May 2014.

I've bought a campervan as a 60th birthday present to myself, made some curtains and a patchwork quilt, waved goodbye to my family, and set off. My aim is to explore the coastline of Britain, anti clockwise, starting in Kent. I have no idea what will happen.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Crabbing at Cromer

I parked by the lifeboat shed on the beach, so I only had to fall out of bed and I'd be ready to go at 3.30am.. The fishing boats were lined up on the beach, attached to their tractors, ready for the morning
I don't know if it was the supper I had at the Red Lion - half a pint of Polly's Folly with potted crab salad - or just general excitement, and the worry that my alarm might not go off, but I didn't sleep a wink. I thought I would be lulled by the sound of the waves rolling on the beach, but I wasn't. My alarm didn't fail me - it went off at 3.15am, and I made a flask of tea and went outside.
Soon Steve arrived, and young Chris, and they unloaded the new pots and the bait. They had a pair of oilies for me, so I felt quite the part! I watched a couple of boats go out across the faint silver band of wet sand, and could just make out a few gulls on the far side waiting for their breakfast. John arrived, having been to the shop, and I climbed aboard. The tractor pushed the trailer out into the sea and the boat slipped into the water. It was the most beautiful morning with the merest rise in the water. It's a smart catamaran, the Richard William, all kitted out with GPS and radar, named after John's father, a renowned character and fisherman who died four years ago when it was being built. 
I was lucky for my first crabbing trip – the weather was kind, and it wasn't rough. John had asked me a if I was a good sailor and I said “Mmh, not bad..” (with a slight lift in my voice...?) Because it can affect some people, the smell of the diesel.. and the bait.” There was an awful lot of bait, and I did feel pretty queasy at times, when the boat was idling as the pots were lifted, but I looked away to  the horizon, and it soon passed.
It was pretty magical watching the sun rise as the pots were pulled up, with the gulls flying overhead and perching on the stern ready for any discarded bait, and seeing Cromer church rising out of the town as the day got lighter.
Steve on the winch lifted the pots, opened them and passed them to John who tipped them on to table and sorted them (anything that doesn't measure 15cm across walks the ramp and plops back into the sea). John passed the pot to Chris who baited them – with raw fish heads, plaice without their fillets, skate without their wings – and stacked them, ready to go back in. 
The pots are heavy and it's hard work – we (they!) lifted 200 pots. Young Chris wasn't having the best of mornings, and kept being told to hurry up. I sat like Lady Muck, keeping out of the way. “It's hard work isn't it,” I said to John. “I suppose it is,” he said. “but it's what I've always done.” They caught a few lobster too, most of them were too small and went back in, and one enormous (for this area) crab - the biggest Chris (and I) had ever seen.
John told me he hasn't got much education, “All I ever wanted to do was be a fisherman,” he said. He's obviously a good one, and he's a warm, charismatic man, a good talker.  He's also skipper of the main Cromer lifeboat – a vast, multi-million pound vessel which is housed at the end of Cromer Pier, ready to attend any vessel in trouble from Wells to Gt Yarmouth and 100 miles out to sea.
John, me, and Chris, with our biggest catch

Have crabs got brains?” I asked him. (Of course they have, silly me, they can see, and find food, and the ones who've been caught before know how to run up that ramp and back to the sea. ) “I don't really know,” he said, “I suppose they have – but they can't be that clever, if I can catch them!”
We were back soon after 8am, for breakfast at the Lifeboat Cafe. Then I went for a little lie-down.

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