Dunmore U Boat trap – part II

Last week we looked at the story of the sinking of UC-44 in Dunmore East in August of 1917.  This week I wanted to complete the account with a look at what subsequently occurred to the salvaged sub and her crew.
The U boat was thoroughly examined and the design and features noted.  Once completed, some have said that she was towed upriver and used as a foundation in a breakwater in Duncannon. Stokes however has a different account, and perhaps this is where the confusion lies.  Her engine apparently lay in a garage in Duncannon for years afterwards, and rusted and worn, was dumped into a new breakwater. (Stoke: p193)

Salvage operation at Dunmore via Paul O’Farrell
on the Waterford Maritime History page

Other accounts say that initially she was taken out of the harbour and dropped back to the ocean floor. There is further speculation that the wreck was depth charged or in some other way broken up and dispersed.  Either way, there appears to be no known wrecksite.  However, it was not until 2011 that her sister UC-42 was re-discovered lying intact outside Cork harbour, is it possible UC-44 remains to be re-discovered.

An intact mine being unloaded (1 of 9 remaining aboard) note Dunmore
Lighthouse to the left.  via Paul O’Farrell on the Waterford Maritime History page

Some mementos still exists of the U boat however.  For example this piece from USA shows how important the event was and to the Americans who were there to assist aboard the USS Melvile.  And they also have memento in the Imperial War Museum in London.  I wonder are there any still remaining in Dunmore, Duncannon or elsewhere?
An inscribed memento of the event via the Imperial War  Museum
link above, passed on to me by James Doherty

Although the U boat sank, at least 3 of her crew, the Captain, Tebbenjoahnnes, and two engine room staff; Richter and Fahnster, escaped.  When the explosion happened they were in the conning tower, and were separated from the main craft.  Their escape necessitated them opening the outer hatch of the conning tower and a swim to the surface that lay 90 feet above.  All three broke the surface together, but eventually they drifted apart and as we saw last week the commander, Tebbenjoahnnes, was rescued when three Dunmore East fishermen came to the rescue. (McElwee pp 183-9)

Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in Dunmore overnight, but next day journeyed on to Waterford and then Cork and from there to Dublin for the short sea journey to Holyhead and subsequently to London for interrogation and life as a POW.  (Ibid). The actual telegram and other correspondence can be viewed online!  Stokes relates an interesting anecdote about  Tebbenjoahnnes’ journey.  He boarded the RMS Leinster under escort for the trip across the Irish Sea.  He was sitting in the saloon with a British officer having a drink, when Captain Birch, the ships captain, approached the party and remonstrated with them.  Captain Birch stated that he would clap them both in irons if the German was not immediately confined.  Tebbenjohannes was led to his cabin, and there he sat out the remainder of the journey, apparently in an unlocked and unguarded cabin, while his escort went back to the saloon. He’d given his word not to try and escape! (Stokes p.198)  The RMS Leinster would be sink following a U Boat attack in October 1918 and the good Captain along with 500 other souls would die.  (Hutchinson: pp 77-84)
His “interrogation” in London seems to have been a conversation, at least when you read the actual report.  He gives a good description of the event including his position; 52 07′ N – 06 59′ W, fixed with Hook light and Dunmore prior to laying mines.  He also gives a list of the crew but this seems to be incomplete.  There is a short piece online looking for further information on him, which suggests that he went into banking after the war, and in WWII played a role with the German Navy. It appears he was still alive in the early 1960’s, but nothing else seems to be known.
Of his fellow crew mates, less is known unfortunately.  Richter’s corpse washed up on Wexford shore in the following weeks and was buried in Duncannon.  It was re-interred after the war to the German Military Cemetery at Glencree Co Wicklow.  Bahnster was the name given in several sources as the other man.  However I’d like to set the record straight on this, his surname was Fahnster.  Its a typical name of Northern Germany, which was revealed to me by a German friend, Nicki Kenny. Joahnn Fahnster’s body was not recorded as ever being found, as far as I can see.
UC-44 had 30 men aboard on the night that she sank.  Having traced three we still have twentyseven souls unaccounted for.  There is a thread online claiming that 19 bodies were contained in the submarine when she reached Dunmore, undoubtedly the others would have washed out of the damaged hull. The reference for this claim is cited as Robert Grants book the U Boat Hunters. Some claim that in line with Naval policy, they were taken out and buried at sea.  It has been speculated that to inter so many in a cemetery on land would draw attention to the fact that the U-boat had been salvaged and thus loose an advantage to the Germans. (Stokes: p.192-3).  Many accounts don’t even mention the crew, their average age being 20!

