Off the coast of Western Australia, our Maniki crew reluctantly save Rednose from rocks and sharks


Part 1

The wind was “piping up”, as our skipper would say. Three o’clock in the morning. I was on the hilltop above Jurien, on Skipworth’s farm, and I could hear the ‘big ones’ booming in, all the way from India three thousand miles away – and slapping onto the island in the bay.

We were involved in the catching of the elusive crayfish {lobster} and when that was over for the day – we would go in search of the jewfish, the scnapper – and the occasionally nasty shark.

The vast Indian Ocean waited outside the Island.. ‘The Island’ was parked slap in the mouth of the Bay. For the slack or unwary who try to get out the North Passage – without knowing the rules – doom comes early. {Rules? Who sets these rules?} The mighty ocean, that’s who..

Down to the beach then, and the crew meet up in the dark.

Would Riggsy take the Maniki {Man-eek-ee} out this day?

I thought he’d chance it. He did.

The “big reds” were running, and the pots would be full.

Yep, Ted Riggs, the skipper: a tough man. He owned and drove the boat, found our “lines” of pots, and jinked the craft in as close as possible to the floats.

Jim Culver, the winch man: fast hands – chain lightning, actually. There would be about forty pots to a line, or run. Each pot would have three big round white floats, and a red fluoro marker one at the trailing end. Jim would hook just behind that one with a grappling iron.

He would then whip the first piece of clear rope round the winch, and – controlling the speed of the winch motor with his foot – would set it pulling.

He could well have a thousand feet of rope to winch in. But the pot would come up surprisingly fast from the deep, and in over the hinged transom – with a bang.

Gary Snook was the pot “skinner” that day: quick, neat .. dependable. Saved my life one day – tell you more about it later. Another story. Gary’s job was to drag the pot across onto a steel-pipe table, and skin {empty} it.

Plus he would have to behead any octopus who hadn’t been nifty enough to clamber out on the way up from his gloomy home territory. The tentacles made good shark bait.

There would often be a few lobster carapaces sucked completely hollow by Mr Ocky. Mostly, he’d done a nifty eight-leggéd scamper. But he’d have sucked every bit of flesh out of the cray’s body. A slimy suction pump, was old Ocky. But we respected him: he was only in the daily-bread bizzo, same as ourselves.

On the odd occasion, a sand shark – a “wobblygong” as we knew him – would – in his completely natural but fatally over-greedy way – have got himself stuck headfirst in the pot, seeking to gobble the trapped contents.

In our own interests, the wobbly would suffer the same fate as the ocky. Trying to remove him in a humane fashion could soon have you missing important bits of yourself.. And “humane” didn’t get much of a run, in those 60’s days. Enough risks, without volunteering for them.

On this day, I was the deckie. Whatever position a crewman occupied, he had to know it – backwards. We swapped about. They all represented hard yakker. And speed. Always speed. “Ya gotta be quick”, was a Ted Riggs catch-word.

We were a young and efficient crew, and probably the fastest operating out of Jurien at the time. And there were fifty boats.

So, we hammered out through the North Passage in the early dark, on that windy morning. As we battered our way towards the open sea, we spotted the riding lights of a smaller craft – an “open” boat, as we called it – tipping along behind us. It followed us out, and then turned south, heading in the Cervantes direction.

“Coffin box”, growled Riggsy, dismissively. No deck – which means that if a following “king” wave broke over the stern of the boat – it was goodbye and goodnight, nurse. We all commented that it wasn’t a wise move pushing a “smallie” out into the big weather that was rolling up. But we didn’t really care – didn’t give a shite; trouble enough looking after our own dangerous lives.

We got ‘on our gear’ at about six. Sometimes we would move the pots to another location, picked out by Riggsy, with the help of the echo sounder – and his vast and comprehensive knowledge of the cray’s cunning personal habits.

Today, because of the weather and the fact that the pots were coming up full anyway, the skipper shouted: “Pick and drop”.

This procedure meant doing the usual winching and skinning, but, instead of stacking the pots and ropes and floats for a move of the line elsewhere, they were thrown straight back into the briny – on the opposite side from the winch.

Sounds simple? The pot was over three feet across, and weighed almost one hundred pounds – due mainly to the two short lengths of railway line secured to the inside bottom, in order to keep it right-way up and stable.

Picture the boat bucking high – then diving down like a lift – only to viciously slam back up – knee-bucklingly – against the soles of your overloaded legs.

Comical it wasn’t. And you still had to get the whole shebang to the rail, steady the pot, chuck it well out whilst thinking of it avoiding the adjacent propeller – and just as swiftly slinging – smoothly and rapidly – up to a thousand feet of greasy coiled rope – then four floats after it. And you had about sixty seconds, max, to do all this in! My Armed Forces training did turn out to have some use in Civvy Street, after all.

Chucking the pots wasn’t much more hazardous than any other job or aspect of the work. Every task on a cray/shark boat had hazards attached. I will detail a few in another story. Sometime.

So, the three lines had been picked and dropped, and we were beating back in towards Jurien, with the big southern swell crashing into the Maniki’s stout starboard beam. Everyone braced themselves against something solid in the wheelhouse – otherwise bodies would go flying. No fishing for Noah today – lie sideways to the huge swell running, and you’d last maybe one minute.

Water was washing over the deck, but the hatch covers were well battened down; we didn’t want our big six cylinder Cat Marine Diesel motor drowned. We were fair rolling and corkscrewing. It was about two hours before dark, and nobody worrying.

We were making good time, and in great form. A big catch that day, fifteen bags of crays. But it wouldn’t do to be caught out in the dark, and the sea rising.

The North Passage was in sight, and we were joshing Riggsy on his great navigational skills. On Gary’s transistor radio, tied to a wheelhouse bulkhead, we listened to a favourite song of the times. Belting out goodoh came ♫”Weeeee’ll — drink-a drink-a-drink to Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink – the saviour of the hu — mannn ray-ay-ayce♫!”. Forty years gone – and I still I remember it. The Scaffold. Nearly appropriate, too, as the day turned out.

Ted Riggs, although giving the impression of being a carefree feckless fellow, was actually a superb seaman. As were most of the skippers in Jurien. Proof of that theory? They were alive. Fools died.

Now, suddenly, he shouted –

…… To be Continued

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.

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