8. Sleeplessness and a Penguin

Just to recap, this blog is about an incredible adventure I had in 1988 when I was a young man. It is a faithful transposition of my written journal into a digital format. I had trained as a marine biologist and fisheries scientist, and was offered a contract to work in the Falkland Islands. I am now about three weeks into my trip, and have been at sea for some 12 days.

Sunday 27 March 1988, Koei Maru 30.

Good ol’ Masamitsu gave me his business card today. Unfortunately I was unable to reciprocate this kind gesture.

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I couldn’t get to sleep for ages – my mind was active – thinking about some most obscure things.

– Like when Adam died and R&C came over and I hid in the garden, because I was ashamed of grief. I didn’t want to see R so unhappy.

– And the time I was to walk down Muswell Hill Broadway in my pyjamas and dressing gown…the ultimate humiliation.

There were other thoughts too. I couldn’t sleep. The result of this is that I have slept until 5.30pm and shall probably forego my stroll around deck. Needless to say is is another clear blue sky – the albatross patrol the boat in their usual manner – I suppose they are waiting for scraps.

My pen is running out – I fear I use more ink here than ever I did at Bangor on Newcastle University. it is just as well I brought plenty of spare cartridges. What a clever boy!

It is strange to think that for each entry or most entries in my diary for each day, I have slept between the beginning and the end somewhere. Eh?

Monday 28 March 1988, Koei Maru 30

Well, only one sample last evening. There were no squid in the early part of the evening and there seemed little point in sampling from so few squid.

Quite an evening for wildlife though – at about 1am I saw, in addition to the black browed albatross, the black/grey birds – ugly little things, and the fast flying swift-like which flit over ther waves (Storm Peterel). I also saw a penguin and a seal which was frolicking about.

The jigs picked up another hake and also a penguin. The poor thing was in shock, and was not enjoying the bright lights or my orange suit. It even looked a little sea sick. I was unaware of how large penguin feet are. It seemed to be uninjured though, and was released when jigging was over.

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I asked (rather naively and perhaps insultingly) if it was going to be eaten – Abe said certainly not and looked astonished at my question. I was always led to believe that the Japanese ate everything there was to be had from the sea.

Tuesday 29 March 1988, Koei Maru 30.

I could not, but could not sleep. I set down at 4am and lay for four or five hours without sleep. Radioed Port Stanley and spoke with Crag – it was good, and tried to sleep again but couldn’t for at least an hour. Then I slept until 6pm. Completely bonkers.

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I am a little annoyed. It seems I have made little or no impression yet with the work I am doing and also with the Department itself. I don’t know, but I don’t feel as though they really care much about me, only the project I am working on. I can’t see that I’m an unlikable chap, I try maybe too hard.

I seem to be going through a bit of a bad patch – perhaps it is too much Dickens. I didn’t write any letters yesterday, in fact I didn’t do much. I am in a slump again and must act on it. I miss Deb and want to see her, or at least read her letters. I am now half way through this voyage, and nearly 10% through my contract.

I am keeping my earring hole open by daily putting a paperclip through it. Unhygienic but effective. I left all my earrings at home.

I wrote again to Mum and Ad. It’s funny, but I never seem to be able to express myself as well on paper (especially in letters), as when I compose things in my head. Perhaps I should make use of my tape recorder.

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7. Roll, pitch, yaw

Friday 25 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

I have made friends formally now with the bosun bloke – he is called Abe (Abey) (I don’t know the spelling but that is as close as I can get) – he has been fishing for 20 years, most of that time in West Africa – from Senegal to Angola – for tuna. He learned his English at that time. He doesn’t like working on a jigger for two reasons; it is night work and you miss the days and it is not hot in the Falklands…well, compared to the equator, I should say not.

I am concerned about my weight – I seem to have lost a great deal it has occurred to me on going to sleep early this morning.

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Saturday 26 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

I have established that ‘breakfast’ is at 7-8pm. An odd time. Today I had two steaks – lots of pieces of tuna cooked on the pan and some lettuce and bread – a whole stack of it, with margarine and marmite. I think it all has had somewhat of an adverse affect on my poor stomach. Being 12:30am I can now tick off yesterday in the back – great! It has started up a bit choppy – the ship is rolling quite heavily at times and my stuff gets flung across the floor, or from one end of the cupboard or fridge to the other.

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The clinometer registers the amount of roll – I will investigate. I drank my first coffe from a can tonight while working in the pound – ‘Radar’ gave it to me. It was white with two sugars and Luke warm, but refreshing nonetheless. I was expecting much worse. Having said that, it was like drinking a coffee at the end of a dinner party which had been neglected for a quarter of an hour, due to excessive chat about this or that…what are you up to these days? Well I’m…=cold coffee.

