In September 2009 Simon and I set sail from Percuil on our Heard 28 Planet. Planet is a 28ft gaff cutter, built in Mylor just the other side of the river from us in Portscatho, and is the younger sister of the Falmouth working boats that fish for oysters in the Carrick Roads. Before we left Simon was working at Falmouth Marine School as a CAD and boat building lecturer as well as working on other design projects in a freelance capacity. I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing part-time and working as a Spanish tutor, having previously worked at Truro College as a learning support assistant. We left for our trip with mixed feelings about coming back to the same jobs and lifestyles, and decided to make our minds up about our plans on our way.
Spending all our time together in a very small space gave us a lot of time to think and to chat. We spent many hours talking about the perfect job, the perfect location, the perfect salary. We thought about what we we liked to do and what we were qualified to do. Without the distractions and constraints of television, pubs and early starts we thought carefully about our lives and how we wanted them to pan out, but by the time we reached the Mediterranean near Marseille having travelled through the canals from Northern France, we were no closer to deciding. What we did know by then, 175 locks later, was that we were happy to work together. And we knew that having got used to spending so much time together we were not prepared to go home and drive an hour to work every morning, fun as the dawn race to the 7.30am ferry was. It would be nice to work locally and travel less. See each other more.
We started to think about how we could achieve this. Being determined to work locally to Portscatho narrowed down the options somewhat. So many businesses and work opportunities in Cornwall are tourist related, which necessitate working and indeed being busiest in the school holidays; times when we would choose to be sailing Planet or visiting family in our free time. Having been spoilt already by teachers’ holidays, we weren’t sure this would be for us. We put our plans aside for a while and got on with varnishing and antifouling. We thought perhaps we’d go back to working in education after all.
Two weeks before the deadline in February 2010, we found out about Classic Boat magazine’s Design Competition; a chance to design an eco-fishing boat and win a half model and published designs. Si was keen to enter, so came up with the best design he could in the little time he had available, and we spent a frantic morning running around Port Saint Louis trying to find an A3 printer. Eventually we found one, posted Si’s design and thought no more about it. We didn’t realise it at the time, but I suppose it must have sown the seeds for our plans to go fishing.
We set off into the Mediterranean and sailed as far as Greece. As more and more people asked us where we were from and how old our boat was and I found myself translating our standard patter about how Planet was related to the Falmouth oyster boats, the last sailing fishing fleet in Europe, into French and then Italian, it struck us one day that perhaps one of the few industries in Cornwall to flourish in the winter was fishing. And from that moment we couldn’t seem to get away from it.
In the way that happens when you think of a new idea, every new place seemed to have a link to it. This is perhaps not so unexpected; after all we were travelling by sea, so you would expect to come across a fishing boat or two. But we found ourselves followed around by it. In Greece we made friends with Manolis, a Skopelos fisherman, and for want of in our case fluent Greek, and in his case fluent English, we communicated (eventually very well) via a Colllins Gem dictionary, endless pieces of paper and Rick Stein’s Seafood recipes, or βιβλίο fish, as it came to be known. All this time we weren’t planning on getting home and going fishing; it was just something interesting to talk about. We turned up in Siracusa and were unexpectedly offered a cheap berth for the winter five minutes away from one the best fish markets I have ever seen. We got storm bound for three days in Porto Palo, in Southern Sicily, where there is a quay, a cafe and a lot of fishing boats. So we got chatting to Giovanni, whose family run the fish merchants on the quay and he gave us a tour of the facilities and we talked about fish. Then he gave us a lift to the nearby village and looked after us for an evening which started with a quiet drink in his friend’s bar…but that’s another story.
We turned up in Tunisia to find that the only ports open to us were fishing harbours, and got chatting to people there and ended up swapping a lobster for a cigar. Again, we got storm bound in Spain, and watched the fishermen mending nets, repairing boats and getting the tuna almadrabas ready for the season. In Portugal we ate chargrilled sardines and wandered through Portimao with time to kill to find that there was free entry to the fishing museum for one day only. We sailed through mussel rafts in Galicia and celebrated crossing Biscay with bass roasted over an oak fire. By the time we were ready to set sail for home we had talked through every possibility and almost decided on our plan.
We had narrowed down our options to a self-employed jointly run venture working from home. We didn’t want to be confined to an office after all this time on Planet, and we weren’t keen to spend our lives permanently on dry land. Si wanted to design boats, I wanted to write. But neither of us wanted to do both these things all the time. We thought back to home, to our house, and realised that there was one thing staring us in the face, every time we looked out of the window. The harbour. What was our village built on? Fish.
You can read more about our adventures in Planet here.