Fishermen and yachtsmen
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Fishermen and yachtsmen

Why can a fisherman Eric Venobo race 58 hours without sleep and professional yachtsmen can't?
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There was a scandal in Denmark this summer. In the famous tedious three-day race Sjælland Rundt (Around Sealand) for the first time allowed to participate non-professional single skippers. The route - around the island, day and night, about 220 miles, half the distance against the current and almost all - against the wind, everywhere busy traffic and fishing nets. There are six amateur yachtsmen left out of the many contenders who, according to the judges, are able to handle the whole race.

Two out of six got to the end, and the yachtsman, who had been leading the whole distance, passed the finish line because... he fell asleep. The judges did not have time to recover from the surprise, and his wife was already voting from the shore and the rescue boats were coming off. The yacht was stopped for rape. The winner was the 54-year-old Eric Venobo, who was not even a racer, but a hereditary fisherman, who had spent 58 hours at a distance and had never once closed his eyes.

Eric and I met on the islands of Orkney, where he - also alone - came in his 3/4-tonne from Denmark across the North Sea. Almost at odds: on the islands was his friend, journalist Katrine, and Eric decided not to wait for her to arrive home, but to stop by for four hours to visit and drink together in front of the plane. Catherine and I met him in the harbour - without a life jacket, long, bearded, clutching his right hand to the body (a few years ago he had knocked out his shoulder, and now all his hiking in the literal sense of single-handed - «in one hand»).

His face is kind and calm, like his father's, but at the same time cunning arbors jump in his eyes. Flexible and slim, from the back he can not give more than 35, and the manner of conversation suits you»more relaxed «than heavyweight «you».

- What exactly was the scandal, Eric?

- Statistics. Four out of six people did not reach the finish line, and out of the two who did, one almost finished in the rocks. A loud story, it was seen by many people, the next day the whole Internet chanted: «Almost killed the yachtsmen! They were sent to the right death! Close up! It's not safe!»

- You must be tired of defending yourself, aren't you?

- Defend yourself? Why should I be? Such races shouldn't exist, I agree. A yachtsman can't stay awake for 58 hours.

- But you did?

- Of course, but I'm not a yachtsman either.

- Wait a minute...

- I'm a fisherman. Since I was four years old at sea. My father used to carry me every weekend on a trawler. At school the kids had some hobbies, holidays, dances, picnics in the woods, and I had fish, fish, fish...

I remember when I was eight, I worked in the engine room 24 hours a day. It's a doghouse below the waterline, there's chatter, it's hot, the diesel is knocking, at least a breath of fresh air, at least a piece of grey sky! «Daddy, I'm telling you. - I can't see what's out there at all, let me out!»

And he's at my door, two buckets of gutted herring: «Can't you see? That's what's out there!»

At twenty I was already in the field myself and could sit for 50-60 hours without getting out, without food and sleep in the cabin.

- Here's the slaughtering job! Why weren't you on duty?

- Uh, «watch!»You can see that, yachtsmen! The fishing trawler is a battlefield. Isn't there someone on watch? They don't catch fish on watch. A fisherman is a hunter who tracks down and catches his prey.

Imagine me in the deckhouse. Radar on, several echo sounders, 5-7 radios, all on different channels. I keep track of who's talking to who, where he's going, where he's catching what; I remember the weather, where the wind blows, how the current changes, what excitement at sea; I notice what joints meet, where they stretch, where we caught them and where we missed them. After a couple of hours I get a picture in my head, you know, like in a movie, like in a computer strategy: a three-dimensional map, other boats move on it, a fish swims, the weather changes. I anticipate, wait, throw nets... and suddenly there's a shifter. How do you think I should put this picture in his head? While I'm explaining what's going on and what I was going to do, while he's re-interviewing, while he's figuring it out, things will change and we'll have to start over. No, watching is for the weak, brother. Fishing is war, and a fisherman is a commander, and you're either at war or not.