It turned cold last night (today). I was cold in bed but too tired to put on my tracksuit – a tiresome problem encountered many times at Strathmore Crescent, Manor House Road and Holyhead Road. (These were all student digs I had at Newcastle and Bangor Universities).

I am totally absorbed by David Copperfield, I hardly want to put it down, I seem to be reading at the expense of all other things – which is not bad, since the other things tend to be gazing into space, sleeping or writing.

6. Retrospective

It is still the early days of my adventure, but things are beginning to settle down a bit. The next entry contains what could be seen as a blog within a blog, or a journal within a journal where I start to list out events from my younger life, in particular my school days.

To assist a little, I will annotate in bracketed italics, where appropriate, the bits that need interpretation…there is a lot of schoolboy jargon).

Monday 21 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Today I feel much better. I got on with my work last night and did two samples. I was on the verge of wimping out because I felt so terrible, but am glad that I hung on in there.

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I tried writing lyrics for a song last night – corny or what? – but the title is good:

‘Living in sin without you’

The sea has died down a little and I have become a bit more used to it. I hope I am over the worst. I still can’t get hold of this sleeping until 2 or 3 pm each day (although I would find it easy at home)

‘In Patagonia’ is a most enjoyable book. I would love to write the same way as Bruce Chatwin.

I found out last night that there are 21 crew on the Koei Maru 30 – hence my hard hat being number 22.

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I am in inspired mood. I want to write about my schooldays. I should do it now when I can still remember things and people clearly. Why ever not? Just because I’m only 24 it doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce.

Started at Highfield  (my preschool). Red dough. Wendy House. Adrian W.

Highgate Primary (my primary school).

A large hall with cheap paintings and a glass roof in the middle. Prayers and assembly, lunch and play. School plays.

A playground, climbing frame, wasp stamping, kiss chase, water fountains. A bloody nose, a wall over to the junior school, hurling abuse and insults. Playground toilets, a boy with a big head and orange pee, a boy whose trousers were pulled down in the playground.

Teachers – Mrs Burke (Head), Miss Price ‘can you hear a pin drop?’, Miss Cavanah?, Mrs Leigh. Miss Gillian? who was kind and had ‘magic cream’ for grazes.

Friends – Philip Smith, bangers and mash and Newcastle, skinhead. Steve Davies, Judith Warren, Louise, Basite, Judith?, Vivienne, Toby, Ulrick and the sandpit incident that led to a smack from Mrs Burke.

Looked after frequently by Mrs Knight – fish fingers and blancmange. In the hall were gauntlets, riding helmet and goggles.

Sports day, Toby cheating in the sack race.

On to Highgate. Pete, Richard, Julia, Leanna, Karen. Fizzy gang, Sekeden guns, crushing green conkers at Richard’s (making poison). Watching TV, Lost in Space, Ali Bongo, Asterix books, Smash-ups (ramming Lego cars towards each other until they broke), Snow. Move house to Woodberry Crescent.

Highgate School – Ingleholm (the junior school), like a limpet with mum, tears etc. Assembly with huge hymn sheets on the wall. Alec Taylor, science and plays. Miss Jarvis, hated me and vice versa. Mrs Povey, nature, released a toad I found which broke my heart. Miss Wilmott, recorder lessons, crush, ancient history, chocolates when I was late once. Miss Jones, Miss Brown.

Tuesday afternoons was a switch between drama, art and woodwork – ace. Saturday mornings – school ugh! Uniform grey flannels.

Phrases – Bungleholm (corruption of Ingleholm), bish-bungle (said when making a mistake), skills, skillos (said while holding your lapels to announce that you had done something good, or won something), the ‘pen’ and ‘pen football’ (the ‘pen’ was a fenced off area a little bigger than a tennis court, where all the junior boys were herded for breaks. The football was usually about 25-a-side, and usually Arsenal v Spurs)

Classmates – Adam W, Justin B, Matthew P, Paul D, John B.

Houses were Drake, Shakespeare and Raleigh. Athletics day only one medal ever in the 4x100m relay, thanks to Andrew G. Mr Trewellah, gym and swimming. Cricket with Mr Taylor on Tatham field, also rounders.

Indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. ‘Cap, Mac and outdoor shoes’ (when it was raining). Fight with Jerry M. Falling out of the car after a piano lesson. Violin lessons with a horrible teacher. Rainstorm when the basement was flooded.

School skiing holidays – Gurtis, Cauterets, Leysin, Leysin – David D getting knocked out in a pillow fight.