Sunrise at Dunmore East last Sunday morning

Personally I think it is timely that the event be remembered.  As someone who has lost a brother, an uncle and friends to drowning, it strikes me as sad not to have some testament of these sailors death. Whatever we may feel about the U boats and the destruction that they caused and lives that they shattered in Waterford, her harbour and beyond, they were still brave men, doing what they were ordered to, as was their duty.  


Maybe by not knowing these men makes it easier to forget them,  Well thanks to Nicki, who I have already mentioned I can at least reverse that small omission. The names and ranks of those lost are listed at the following link and below.  With the anniversary coming up next year, we may have an opportunity to remember this event, and deepen our understanding of our harbours history and heritage.

Rank                Surname               Christian name

Matrose
BARTZ
John.
Ltnt.z.S.d.Res.
BENDLER
Wilhelm
O.Masch.Mt.
BIENERT
Fritz
Heizer
BORGWALDT
K:
Btsm.Mt.d.Res.
BÖTTCHER
A.
O.Matrose
BÜRGER
O.
Masch.Anw.
CLASEN
H.
Ob.Matrose
DÜSING
August
Ob.Masch.Mt.
FAHNSTER
Johann
Heizer
FEHRLE
Erwin
F.T.Gast
GIESENHAGEN
K.
T.Heizer
GOLOMBOWSKI
U.Maat
HEUER
Otto
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
HORAND
Hans
Matrose
IDSELIS
Michael
Heizer
KERSTEN
Heinrich
Masch.T.Mt.
KLEIN
Karl
F.T.O.Gast
KRÄMER
A.
O.Masch.Mt.
LEHMANN
R.
Masch.Mt.
MÜLLER
Heye D.
Ob.Btsm.Mt.
PABSCH
J.
Masch.Anw.
RICHTER
W.
Matrose
ROTTSCHALK
Walter
Masch.Mt.
RÖSLER
P.
Ob.Heizer
SCHICKENDANZ
W.
Steuermann
SCHULTER
J.
Masch.Mt.
SCHMITZ
F.
Mt.Ing.O.Asp.
SEIFARTH
Helmut
Matrose
ZIELOSKO
Emanuel

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in local history, heritage, Waterford harbour and environs you can email me to request to be added to my email list russianside@gmail.com.  Other ways to connect are:
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Thanks to Nicki Kenny and her husband Mick for assisting me with the German research this week. Also to James Doherty for allowing me to wreck his head and to Paul O’ Farrell for some of the images.

Here’s a great link to a blog post by Roy Stokes on UC 44 and others, most of which is similar to what os contained in his book referenced below.http://lugnad.ie/flanders-u-boat-alley/

Another interesting blog post highlighting the sinking and a memento sculpted from the starboard propeller to the inventor of the depth charge Herbert Taylor:
http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/heritage/man-who-invented-the-depth-charge-1-7199079

References:
Hutchinson. S.  Beware the Coast of Ireland.  2013.  Wordwell. Dublin

McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  

F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

The Dunmore East U-Boat trap

I was a youngster when I first heard the tale of UC-44, a German U-Boat that sunk when she struck her own mine and was salvaged and brought back to Dunmore East. There her design and fighting capabilities yielded invaluable information to tackling the U-Boat threat. It was only over Christmas that I came to realise the true back story to the affair, filled with intrigue, subterfuge and probably a lot of luck. For UC-44 was lured to Dunmore with the express purpose of being captured and the outcome played a role in an allied victory of the First World War.
In July of 1917 UC-42 deployed mines in Waterford harbour aimed at interrupting the flow of provisions out of Ireland to the allied side. Usually this meant that mine sweepers were deployed and the port access cleared. However, not this time. This time the admiralty or at least those in control of the western Atlantic approaches based at Queenstown (now Cobh) had other ideas.

