…with Plymouth photographer Tony Fitzsimmons
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the sea. Growing up in the Midlands, my only real association with the sea was yearly holidays in Anglesey, and scaring myself silly with the film Jaws. I was always amazed by this huge and ever-changing expanse, which, to a little kid with bad eyesight, seemed to go on for ever and ever into the distance. It was as if there were three worlds; one above the waves, one below, and the land I was viewing this all from.
Fast-forward 30-odd years and I now live in Plymouth, having moved here to study, and to finally be near the sea. During the second year of my photography degree, I produced a photographic documentary on Sutton Harbour, focusing on the warehouse and staff, and the incoming and outgoing trawlers. It was a great project, and one made almost even better as I began to organise a trip out on one of the boats. Sadly, assignment deadlines had to be adhered to, and so I said goodbye to being able to gain a brief glimpse into the harsh realities fishermen face daily.
I graduated a few years later, and while I was busy with various exhibitions of my work over the following six months, I began to lay the groundwork that would allow me to revisit my fishing industry project and finally get me out to sea. In June of this year, I passed my Sea Survival and began scouting various boats in and out of Plymouth. One such boat was a 26m Brixham trawler named the Emily Rose BM 28, skippered by Arthur Dewhurst. He seemed up for the idea of allowing me to document the goings-on of a week at sea, and invited me onboard a week later for the Annual Brixham Trawler Race. I had no clue that such a thing even existed, yet there I was, on the bow of the boat, utterly amazed at the crowds and vessels this event pulled in. A month later and I was heading out to sea with the crew of the Emily Rose.
I was definitely a bag of nerves during my first evening, as we sailed out of Sutton Harbour at around 5pm on a July Saturday evening. The notion that there was no going back once we left port was actually quite difficult to fathom. I had no control over the situation; if I wanted to go home, that opportunity had soon gone as Plymouth Sound disappeared into the distance.
For the next few days, I recorded the events and daily activities of the crew as best I could, though I was a little queasy for the most part. I think what surprised me most was the graft required. I always knew it was going to be hard work for those involved, but I just wasn’t aware of how constant that work was. Eight hours on, fours hours off. Rinse. Repeat. I had nothing but respect for the crew of the Emily Rose.
By day three I was something of a mess, throwing up multiple times during the morning. I’ll admit I felt a little embarrassed, though I was far more concerned with the idea that if I couldn’t shake off this seasickness, my project would be over before it had even begun. I had been on plenty of day boats, so to be feeling like this came as quite a surprise; perhaps it was simply just a case of finding my sea legs. Thankfully by midday, I was starting to feel so much better and over the next few days, I embraced this project and life at sea.
Thursday evening, and multiple Coastguard announcements rang through the wheelhouse, with projected force 5-7 winds incoming for the early hours of Friday. I watched as the radar displayed various trawlers heading back to port. I assumed we would follow suit, yet we remained out for a while longer. I turned to Arthur and asked whether, due to the weather warnings, we would be returning to land. Arthur laughed and said no, Emily Rose would continue fishing.
My face lit up with a smile. Despite looking forward to getting back to my own bed at home, it was moments like this when I knew I had chosen the best boat, crew and skipper to focus my project on.
By Friday morning the radar was completely empty of any other vessel, leaving only the Emily Rose out at sea. There were times when I thought we were literally going to tip over as the strong winds created huge waves and spray, battering the boat this way and that, the size of which I had never seen before. Perhaps to many fishermen, this was something of the norm, yet to someone unexperienced with working at sea, words failed me in describing just how exhilarating this adventure was. Considering what a mess I was during the start of the week, you could be forgiven in thinking I would have been 10 times worse now, yet whatever issues I had before, I felt perfectly fine.
A week later and the Emily Rose landed back at Brixham. I had such a wonderful time onboard; I came back with more than I expected, having experienced the calm before and the storm. Hopefully during November I will be heading back out to sea with Arthur and the crew of the Emily Rose to continue documenting what I consider to be a very interesting and eye-opening project.
A series of prints from this series were exhibited at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth in late October/early November. You can follow Tony’s journey on the Emily Rose, as well as other projects and photographs, at tonyfitzsimmons.blogspot.co.uk or visit the website tonyfitzsimmons.com
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