A Night Adrift (A River Keeper Looks Back) - Benjamin Pond - Longshoreman

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A Night Adrift (A River Keeper Looks Back)

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Anglers World, August 1966
By Benjamin Pond

I had told Mutt to be ready on Poole Quay for a 48-hour cruise along the Dorset Coast, so that we might find unknown areas where fish of great size resided. Mind, we both had big ideas at that early age, being still at school, and we had got fed up with catching tiny pout and dabs in the harbour. Plans were made for two days and two nights at sea, surely we should not fail to land some big stuff.
Had told Mutt to be ready to go aboard (nautical lingo) at ten that morning, at half-past he had not arrived, me, I was getting impatient, to pass the time away I got talking to a group of ancient fishermen by the lifeboat house. One old fellow sold me a battered nautical cap for nine bob (found out later they retailed for 7s. 6d.). I put it on my head and strutted up and down the quay like an admiral, much to the amusement of the gathering  crowd which had begun to arrive to see us set sail. Now I had not had this boat very long, so far had never got all four sails aloft on the two masts, perhaps today it might happen.
I suddenly ceased pacing the quay-side and hove-to, Mutt had arrived loaded with enough clobber for the North Pole, some of it in two sacks. "That's for the fish," an old salt suggested, this brought forth a hilarious giggle.
We got aboard, stowed away our gear and hoisted the mainsail and mizzen, thought I, "Never mind the other sails." But one ancient mariner said, "What about yer jib and fores'l, she'll yaw wivout'em?"
Which of these two was which I had no idea and got them up in the wrong order, never heard such a flow of nautical advice and caustic remarks since.

Somehow we drifted away, past Ham Shore, then the wind failed completely, down came the sails and out went the oars.
Now I will pass over that first day and night, due to no breeze we had to remain in harbour and be content with the usual tiny pout and flatties.
Next morning there was a light breeze from the north so we sailed on the last of the ebb, contacted the up tide off Canford Cliffs and made for the Shingle Bank in The Solent.
But the bass were few and far between, we only got a dozen about a pound apiece.
I said to Mutt, "What about that wreck you were told about, round towards St. Catherine's Point?"
"Yes, I got the two double landmarks," he answered, "can't make a mistake, the Florence Louisa lays few miles off shore, and due south of her there is supposed to be the wreck of a much bigger sailing ship."
Soon as the tide turned we hoisted sail, but the wind fell light and it was late afternoon before we reached the area of the wrecks, worse still, a haze had settled on the water and we could not see the landmarks to get our position.
"You said we would try the Dorset Coast, now it's a mess-up," Mutt muttered.
"Yes, and you said you wanted to find this spot, just because some chump knew of these two wrecks," I retorted, then added, "Now I suppose we shall catch some 'rare' pout and go potty in the process, and, by the way, WHY have you got those two sacks, we shan't fill 'em, Oh no?"
Mutt explained. "We was too busy fishing last night, never wanted the sacks. Tonight we must both get some sleep, so we can each put our legs and lower portions into a sack to keep warm."
I had to agree that it was the most sensible thing he had ever uttered, told him as much.
We dropped anchor in about 15 fathoms, fished until nearly dark arid never a bite.
Then all at once fish began to feed. Yes, you've guessed, baby pout. Must have been millions around, and for the sake of something to do we hauled up about 170. At night they seem to spread over all of the seabed.
Three hours of this was enough, we had a meal, got into the sacks and soon fell asleep, not having slept at all on the first night.

Now this was where I had made a silly mistake, there was not enough rope attached to our anchor, it must have become suspended above the seabed when the night tide rose and we had started to drift. We had about half-a-mile of rope aboard yet I had failed to use a longer length for anchoring. Of course we were sound asleep and unaware that we were on a long drift lasting several hours. When, soon after dawn we awoke, we could not see the Isle of Wight, nor the mainland, we must be somewhere well out in the Channel. One thing I had failed to bring was a compass, but judgng by the rising sun we decided to row northwards.
The wind was too light to sail, so we got out four oars and rowed for about three hours, then the haze returned, blotting out the sun, and we rested a while, both a bit scared.
The only thing to do was to continue rowing northerly, hoping that the wind was still from that quarter as a guide. An hour later, a huge black mass loomed up through the haze, took it to be a battleship bearing down on us, then I realised it was the rocky coast under St. Alban's Head.
A breeze began from the south-west, soon we had EVERY sail up and made good speed to Peveril Point, but here we met a hard ebb and the wind fell away, with luck we just made Swanage Bay. This ebb had only just begun, so we had five hours to wait for the hard rise that flows towards Poole Harbour.

Going ashore we bought some refreshments, then got out to the bream mark half-way across the bay. Chopping up most of the pout for groundbait we soon had all the brearm in the bay, we could not go wrong. Between us we had nearly 90 lb, mostly 1½ lb. a fish, but I got one of 4 lb. 9 oz., only once since, in 1965, have I equalled that weight.
Mutt hooked a tope as he was bringing up a fish but it broke the hook gut, then the shoal moved away.
Still no wind so we had to row the eight miles to reach the top of Poole Harbour. With four oars out and a 4-knot tide we got ashore at about 7 p.m. tired but content, how far we had drifted I cannot say, we must have gone about 10 or 12 miles from shore no doubt.
We certainly learned a thing or two; always take a compass, have sufficient length of rope for the anchor, note the direction of wind and drift of cloud if a fog or haze begins to form, also even tiny pout chopped up can be ideal groundbait.
All this happened a long time back, you've heard about Mutt a few times in this series, for a more recent debacle we both go to Plymouth for another night out.

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