Dunmore East lighthouse in the background as sub lay alongside the harbour
photo accessed from WHG and uploaded by Jim O’Mara in July 2013 
The losses being endured by the allies to U-Boats were steadily increasing. Resources were stretched, and the Admiralty seemed more content on maintaining a blockade of Germany than protecting those ships supplying the allies. Admiral Bayly and his team at Queenstown were fighting a losing battle despite the setting up of an anti-submarine division in December 1916, the introduction of Q ships, airships and the added resources gained when America joined the war in April 1917. American ships arrived at Cobh in May and were on patrol next day. The Navy needed all the help they could get and so the intelligence value of an intact sub was considered a priority.
So rather than clear the identified minefield to Waterford harbour a tactical decision was taken. The harbour was closed for two weeks, while a sham sweep by minesweepers was conducted. (This was in case spies were watching, or indeed U Boats). After two weeks the admiralty sent a coded signal to say Waterford was cleared and opened the harbour. Both sides had already cracked each other’s codes, and both sides seem to have been aware of such. (Nolan: pp232-4)
The German navy ordered UC-44, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjoahnnes to sea on July 31st with orders to deploy 9 of her 18 mines in Waterford to replace those that had been “cleared” and the rest were designated for Cork harbour. She arrived off Dunmore on Saturday 4th August and surfaced at about midnight on a beautiful starlight night. The mines were laid while running underwater. While checking the boats position in the conning tower, to plot his course for Queenstown, he heard and felt a loud explosion and his boat lurched downwards. (McElwee pp 183- 189)
Tebbenjoahnnes found himself on the bottom of Waterford harbour with at least two other men, separated from the rest of the crew. Entombed and having failed to contact anyone in the main body of the submarine, they made the decision to try for the surface. Miraculously Tebbenjoahnnes was pulled from the water later that morning by three Dunmore East fishermen, Jack McGrath and two brothers Tom & Patsy Power, who had rowed out on hearing the explosion. Tebbenjoahnnes was cared for in the home of a Mrs Chester and was seen to by a Mr Austin Farrell. Later that morning he began his journey to London and life as a POW. (Ibid)
Meanwhile Admiral Bayly ordered a salvage operation to be commenced and it was initiated three days later under Lieutenant Commander Davis. Divers (tin openers) were deployed, and entered the sub to bring up the U Boats papers which were to prove explosive in themselves. It was decided to lift UC-44 to the surface and then to Dunmore. The strategy employed was basic, if complicated given that she was 90 feet down. Cables were dropped from a surface vessel, brought under the sub and then brought back to the surface. At low tide, the cables were secured to the decks of two ships and when the tide rose, so did the submarine. Once the sub was sufficiently off the bottom, the salvage vessels moved towards Dunmore. In all it took twenty lifts and as a consequence of bad weather it would be September 25th before they reached harbour. (McElwee pp189-191)
UC-44 lying at the quayside at Dunmore September 2017
accessed from: http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/imperial-
germany-austro-hungary/german-u-boat-photos-postcards-156303/
The admiralty learned much about the design and capabilities of the submarine and they were keenly interested in the rescued mines and the deployment system. However it was the log books and other papers which arguably proved the most value. The log proved incontrovertibly what many had suspected but which was denied by senior naval personnel. It highlighted how easy it was for Tebbenjoahnnes and other U Boat commanders to avoid detection and slip through the existing protection around Britain. (Nolan: p235) Such information coupled with the with the rates of shipping losses highlighted that Britain and her allies were at risk of losing the war unless the U Boat menace was finally dealt with.
Macintyre (1965) explains the failure to grasp the U-boat menace “…submariners…comprised a breed apart” They suffered “…contemptuous refusal of senior officers and their contemporaries in surface warships to take them seriously.” This attitude created a “…mental inertia or lack of imagination of the great majority making for an obstinate conservatism” (Macintyre p 20). Some have claimed that the retrieval of UC-44 actually turned the war for the allies. What is probably true at least is that it helped in the continuing shift in attitudes in naval strategy and personnel, and arguably contributing to the removal of Admiral Jellico as commander of the navy, More ships and resources were provided to tackling the issue. The Dover barrage including 9,600 mines was completed and finally the convoy system was introduced. 
An enduring mystery of UC-44 was the notion that she was sunk by her own mine. There are many written accounts, both in books and online that suggest several scenarios. The majority believed for years that it was her own mine that sunk the ship. However, Nolan (2009) speculates that it may have been a casualty of the mines originally laid by UC-42, and as such a casualty of the trap created by the allies. More recently Stokes (2015) speculates that both UC-44 and UC-42, which struck her own mine in Cork Harbour later in 1917, were victims of sabotage, and that the deployment mechanism, or the mines themselves may have been tampered with by British agents operating in the German Naval dockyards. I’d imagine that we will never know for certain. 
My thanks to Michael Farrell of the Barony of Gaultier Historical Society for providing the names of the Power brothers of Dunmore mentioned above.  And to Ray Mcgrah for the name of his father also mentioned.
Macintyre. D. Fighting under the sea.  1965.  Evan Brothers Ltd. London.
McElwee. R. The last voyages of the Waterford steamers. date unknown. The Book Centre Waterford

McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork

Nolan et al.  Secret Victory.  Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18.  2009.  Mercier press.  Cork
Stokes. R.  Between the tides; Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.  2015. Amberly.  Gloucestershire.

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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Mining Waterford Harbour

Two weeks ago we looked at the mine incident that closed the Barrow Bridge in 1946.  It was a floating mine, the origins of which was not identified, but it had been in the water for some time.  It might conceivably have dated to WWI.  At the time the mouth of the Harbour was regularly mined from German submarines hoping to interrupt allied supplies.  The allies were also deploying mines, most of the access points to the Northern and Southern entry points to the English coast were blanketed by mines in a futile attempt to thwart the u boat menace.
The German mines at the time were a contact mine which were deployed initially from ships but from June 1915 were planted from U Boats.  The mines were anchored by cable to the seabed and with enough draft to stay below the waterline.  They were pear shared, 3ft in diamater and filled with 350lb of TNT.  The top of the mine had 5+ horns, with a glass tube inside, which when a ship depressed, it broke and released a chemical to detonate.

US Sub Chaser SC-272 moored in the harbour circa 1918
Minaun in the distance
with thanks to Paul O’Farrell who passed on the image to me

The first Irish casualty of the mines was the SS Manchester Commerce which was sunk off Donegal 26th Oct 1914.  It was December before the admiralty realised it was the victim of a minefield and it would be July 1915 before they were satisfied that the estimated 200+ mines had been cleared.  Gives some sense of the difficulties posed.

Local readers are probably well aware of the story of Kapitanleutnant Kurt Tebbenjohanns and UC-44 which was sunk off Dunmore in 1917.  The U-boat was replanting a minefield between the Hook and Dunmore East, when it struck a mine.   Some might say ironic, but as it happens it was anything but, a story I will return to next week
accessed from http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/06/
submarine-mines-in-world-war-i-byleland.html