A week off school for filming in the South of France for an AA commercial – brilliant time. (How I would love to get my hands on a copy of the commercial, but I expect it has been destroyed by now.)

Tuesday 22 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

The sea is once again calm and the sun is blazing – I have just seen the Dornier fly past. I saw it circle over to some other jiggers and willed it to come over so I could wave, but in the efficiency of FISHOPS, it has a pre-arranged course which it sticks to. No time to wave at lonely observers. The job is becoming less and less painful – the first week was the worst. I have now got into a routine and am much happier. But oh God I miss home.

I have tried to compose properly my first song, but am having great difficulty being original – I am sure this is a problem for many musicians/songwriters, although it would be arrogant and false to put myself amongst such people.

I fear, although I can’t believe it, that I might be getting a mild cold or an allergy or something.

Five steaks in one day! What can I say, except yummie, and there is still one more meal to go. I find the mix of fish and meat very difficult to cope with, but am getting used to it.

Wednesday 23 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Have seen nor heard anything of the military exercise. Not surprising out here at sea. I wish I could write like Bruce Chatwin. Perhaps one day I will.

When I woke up I forced myself upon a tin of COOP sago (creamed) cold. It was actually not too bad, and will keep hunger away for a while. Today I will ask Nananuma for some butter.

Oh for some M&S chipsticks. A craving is a terrible thing, it eats away at one’s will and cripples your every thought. Who shall I write to today? Gavin and Matt, Pat, Roy and Gordon.

Thursday 24 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Instead I wrote to Gavin and Matt and Martin Stephenson (a musician that I loved, and still love, from my days at Newcastle University. Still gigging), basically to see if he is as good a bloke as I think he is. I feel he won’t be able to resist replying to a letter from the Falklands – that is if he gets it.

Last night a second jigger moored up behind us because by 12:30 am we were full of squid and they weren’t. I took some pictures. Apparently it is fairly common practice. I don’t think I am going to find out anything new this voyage.

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Called Port Stanley on the Radio but had to go via KSJ and wait for John Barton to get to the KSJ office. It was nice to have a long chat in English. I was able to express myself without having to resort to ‘simple’ English or without having to write.

I have finished ‘In Patagonia’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now on to ‘David Copperfield’. I am challenging myself to finish it before the end of this voyage – could be tough. Six days for ‘In Patagonia’.

I must write some more letters. I may run out of envelopes. I hope not.

5. Harsh reality

In these next few entries I begin to discover just how tough things can be. Although I was not alone on the Koei Maru 30, I was lonely. I found the physical constraints of being caged within my cabin and on board a small ship difficult to adapt to. Looking back I am not at all surprised about how I felt, after all the longest trip on a boat I had ever had was an overnight ferry to France. But at the time I was bewildered and uncertain…

Friday 18 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

I am feeling depressed. I could be anywhere in the world. I could be happy now, instead I am stuck in my 8ft by 8ft cabin, reading or sleeping or daydreaming. I have spent only one and a half weeks away from home and am seriously doubting my spirit to cope with this job. Perhaps I ought to do a countdown of days in the back of this diary – it is as good as done!

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I think I shall now have a shower.

I so desperately want to write something profound and interesting, but it is difficult. To try and describe the crew, their faces and characters or to describe my mental state (and physical) – how I feel imprisoned…but it all sounds so bloody pompous. I should stick to straight observations.

I slept for four hours this morning. It is rather queer, but I seem to be sleeping twice a day (24 hour period) so I am getting two days for the price of one. Lucky me.

Fishing last night was very good indeed. There will probably be over 50,000kg – that is a lot of squid. The jigs were stopped before 5am so I was able to take lots of photographs. It was not easy with the jigger lights.

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I have just tried unsuccessfully to call FISHOPS (which the radio operator kept calling SHIPOPS) (FISHOPS was the radio call sign for fisheries operations, my base and link to my world in Port Stanley) but only got a message as far as John on the patrol ship.

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It is another blistering day, or at least the sun is blasting through my porthole, if you’ll pardon the expression.

I have got over my initial sadness of the death of all these squid and now have become clinical about it. All I really want to do is get my job done as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

The crew appear to invest their earnings in a spectacular array of gold teeth the likes of which I have never come across, and most smoke like chimneys.

I have now established the mealtime regime:

Breakfast at 2400 hrs

Lunch at 0600 hrs

Supper at 1200 hrs

Somehow this isn’t right!!! Sleep from 1200 to 1800. Eat at 1900. Work until 2400 etc etc etc.

