Take a trip with the 'Semper' Allegro' semper allegro
| Semper Allegro - PZ100|



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Take a virtual trip aboard the Newlyn Beam trawler, Semper Allegro PZ100 .

Skippered and owned by Michael 'Arnie' Nowell, the Nowell family have fished from Newlyn for over 70 years. Mate, and relief skipper, Michael's uncle 'Bulgaria' Roger was star of the BBC TV programme 'Skipper', while brother Stephen is skipper of the family's other beamer, the 'Nellie'.

Main boat details:

Built in Holland in 1957, the Semper Allegro PZ100 was is 23m long, has a beam of 6m and draws 2.4m. Her main engine is a Deutz producing 296hp/221kW drives the propellor through a single shaft. The fuel pump on the port side of the engine feeds fuel to the eight cylinders. There are belt driven power take-offs for electrical and hydraulic power to drive equipment like the hydraulic steering motor. An auxiliary motor drives the emergency gear retrieval system and provides electrical power for the winch motors, deck gear, refrigeration, electronic and lighting systems. The main winch motors are controlled by pneumatic pumps.

Sailing Day:

Normally, the Semper would go to sea with a crew of three in addition to the skipper. These days reduced fishing opportunities as a result of the quota system force skippers to operate with reduced crew levels so there are often only two hands on deck.

The crew normally take ice, fuel and water on board the morning of the day they land. Ice is supplied at the quayside from the Cornish Ice Company. Food stores, 'victuals', pronounced 'vittels', are bought at local shops in Newlyn and put aboard shortly before they sail. There are regulations regarding the number of days a boat spends at sea so sailing times are sometimes adjusted to maximise the time spent at sea. The size of beam trawls (3m long) used by the Semper means she tends to fish inshore grounds - but no closer than 6 miles from any given shore mark. This rule is closely adhered to as there are considerable fines for skippers and owners if they are breached! In the Southwestern Approaches the seas are patrolled by Navy Fisheries protection vessels and a spotter plane. These days skippers have to make decisions about where to fish not only based on their knowledge of the grounds and the weather conditions but also with regard to the quotas and sectorial restrictions that may apply at the time. At sea, an EU Logbook is completed every 24 hours recording the total catch and the fish retained on board by weight and species - even at sea there is a paperwork trail!

After taking the mooring ropes from the quay the Semper turns round away from the fish market and heads for the 'gaps'. The lighthouse is at the end of the South Quay and marks the entrance to the harbour. Housed in a small building next to the light is the tidal observatory from where the height of the sea, chart datum, was measured for every UK chart. Once clear of the gaps both derricks are lowered to stabilise the boat while steaming to the grounds. The first navigation buoy passed is the Low Lee buoy off Penlee Point, home of Newlyn's Penlee Lifeboat until 198x.

Normal trips last for 5 days in order to maintain the quality of the catch for which Newlyn is renowned. However, boats often do trips 'back to back', sailing after a few hours rest for another 4 or 5 day trip. During the winter this can result in boats constantly being at sea as they know the time will come when spells of prolonged bad weather sweep in from the Atlantic to stop even the largest boats from fishing safely. Today, boats carry a host of safety, navigation and telecommunications equipment in the wheelhouse to maintain contact with other vessels and the shore. Despite these, accidents still happen and skippers are mindful that they work in the most dangerous occupation in the country.

Shooting the trawls:

