knew we'd made the right decision, however frustrating it had been.
A cup of coffee later, and we were loading the boat onto the trailer and heading home. It was quite dispiriting, but I'd rather live to fish another day than risk unpredictable weather. Steve said that this used to happen occasionally, years ago, but that he couldn't remember the last time he'd had to come in without fishing since weather forecasts h
ad become more accurate and the internet had meant that these forecasts could be cross-checked.
On the way back, we were chatting about what a bad day it had been all round. There was the soaking that I got, the fact that we'd paid to launch the boat and then the whole day's fuel we'd burnt getting out there and not fishing. I think it was me who then said those stupid words.....”What else can go wrong?”
A car hit us up the rear.
For once, we did have a bit of 'luck', albeit in a twisted way. Had the car behind been a large one, it might have caused a lot of damage. As it was, it was a Smart Car and he seemed to have more damage than the outboard he'd hit. I was dreading getting out of the car and being confronted by somebody jumped-up in the slightest: neither of us were in a good mood now and it would have turned nasty quicker than the earlier weather front, I think! As it was, the guy who hit us was actually very pleasant and it turned out he was a soldier who fixed outboards for a living! He apologised, gave us his details, rued the fact that his girlfriend was now going to give him hell for messing up her car, and then helped check the outboard over. Having a crash is never nice, however small, but that had to rate as one of the most pleasant ones in history!
Suffice to say, when I drove home from Steve's, I drove very, very carefully. As I pulled up on my drive, I remembered that I'd left my key with a neighbour, as he'd offered to walk my dog. There are no prizes for guessing what time of day he'd chosen to do it. I laughed out loud. It was inevitable, really.
I'm sorry that there are no photos to accompany this piece, but ask yourself this: would you have got the camera out if you were me that day? You'll have to make do with an 'amended' Anglers' Net banner today.
P.S. The phone is now in the airing cupboard in a bag of dried rice. Apparently, the rice draws out the moisture. We'll see.
*I think it was 'flip' that he said. The wind was a bit noisy, though. It certainly began with an 'F'!