The Last Herring Ship of Devon
Cycling from Torrington to Instow one day I pass a seemingly abandoned fishing vessel. As I approach to get a closer look I notice someone with dreadlocks aboard the craft. I call up to him "Hello! I'm a photographer from the States and didn't know if you'd be alright with me taking pictures of this ship?" "I'm fine with it, but it's actually not mine, he's the guy who owns it" and he points out to the very edge of the outward tide where a man is walking in knee deep mud of what is usually the bottom of the channel dragging a huge rope behind him. "He'll be back in about ten minutes."
"Hey, there's a photographer here wondering if he can take some photos." "Jesus Christ. Well what did you tell him? "I told him he'd have to ask you."
"Hello, do you mind if I take some photos of your ship? I've never seen anything quite like this in the States." "Well, it's on public land so you can take as many pictures of it as you want and I really can't do anything about it. If I was given a pound for every photo that's been taken of it I'd probably be set." He sits down on the bank to take a breath. "Yeah, this is the last herring ship in Devon; all the rest have been sold for scrap metal. I saw it was going up for sale and purchased it. It's a Mark 5 herring craft made in 1959..." He explains that he's begun refurbishing it and is turning it into a 6 bedroom flat for vacation rental. He's a building contractor and this is where he spends his additional time. "I'm Sam, by the way." "I'm Mark, and this is Rich." "Well, I've got to get back before the tide comes in."
Mark walks down the bank and begins climbing the 20 foot ladder tied to the hull of the ship. I follow Rich down to the high tide edge of the sand where I begin taking photos. Rich is scooping buckets of mud out of a small row boat. "So is this what you do for work?" I ask. "Haha! No, Mark is one of my best mates so I just help him out when he needs it. I actually help adults with learning disabilities for a living." "Oh wow, are there specific disabilities you work with?" "It's all types, but mostly autism and Down syndrome." "Is that taxing? I feel like it'd take quite the toll emotionally." "It is. Especially because a lot of them self-harm, like banging their heads up against the wall. It took me a while to get used to that and when I get home I usually don't feel like doing anything but sitting because it uses a lot of mental strength. But it's really fulfilling work."
Rich starts ascending the ladder. "Is it alright if I come aboard as well?" "I'll have to ask Mark." A couple minutes later Rich and two feet of dreadlocks reappear over the side of the hull. "He says it's fine, just to watch your step on the deck because it's really easy to slip."
"Ships rust from the inside out," Mark explains while showing me the interior "water gets caught in the rock wall between layers as they assemble the ship and it slowly eats away the steel from the inside." Mark shows how he's removed all the rock wall and is patching any rusted places. He's knocks on the steel. "If it holds a note, the piece is good; but if the sound goes flat it is rusted through somewhere and needs to be patched. So it may not look like we've done a lot, but we've started inside and are working our way out."
"We're going to replace the engine, too, the current one uses a thousand litres of fuel an hour." "So you'll be able to take it out on the water?" "Yeah."
"Go take a picture of the portholes on the other side. Those are the original bronze and brass portholes. Bronze and brass doesn't rust so they are still in great condition. I've polished them up so you can get an idea of how it will look when we're done."
"We're tying down the bow of the ship so it doesn't turn down stream when the tide comes in." Mark points to a crater in the sea bed. They have been moving the ship closer to the shore by micro adjustments. Essentially, they re adjusting the ropes every time the tide goes out and tie it down in different places to allow the ship move itself when the tide rises again.
"It's taken three months to move it one hundred yards," gesturing to the path the ship has carved in the sand "which is why i'm trying to get this tied down before the tide comes back in."
"How long have you been growing your hair out Rich?" Since he was 18.
"This is the vegetable garden," Rich says with a laugh.
After we climb back down to the shore Rich asks "Hey Mark, you want to get a photo of us in front of the ship? For posterity?" "I think that's enough pictures for today." Mark replies.