The Semper Allegro is a beam trawler; she tows two 'beam trawls' that are designed to fish close to the seabed. The headline of each trawl is less than a metre from the bottom so few fish like Cod, Haddock, Whiting, Hake[1][2], John Dory and other 'swimming' whitefish are caught. The beams have a steel shoe at either end with heavy rubber wheels which allow them to travel over the seabed with less drag than solid shoes - this helps to save fuel. Beam trawlers have become highly successful in the southwestern approaches as there an abundance of high value species to be targeted - monk, dover[1][2], megrim, lemon sole, plaice and turbot being the main catch by value.
The trawls are 'shot away' for the first time [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] and towed for 2.5 hours before being 'hauled'. When towing the derricks are lowered, the Semper uses double purchase block for the towing warp. During hauling the winches, controlled by the skipper in the wheelhouse, raise the beams to the surface [1][2] before 'topping' [3] [4] the derricks to allow the cod ends to be brought aboard when the 'codends' are emptied into pounds on deck. As soon as the codends are retied the trawls are shot away for another tow. On deck, the crew sort the fish into baskets by species before being gutted and washed with fresh sea water under the whaleback. The whitefish, flatfish, monk and ray and other than dover soles are gutted and washed. The dovers are gutted and washed separately in order to maintain catch quality. The fishwasher is constantly fed with piped seawater so that the fish are cleaned thoroughly before being tipped into baskets and allowed to drain. They are then ready for Spencer to box and ice the fish away down below decks in the fishroom. Live shellfish like crab, lobster and scallops are held in tubs on the deck and constantly fed with fresh sea water to oxygenate the water. The crew handle the catch in as little time as is possible as their only chance of sleep is before the next haul. Often, they sleep as little as an hour between watches, even then they have to alternate their turn in the wheelhouse on a 'towing' watch.
At sea a skippers word is God, as he is ultimately responsible for all aspects of fishing, navigation and the safe operation of the boat and crew. The skippers 'ticket' qualification is gained at a small number of colleges throughout the UK. Candidates must have served at least three years at sea and can progress to the highest level, a 'Skipper Full Unlimited' which enables them to take command of a fishing vessel of any size and fish anywhere in the world. There are compulsory safety qualifications for First Aid, Sea Survival and Firefighting that all crew are required to have before they sail on any fishing vessel.

Taking the watch:

While the remaining crew sleep below in the accommodation the man on watch (the crew all take a watch) follows the progress of the boat using the navigation and fishfinding equipment in the wheelhouse. Watchkeeping on a fishing boat involves keeping an eye on all the information provided by instruments and equipment inside the wheelhouse. A careful eye must be kept on the main engine gauges, satellite navigators, and autopilot in addition to ensuring that the boat follows the 'Collision Regulations' or Rules of the Road, (the maritime equivalent of the Highway Code) to ensure a safe passage. During daylight and good visibility the watchkeeper relies more on maintaining a visual watch on the actions of other vessels in the area. At night, and when visibility is poor, the watchkeeper has to rely solely on the ship's radar to judge the course and speed of other vessels. Heavy rain can make targets on the radar screen difficult to see let alone interpret. The regulations demand that any vessel in sight is a potential collision situation until deemed to be otherwise. All these actions are taken over and above keeping the boat on a 'tow' followed on the fish plotter. Most boats have PC based fish plotters that contain fishing information built up, in the case of skipper Michael's family, over several generations of skippers and many years working the same fishing grounds. Every wheelhouse has a tide chart as many fishing and navigation decisions depend on the time, height, rise and fall of the tide.

The 'Nellie', brother Stephen's boat often fishes alongside the Semper. The two skippers constantly talk to one another and other boats over the radio in order to stay ahead of the latest fishing and weather conditions. The VHF radio has a range of around 30 miles whereas the SSB Radio or 'big set' has a range of several hundred miles. Fishermen listen to every shipping forecast as weather conditions can be as fickle as the fish they are chasing. When gales are forecast a skipper has to be mindful of every consequence of his decision: to continue fishing, to 'dodge' (to haul the gear and steam slowly into the wind until the wind abates) or to run for a safe haven, which may not necessarily be Newlyn. If a boat is 'caught out', when a gale of such severity arrives in a very short space of time, it is safer to 'dodge' rather than steam for a safe port. A few years ago a large Scottish purser could only make 2 or 3 knots heading for Lerwick in the Shetlands, such was the strength of the wind, and that was with a 4000hp main engine normally capable of steaming the boat at 15 knots! Every fishermen has a, 'when we were caught out' story to tell when asked down the quay. All the modern Breton trawlers that work around the southwestern approaches over 100 miles off the land are now fully shelterdecked to prevent the kind of losses their fleet suffered in the 1970s. One of the worst of these storms saw three prawn trawlers lost in one day west of the Scillys on the Labadie and Jone's Banks. All fishing vessels carry a range of safety devices including liferafts that automatically inflate and EPIRBS that indicate the position of the boat to the Coastguard in the event of the vessel sinking. Over the years the SAR helicopters from RNAS Culdrose on the Lizard have provided their services on numerous occasions for the local and visiting fleets of fishing vessels.