Tebbenjohannes and his colleagues were regular visitors to Waterford Harbour, trying to interrupt the flow of resources to allies. Deployed at night from a submerged sub, the task of clearing mines fell to converted trawlers and their crew with a token naval presence aboard.  Two boats would work together drawing a metal rope between them in an effort to locate the sunken bombs.  The risks were high and any mistake would see the loss of the boat, and most probably the crew.  For example in the weeks previous to the arrival of Tebbenjohannes, one boat was lost, but the crew of the minesweeper was rescued by fishermen from Dunmore.
According to Wikipedeia the total number during the whole of WWI was 235,000 sea mines and clearing them after the war took 82 ships five months, working around the clock.  Somehow I doubt they found them all.
Mines were also a feature of WWII but this time Ireland was a neutral and the harbour area was not directly targeted.  However, readers might be interested to know that it was the Irish who mined Waterford harbour at this stage!  There was a minefield operated between Passage East and Ballyhack from 1941. The mines were deployed by the Irish government forces in the channel, and were operated by control from the shore (Ballyhack) also known as command detonated mines.  If any threat was seen, the mines were to be detonated by the shore watch.  I have no further information on it, but would love to hear any other accounts.  (MacGinty: P.61) Personally I’d imagine the minefield was directed more towards protecting Ireland from a German sea borne attack.  The Irish government had been informed by an Admiral Fitzgerald of the Royal Navy to expect same via the harbour at an early stage of the war. (MacGinty: P.32)
During WWII mines became more sophisticated.  The German side were the first to develop magnetic mines that detonated as a ship passed close to them. Mines were also deployed from airplanes, which meant the seas around Ireland became a target after the fall of France.  Mines became a constant hazard, and ships and fishing boats and indeed walkers along the coastline were asked during the emergency to maintain a constant vigil.  There’s a fine photo of the Great Western in camouflaged colours in the harbour.  For anyone thinking that seems a little far fetched, especially as a neutral country, they would do well to remember that mistakes are commonplace in war and every time the ship went to sea, the seafarers would be justified in thinking it might be their last trip.  This must have been heightened as most of those aboard would have known personally family bereaved by such war casualties as the Conningbeg and the Formby.  I’ve mentioned before the perils faced by the Hanlon family from Coolbunnia.  150 sailors died in WWII on Irish registered ships. It’s estimated that up to 4,000 more died on allied ships.(MacGinty: P.58)
SS Great Western in her war time colours
Accessed from Waterford History Group
posted by Tommy Deegan originally

Mines were reported regularly from ships, shoreline walkers and the look out posts, operated by the Marine and Coastwatching Service from Sept 1939,  that lined the coastline.  The interception and dealing with the menace of mines on the seas became a job for the newly formed Irish Marine service (now Navy). (MacGinty: p.26)

Ironically it was the navy’s approach which caused many of the difficulties as experienced by the newly developed inshore fishing fleet in the post war years.  The methodology employed was to approach floating mines and detonate them by shooting one of the protruding “horns”  A distance of 80 yards clearance was required.  However it was realised that when the mine casing was holed, the mine filled with water and sank.  The naval personnel naturally assumed that the salt water would corrode the detonators and explosives, however that would not be the case.  Up to 183 mines were destroyed by the navy during the war.  (Macginty: pp63-5)
Any cursory search in the Irish newspapers will highlight the scale of instances since WWII of mines being brought up in nets.  Had the naval personnel realised the longevity of the metal mine and or perceived how post war fishing practices would develop and the scale of bottom trawling they may have reconsidered their disposal strategy.  Dozens of these articles relate to Dunmore East and vessels out of Dunmore and I was present in the 1980’s for one such adventure.
The details are sketchy I’m afraid, as I could find no record in the newpspers.  However I remember a particularly nasty SE wind and a trawler coming in off Dunmore, but refused entry.  The trawler was being towed if I recall correctly.  The mine was trapped in the nets and part of the nets had fouled the screw.  Holding off Dunmore, a team of army bomb disposal experts arrived in Dunmore that day.  I vividly recall their energy and enthusiasm as they jumped out of a dark green jeep with large kit bags and boarded the Betty Breen to go out to the trawler.  However, they were back after an hour, green in the face and much less energetic.  The trawler was sent over under the Hook and the decison was taken to await a team from the Navy to deal with the issue.
You might think that such problems no longer exist.  However the most recent article I could find for Dunmore was the Irish Independent of March 2005 and the most recent nationally was August 2007 in the same paper, this time a mine trapped in nets off Co Cork.  Be careful out there, you never know what secrets the sea might give up, particularly on a stormy day.
Thanks to Tomás Sullivan for loaning me his copy of The Irish Navy
MacGinty. T.  The Irish Navy.  1995.  The Kerryman. Tralee
Drew some information on the mines from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_mine#Contact_mines

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage 
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
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amongst the Herring shoals in Waterford harbour

As the Reaper and the other Cheekpoint boats proceeded
downriver, we were joined by the Passage and Ballyhack men, forming a convoy of
decked and half decked motor boats of varying size and power and a multitude of
colours.  Depending on the tides, the
Passage men might head down inside the Spit light along the west banks, with
Creaden off their starboard bow.  The “Pointers”
along with the “Hackers” favoured the channel waters around the spit,
onto Duncannon and beyond to the lower harbour.
the Cheekpoint fleet from around this time
Photo courtesy of Anthony Rogers