- In long sailing races, the skipper can also stay awake 24 hours a day.

- Not quite so. In long sailing races, the skipper really can't sleep 24 hours a day, but he only thinks he can. Well, he doesn't really. Yachtsmen have no idea how to keep their body and boat up and running 24 hours a day. Now, let's go to the harbour, you ask anyone what they do if they have to stay awake long. Yeah, you know what? Eating noodles and muffling coffee. And what does he do when he comes back from the crossing? He sleeps for 20 hours and then he gets up like a hangover. And how does he drive a boat when he's tired? He «doesn't waste his energy» - he hopes for autopilot and GPS. A fisherman would never do that.

First of all, a fisherman always eats hot, tasty, fresh food on schedule. At least the storm, the flood, if we have dinner at seven, we'll have dinner. We have exhausting, monotonous work, those who sit in the wheelhouse, in the car, will gut the fish, have no idea what time it is. Food is the only way to pretend that we're still alive, and to get the body to think about the regime.

Secondly, a dream. If you haven't slept in over 24 hours, you can't throw your head under the blanket, it's suicide. Do you know how many people I know who regularly shit in bed after a flight? That's because they exhale, pass out, and the body is completely relaxed. It's very unhealthy, a fisherman wouldn't do that. Have you been up for three days? Give me two hours, then two hikes, read it, give me four hours, then four more things to do, and so on until you get some sleep and rest. But don't do it all at once.

Finally, navigation. It's no secret that after 30 hours without sleep, the brain starts making jokes with everyone. Targets are moving on the radar, voices on the radio, you begin to forget where you are and what you're doing here. So if it's a long flight, we record all the incidents and thoughts. We don't just keep a ship's log, it goes without saying, we literally talk to ourselves on paper. For instance: «At 7 a.m., there was a lighthouse, so if it doesn't disperse by 9 a.m., we have to turn south». After forty hours, I'm guided by the rule «is not recorded - so there»was no record of it. I know it looks idiotic, but believe me, at the end of the second day you don't remember what you were thinking, and you don't even know if you were thinking.

All these things are the main fishing secrets. Yacht lovers don't own anything like that, they just think they can live without sleep for a few days in a race, and that's what makes them dangerous. I have lived like this for twenty-five years, I know my abilities and limits, and these people are used to working from eight to seventeen and sleeping from twenty-two to six. To get out of that rhythm this weekend is a terrible stress for them, and no matter what the will behind it, no one knows what the body will throw out in response to that riot.

- I guess fishermen don't like yachtsmen. Walking around the seas without any order, winding your nets on the screws...

- Yachtsmen fishermen don't understand. Yachtsmen are morons who go out to sea when any normal person would stay in the harbor.

- Who says so?

- Can't I see for myself? You don't go to pubs very often, do you? But stand at the counter, listen to me. There's all this talk about somebody going out under a storm sail in overturning waves, breaking firewood, almost dying, but he still came back delighted and next time he'll go again.

It's like you yachtsmen aren't learning at all. You have no fear or respect for the sea. Fishermen go to the sea when it's like a hospitable host. We smell it when it's not welcome, and turn around. You yachtsmen flirt with it like a hungry tiger, test your fate. What for? Because it's us who work and feed the sea, and you have no need, no deadline. And this new attack, the ocean passages? Why are you climbing up there, what, tick the box? Because only 2% of those who walk across the Atlantic can cross the ocean. The rest of them are riding on their shoulders and only think they can. They can't. Well, I can.

- What, right now, on this boat?

- Yes, right on this boat, right now. This 3/4-tonner in his 30s, he's seen a lot, last year I broke the mast on it and drowned the whole rigging, but the boat is solid. It was ordered from Lars Olsen by two ambitious Danish riders. They had no money, so they asked different businessmen to pay for the design and construction. They were, but in exchange they asked for some crazy courtesy to work as a sailing instructor for my children»for «ten years.