The area around Land's End and the Scillys, where the Semper often works, contains some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Even in good visibility large vessels pass close by, and near-miss situations are all too common, fisherman often blaming poor watchkeeping standards aboard merchant vessels. Away from traffic separation zones fishing vessels have 'right of of way' over powered or sailing vessels. A system of different colours and combinations of lights allow vessels to identify one another at night. Though none of these visual clues are available during poor visibility when, to all intents and purposes, the watchkeeper could have the wheelhouse windows blocked out with the radar being the sole 'eyes' in use!

The tows on the chart plotter weave tracks between a host of seabed dangers and areas of rough or unsuitable ground. Old and new shipwrecks, wreckage, lost gear, sunken containers, boulders, piles of shells, rocky peaks and trenches are just some of the hazards that the watchkeeper has to navigate his way around using video echo sounders and the plotter information guided by satellite navigation. All the time care has to be taken that the two beam trawls, several hundered metres away from the stern of the boat are towed safely around these obstacles - the satellite navigation equipment only tells the watchkeeper accurately where the boat is not where the gear is! One of the most dangerous situations for a beam trawler is to 'come fast' on one trawl, especially in bad weather in strong tides. There is a quick release system to allow the block (which carries the trawl warp) at the end of the derrick to be released and brought to the side of the boat to minimise the lever action that is always present while the vessel is fishing.

At the end of the watch the crew are 'called out' fifteen minutes before the end of the watch. This gives them a chance to wake up and share thoughts over a mug of tea before donning their oilskins and boots and going on deck to haul the gear, empty the codends and 'shoot away' for the next tow. Hauling and shooting takes around twenty minutes so on a good day the crew will shoot and haul the gear eight times in a 24 hour period [1][2][3][4]. While at sea the boat never stops fishing and the crew fish around-the-clock for the duration of a trip, unless repairs have to be made to the trawls. Crews never enjoy mending gear at sea, it means that they are not earning any money while the trawls are out of the water!

Life on board:

After sleeping the next most prized activity aboard any fishing boat is eating. Boats with larger crews can afford the luxury or time for a cooked breakfast - but with three hands there are not too many takers aboard the Semper to volunteer losing sleep just for a morning fry-up! The stove is powered by bottled propane gas kept on top of the galley casing for safety purposes. One large, main meal with occasional snacks is the order of the day - once again Spencer demonstrates another talent as, 'chef de la cuisine'. This is one watch where eating takes precedence and no-one sleeps. Fresh stores are kept below decks in the fishroom on ice and brought up when required. Deep fried chips are a rarity aboard smaller trawlers as the unpredictability of the boat's movements pose a high risk of being burned by spilt fat. Many boats are extremely proud of their 'chefs', who often boast menus that would impress seafood champions like Floyd, Stein and Oliver! Who can argue when fresh Crab, Lobster, Langoustine, Dover Soles, John Dory and Turbot are all part of the daily catch. Some French trawlers, who often spend up to fifteen days at sea, still sail with live chickens aboard ready for the pot!

Anyone who spends time at sea will always enjoy some of the natural wonders that the world has to offer; sometimes a simple sunrise or sunset can lift spirits and sweep away the memory of days spent punching bad weather, freezing conditions or no fish. Whereas less fortunate soles who spend hundreds of thousands on a luxury yacht for a few days a year, fishermen get to appreciate the finer things in life all in a day's work for free! Gulls and gannets, ever watchful, appear from nowhere whenever a fishing boat is about to haul in the hope of picking up discarded or undersized fish from the last haul.

Homeward bound!:

Five days and forty hauls later the gear is hauled, the beams stowed on deck and a course is set for Newlyn to catch the next day's market. The crew wash down the entire boat and prepare the landing gear for the following morning's work. When working well offshore this is the first chance any of the crew get to spend more than an hour in their bunks - luxury! Boats of all sizes land at Newlyn on the daily morning market and on the way in skippers get a chance to swap gossip and news of the latest prices with other boats. With the lighthouse showing at the end of the South Quay the entrance to the harbour beckons the returning boats before they enter the gaps, turn to starboard and head for a berth against the quay or market to land the catch early the following morning.