It was only after Duncannon that you felt the change in the
river and the deepening and less familiar seas of the lower harbour.  The sea around Broom Hill told you all you
needed to know of what to expect below. 
If the rocks were calm and free of waves, you could expect a reasonable
sea, but if the seas were surging up and around, it was to be heavy going.  If seas were breaking, and the mists were
rising up from it onto the grass banks above, then you knew the seas were
turbulent, and most likely we would never have even “set sail”.  (Many was the afternoon the skippers would be up on the high road, looking down the harbour and discussing the weather) 

When we arrived in the lower harbour, boats began to disperse,
hungrily searching the deeper waters for signs of herring shoals.  Some were close in to the shore, beneath
Loftus Hall and further down towards the Hook. Others maybe stretched as far as
Creaden Head.  Boats took various courses,
and many zig zaged amongst each other, keen to “mark” a herring shoal on the
fish finder and establish a pattern of where to “shoot” the nets.  Dunmore boats skippered by Paul Power, Napper Kelly and Mick Sheen would be sounding as they came across to met us, effectively covering the entire harbour.
As the gloom of the evening gathered and the sun set over
the Commeraghs away to the west, the frenzy grew.  Some evenings the sunset was hidden but the evenings the sky was clear were a feast for the eye, the colours magical, the sky almost afire, a contradiction to the cold night to come.  Boats were eager to set in daylight, to
better see where others were setting nets, and also because the herring tended
to rise with the dusk and skippers felt they would miss their chance of a
decent haul if they left it too late.
Some nights the shoals could not be found.  It was generally obvious from a lack of bird
activity, the tell tale signs of gulls wheeling overhead, or divers such as the
majestic and gigantic gannets plunging from a hundred feet or more into the
freezing seas and emerging with a beak full of silver meat.  On these nights the boats tended to be well
spread out and the VHF radio was quiet. 
Occasionally a haunting voice would float across the radio.  Kenny Bolger (RIP) singing an Irish ballad,
when that happened, it tended to confirm that there would be no fish on that
particular night. The Bolgers were fishy folk, as good at catching fish as anyone, and if my school mate from De La Salle was left near the radio it meant there was damn all else to do.
Other nights however were different.  The seas were alive with birds and
seals.  A slick of oil, released from the
herring on the sea bed, which Denis said you could smell and taste in your
mouth, but something, I never manged to do. 
The radio was buzzing with sightings and at times Jim would call us in
to look at the fish finder, the tell tale blackness of a herring shoal, and the
extent of it mapped out on the grey blue paper as a stylus flicked over the
paper marking the fish below.
Once satisfied that the herring were abundant enough the
winkie was turned on and cast over, followed by the nets.  I looked after the lead rope initially, not
trusted as yet with the head rope and ensuring that the cans were paid out clear
of the nets and set to the correct depth. 
Generally all the nets were set, but occasionally, Jim might heave too,
concerned by the markings on the fish finder and the extent of the shoal.  When you hit the herring in large quantities
a couple of nets could fill the boat, and the last thing you needed was extra
work.  Once set, the nets were tied via a
hauling rope to the bow of the boat we hung from them. 
This was a signal to get the tea on, and the grub bag
out.  Tea in the Reaper was always good.  As much as Jim loved his cigarettes, he
equally loved his tea.  The kettle was
boiled on a gas stove and the tea bags were added as the kettle started to
sing.  Hot and sweet, tea and sandwiches
never tasted any better.  
On another
occasion I was asked to go with another Cheekpoint boat for a couple of evenings.  Having set the nets, The skipper tasked his brother “wet the
tea”  What he produced was so vile, even
the copious amounts of sugar I added couldn’t disguise the awful
taste.  I honestly thought he had pee’d
in the kettle and on the first opportunity tossed the lot over the side.  When he spotted my cup empty he was immediately
on me, “will ye have more tea Andy” “I won’t J… J.. thanks” says I…and like a
not yet created Mrs Doyle, he harangued me about it saying ”a ya will, ye
fecking will”  until I dolefully relented.  The next night I was more wary,
and as “cook” went forward to boil the kettle I kept a close eye.   Under constant pressure from the skipper who would
shout in occasionally, reminding him to hurry, that they needed to haul the
nets, he flung in the tea bags before the kettle was anywhere near boiling
and emerged with only a faint hint of steam from the kettle moments later.  At least I could drink it knowing the problem
was half-boiled water.
The nets would be checked on occasionally, to be sure that
they were fishing, and to get a sense of how heavy the catch might be.  Too early and you could haul the nets off the
rising fish, too late however and you risked overloading the boat. 
Hauling was a tough affair when the nets were full.  Here’s an interesting example from Northern Ireland.  But at least a net hauler made the work
easier.  Once ready to commence, the rope
was hauled in to the gunwale and opened from the net.  Then the head and lead ropes were gathered up
and placed over the hauler drum.  The
hydraulics were engaged and the nets were then pulled on and helped in over the
side. 