And when they were almost desperate, there was an oligarch who traded in all kinds of cosmetics. He just gave them money and asked them to name the boat «Lipstick». He thought it was funny that there would be a boat with that name in a serious competition. That's how they'd been sailing it for years, and I bought it two years ago. Fast, noble boat, powerful, and with what design! I can handle everything with one hand. One thing is frustrating: no regatta, I always come first, and when they start counting handicaps, I always disappear in the basements of the tournament table.

- Tell me how you broke the mast.

- It's just that there's nothing to tell. I put the spinnaker on, the wind rose sharply, and I realized that I was throwing the helm now and trying to smile the sail - and then my boat in such a storm just dives into the wave with my nose, and cranes, or I leave everything as it is and prepare cutters for metal cables. A wire cutter then, really, wasn't...

I had a more interesting case in this race for the third day. Also a spinnaker, also the wind rises, early twilight, I turn on the autoruder and let's bow the sail. It breaks, beats, ropes splash in the face, on hands, I push it in the bow cabin for ten minutes. He pushes - and then some stray wave gives the boat right in the cheekbone, the autoruder does not have time to work it off, we put a mast on the water, everything flies with a cube, I do not remember myself going to the helm ... and then the edge of my eye noticed below, in the cabin, some warm glow. «Eat, - I think, - yours to the left, only the fire I need now!» I'm leveling the boat and straightening down, where the crimson glow has already spread across the salon. I'm flying in, and it's not hot and it smells like cinnamon. It turns out that when we were laid on our side, a big jar turned over and opened, and a whole cloud of cinnamon hung in my salon.

- Do you only use the steering wheel on maneuvers when you need to get away from the steering wheel?

- I try to. I don't love him and I don't trust him. He may be on course, but he can't replace my eyes or my hand. I never leave him for more than half an hour. Let's say at night we have shifts: thirty minutes me, thirty minutes him. Many yachtsmen rely on him all night, only occasionally sticking their head in the cockpit to check the wind and weather. But without touching the helm, they do not notice what happens to the boat. I'm a different matter. I need to feel that everything is okay, to know that nothing has been said, that nothing has come down, that the sails are not going to sail. If you stick your head out of the salon for half a minute, you won't know it, you have to sit and drive.

- Eric, you're all right, and you go to sea without a life jacket. Why is that?

- You're just like my wife. Why don't you tell me what to do with him? If I fall into the water in the middle of the North Sea, I'll have an hour to live. Who will come to me in that time, who will save me? More than the one who'll even signal the disaster? My life vest is a lifeline. I have them strapped every two meters - on my nose, at the mast, in the cockpit, at the steps of the salon. In bad weather, I'm always strapped to the boat, we'll sink - so together!

And also, of course, at the stern I have fifty meters of rope hanging. At one end it is attached to the autopilot, and at the other - to a large red buoy. If I'm suddenly washed overboard, I can fly past the stern, grab the buoy, pull the rope and knock the autorudder off course. Then the yacht will get up and I can crawl up the rope and climb aboard. But that's in theory. In practice, I'm not climbing anywhere with my hand, so the buoy that the rope is for my wife's comfort, not for my safety.

- It must be hard to worry about a fisherman's husband or a single yachtsman all your life. How did your wife not feel sorry for what she married?

- My wife chose a garage husband: nine months a year, not at home, and when he appears, brings a lot of money. I was fourteen when I was still in school, had my own moped and a small boat with nets. What's to say about twenty-eight when I disappeared into the sea for 270 days a year - and it's only in the fishing industry, not counting the days in the port! Everybody said at the time: «Smells like fish - smells like money». We were fishing and unloading gold. In short, she was a smart woman, this wife. She was a smart woman, this wife. We were divorced. Now my second wife is worried, she showed up after the trawler.

- And now the fish smell like money?

- It smells, not for fishermen. There used to be a breakthrough of small fishing boats in the northern seas. They all caught a little bit and sold a little bit. Everyone had their own catch quota. We chose what we thought was right and put it on the local markets. There were a lot of fish and we'd buy them fresh.