Landing day:

By 0530 all hands are making their way down the quay to the boat to start landing at 0600. As ever, mugs of tea prepare the way for the action. Down the fishroom Spencer hooks up fish boxes three at a time, on deck Roger guides the landing gear and 'Arnie' on the winch heaves the boxes to a waiting lorry on the quay. Once loaded, the lorry leaves for the fish market where the fish are sorted, graded and weighed by species. Red plastic harbour boxes are used to display the fish prior to auction, which begins at 0800. Buyers inspect the catch when they are laid out on the market floor before the auction starts. Newlyn still operates a traditional 'shout' auction despite the increase in fully computerised auctions that enable buyers from anywhere in the world to bid live for the fish on sale. Nearly 90% of the fish auctioned at Newlyn is exported to Europe, making it a prime candidate for a remote computer auction. The harbour Regeneration Plan includes such a development to take Newlyn into the 21st Century.

Even while the fish are being sold the fishroom, accommodation and wheelhouse are cleaned and bleached in readiness for the next trip. The skipper operates the winch controls from the wheelhouse and keeps careful eye on the deck below as both sides of gear are hauled to the top of the derricks. The chain mats are checked for worn or damaged shackles and links which are cut out with an oxyacetylene torch and replaced. The red-hot metal links are immediately cooled down with the deckwash to prevent any of the netting being damaged. The trawl net is checked for damage and any holes repaired by hand. Once repaired the trawls are lowered on to the deck and stowed in readiness for the next trip. A complete beam trawl weighs around 1.5 tons and the chain mat is constantly checked for damage and repaired, even when at sea. Fishing boats carry enough spare gear and net to minimise the amount of 'down time', and net mending skills are a must aboard any trawler. Other ongoing maintenance includes greasing all the running gear - once again Spencer draws the short straw and demonstrate his all round talents - this is a task that, only in an emergency, is carried out at sea! After all the hard work the only job left is to put the boat back in tier and retire to the Swordfish, a local public house of great repute, to 'settle up' over a Guinness; probably the highlight of the trip, depending on that morning's auction prices of course!

Share fishing:

The fishermen working from Newlyn are 'share fishermen'. Essentially this means that, after taking off the running expenses from the 'grossing' (what the 'trip' makes at auction): fuel, ice, grub, harbour, landing and auction dues (around 6%) the remaining money is then shared between the boat and the crew. Smaller boats still share a 50/50 split between the crew and the boat with each crew member receiving one share (new hands could be on a 1/4, 1/2 or 3/4 share dependent on experience). For a crew of five this would mean five shares for the boat and five for the crew. These days the running costs of a boat are much higher so many owners use a percentage to share on, 60% for the boat and 40% for the crew is not uncommon. The Semper's largest single expense is fuel at XXp a litre, and she burns around xxx litres a day while fishing!

The record landing for a Newlyn boat was in excess of £50,000 for a single trip back in the 80's by the beam trawler, 'Aldje Adriante' PZ199, owned by W Stevenson & Sons and, skippered by Peter 'The Greek' Neil. Trips approaching this size are rare these days. The industry is finding it difficult to recruit young blood into this unique way of life from the 9-5 existence desired by many people in warmer, dryer, more hospitable and stable environments followed by a solid night's sleep in a bed that doesn't move!

Fisherman have a reputation for playing as hard as they work and while this is true in some cases the fact that the centre for all this activity is but a stones throw from the quayside merely makes it more obvious - accountants, lawyers, doctors and bankers also enjoy having a, 'couple of pints', but this tends to go unnoticed within the confines of a large town or city!

Since 1980 more than 20 fishermen from Newlyn have lost their lives and over 10 vessels have been lost at sea. This may be why there is a lack of sensibility demonstrated by fishermen compared to those ashore; a missing finger is ironically referred to as, 'trawlermen's rash'! As Plato said:

"There are three sorts of men,
the living,
the dead,
and those who work on the sea"

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