While Jim kept the boat up to the
nets, Denis hauled the ropes and I gathered up the nets as they fell to the
deck and dragged them to the stowing area. 
When the catch was light this was easy enough, but on nights with a big
catch, this was hard arduous work.  The
netting coming in over the drum could be three feet wide and it was all I could
do to help Denis and Jim at the hauler and then stagger away under the weight
of the nets to stow them on the boats deck. 

You had to be careful where you dropped the nets, and on more than one
occasion Denis had given me a tongue lashing. 
Stowing the nets meant making it easy to clear them afterwards and safe
to steam back to port.  On a decked boat,
it was important that the nets and fish were properly dispersed, and it was
something he wanted me to get right from the start.
Having hauled a big catch, there was always a sense of
ephuroia aboard.  A big catch, once you
had a market, meant a decent wage that week, and in the weeks coming up to
Christmas, or indeed after it, such a catch was always welcome.  Big catches were not the norm, and you would
have plenty of”watery hauls”.  You tended to relax after that exertions and
in the tired but happy glow, surrounded by flipping fish in their death throes
and wheeling gulls, calling to you, as if for a feed, Denis would often set to
telling yarns.  Jim tended to wink at me,
or throw his eyes up to heaven and I never knew if there was any truth in what
Denis would tell me, but I would always be doubled up with laughter.
One of the nights a seal had bobbed up aft of us as we
headed across the harbour towards Dunmore.  “Did I ever tell ye the one about Tailstones (Jimmy Doherty) and the seal in
Youghal”.  Even if he had I would have
said no.  I never got tired of listning
to his stories.  “Himself, Lannen (Jimmy’s brother Andy) and
myself were fishing salmon in the Dominic this summer down in Youghal.  Well all was going grand till this day we were
hauling back on the nets and half the fish that came in over the side had a
piece missing.  ‘Mother of God’ said
Lannen…’if them seals don’t clear off, we wont have the price of a pint this
week’  Tailstones said he’d put them
seals right, once and for all.  Next day
they arrived in Youghal to go fish and he retrieved a shot gun from out of the
back of his van.  When they were out
fishing, I spotted a seal a long way off, head bobbing out of the
water.  Tailstones fired up the engine
and went in pursuit and moments later brought her about and stepped up to the
Gunwhale, loading the gun.  He raised it
and was about to discharge it when the seal turned and lo and behold the seal
had the full face mask of a diver and a mouthpiece to boot.  I threw my hand up and diverted the gun
barrel to the heavens and the same moment the gun was discharged and the only
casualty was a gull that happened to be flying past.  ‘Mother of God’ said Lannen, ‘we’d have never got
absolution’ 
As I laughed at his yarns the next phase of the job was coming into my head; shaking the nets, and it would take time and energy.  But that respite leading up to it, as the boats bobbed and swayed across the harbour towards Dunmore was most welcome.  More work might be ahead but we were a satisfied crew bringing home the catch, and with the promise of a few bob in your pocket at the weekend
Next instalment – clearing the nets and selling the fish

I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.
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