But people started moving to cities where they wanted fish, too. Catching became a big business, and our quotas started to buy big companies. Our longboats were replaced by multi-deck trawlers, and the few that kept their quotas were simply unable to compete with them.

The more trawlers became, the more fish they caught, harrowing with their bottom trawls the ground, destroying algae where new shoals of caviar were thrown. Looking for fish without fabulously expensive equipment became increasingly difficult, and private fishing began to bend.

And then there were scientists, these smart guys, who thought they knew better than fishermen what to catch. And that's when they started the vicious circle. They say, for instance: «You caught too much cod this year. For the next five years, you don't catch it, you catch herring». Well, there's nothing to do, everyone catches herring. And the herring, by the way, eats cod, and it turns out that it is thrown at two fronts at once, while no one touches the cod. Three years later, the herring population decreases several times and scientists grab their heads again: «What have you done, caught the whole herring! Catch the codfish now!» But the damage has already been done. These scientists don't know what they're doing, no fisherman among them. All these prohibitions are just stupid.

- Have you had many accidents on your boat?

- No, but if something happens, it's not a joke. I, for one, have nine fingers and I'm still lucky. If you meet a fisherman with all his arms and legs intact, he didn't try hard enough.

- Have you ever caught one illegally?

- I have, I have. No crime, just taking a net with a mesh smaller than it's supposed to be, so the young ones don't get away. A couple of times we cut those nets right in front of the inspection boat...

- Did you get any boats in the net?

- Not a single fisherman. I know you are taught in yacht schools not to go near fishing boats, and it is right: when we are looking for fish, we follow the joint and turn quickly and chaotically. But when we are with a net, we have to try very hard to please it. The trawl goes under water almost vertically, and to wind it on the screw, you have to be literally five meters from the trawler. But that's if the trawler's big and catches one. Two trawlers can catch in pairs and the net will be between them, and a small ship it may be on the surface. And don't come close if the fisherman's sail is raised. So he pulls out and gutters the nets and he's not up to you.

- Little fishing boats only have diesel, right, and the sail is for stability?

- Well, that's right, we don't sail under it. It's not to swing.

- Is it comfortable for you to go out to sea so far with one car? People who work on catamarans to support wind farms, say that the engines fail every week and often have to drive one, so on a boat without a second diesel or sails they feel uncomfortable. Do fishermen often have engine failures?

- Yes, they do, they do. But we can not afford a second - we have a car 2000 horses, eats as much diesel as these horses - hay, and if it breaks in the sea, you just fix it, and that's it.

One day at the beginning of the season, I went fishing three hundred miles off the ground. They threw a trawl, dragged it, and then I hear a rattle inside the engine, and it's like one of eight cylinders of nails. Well, stop the car, let's sort this out. I open it, I get in, and that's right, in the last cylinder, the piston is skewed. Start and break the car - money, drop the trawl - money, ask for a tow - money. I'm barely 20, and it's 300 miles to the ground. I contacted the mechanic by satellite. «What, - I say, - will he pull out a diesel for a couple of days?»« He'll pull it out," he says. - Don't even think»about it.

A week later we came back with the fishing, shipped, I - let's look for parts. And they're gone and will be gone until winter. I'm back to the mechanic: The fishing was «disrupted, I'll destroy the car!» He: «Yes, serious business, not a phone call, come». I drove, sprinkled my head with ashes. I come, and he squint, smokes a pipe and makes a gesture: Come here. I come, and he's with his lips in my ear: «At least you catch two seasons, nothing for your diesel». I'm going to the dance! That's how we've been going all season. A ship's diesel is a beast-car, it'll pull you out of any trouble. And the sails, the other engines are a luxury.

If you want to fish, fish, the rest is an excuse.

The illustrations of fishermen's lives are Cory Arnold. The photographer's website... coreyfishes.com

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