It is not at all like this (26/4/88)

Saturday 19 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

Finished my first book – ‘Dr Slaughter’ by Paul Theroux. Hardly the best book to be reading when 8,000 miles away from London.

I have also finished my work for this shift and am going to try and get myself into some kind of sleep regime and am also going to undergo a positive fitness and occupation regime too – otherwise I am in danger of becoming a vegetable.

My beard is now as long as it has been since my return from Egypt, but it still only looks like heavy growth – it is itchy.

If I go to sleep at 4am or so, I can sleep until 11 or 12 and then eat. I should then be able to catch an early jig and then a late jig each day and get a lot of daylight too!

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It seems to work. I slept, ate and then slept some more and am now (at 1600) ready to sample and stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning.

This morning-afternoon I took some photos of the albatross, if that is what they are, but they are not easy subjects and the setting is incredibly monotonous. I wrote again to Deb and also to R&C last night and to Andy T today.

Sunday 20 March 1988. Koei Maru 30 

I wonder if Arsenal won yesterday. I suppose it is all academic now that they are out of the FA Cup.

I am existing in a state of torpor – too much sleep. If this continues for ten months I am going to go completely bonkers. I already feel that I am beginning to go a little mad. I am having the most weird daydreams, very vivid and strange. I expect I will change a lot over the next few weeks and people at home will notice this.

Last night it was almost impossible to sleep and I have a stiff neck. At about 4am the swell really picked up. It has dropped a little now, but must have been at least 15ft.

Breakfast was disgusting. I am sick of this cold, oily food. God I could do with some nice cheese on toast! Or a bacon roll, or pasta or salami. I miss these things as much as my friends.

Let’s face it guys, I feel terrible. I don’t feel like being sick, but boy have I got a bad headache.

4. Koei Maru 30

Another snippet of time to upload a few more diary entries from my 1988 adventure in the Falklands. It really is quite a moving experience for me to read through and reproduce this journal, especially digging out my photographs and digitising my slides. Much of what happened in this special year has been in my head, but I am surprised by how much I had forgotten. 

This time I get to sea at last, but it is not the easiest of transitions…

Tuesday 15 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

At last I am on board my first jigger, the Koei Maru 30 (a Japanese ship that I will have to become familiar with, since it will be my home for the next few months). I arrived on the boat yesterday with John Barton (who then returned to Port Stanley) and have settled in fairly well.

I slept very badly, but at least I slept. I hope to spend most of my day sleeping so that I can adapt to working nights. We were due to leave Berkeley Sound last night, but instead won’t leave until tonight…transhipping is taking much longer than expected.

I know I shall be lonely here – there are only a couple of people on board who speak English, and they seem reluctant to talk to me. I am already bored – I will have to get into some good books. I also know that once we get out to sea I shall start getting seasick – it is my destiny.

Isn’t it bloody typical, I have to keep a record, just like everyone else, except my log is going to be published as part of my role on a jigger/long-liner. I hate that kind of responsibility…I only hope I am up to it.

Wednesday 16 March 1988. Koei Maru 30

My whole life is being turned upside down. Night is to become my day and day is to become my night. All this to get accustomed to inside a box (my cabin), which behaves like a lift passing rapidly between the ground and first floor of a hotel or department store. Although I haven’t yet been physically sick, and there is still time for that, I have been tired and queasy.

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Squid jigging began very early this morning (at 1am) and I took a sample at 2am which I finished at 4am. I slept until 3pm or so this afternoon, but am still tired.

The task in hand is most unpleasant and the better and faster I get at it, the happier I will be. I cannot truthfully say I am enjoying any of this, or not yet at least. When I listen to my tapes, I just get homesick and depressed.

The food has been ok but is all very samey and I am getting sick of it. Oh for a bottle of cool milk.

Nobody told me that squid make squeaks. It makes the job much harder – I don’t like it – it isn’t fair catching so many like this, just the same way purse-seining is ruthless. The poor bastards don’t have a chance. All to end up as someone’s lunch. Let’s go veggie!

(I ought to point out at this juncture that the previous paragraph was something quite out of character for me. I was a confirmed carnivore, and spurned vegetables at every opportunity and was an incredibly fussy eater. Being exposed to a Japanese cuisine was something of a challenge for me)

The crew are beginning to acknowledge me but their English is so limited, like my Japanese.

Thursday 17 March. Koei Maru 30

No change of address yet, sorry. This morning is now tonight and I am just about to shower and go to bed, it is 7.30am. Many people will be able to identify with this problem, nurses, doctors, night-shift workers of any kind. It is an unkind way of living – artificial daylight – it makes me feel so seedy, or like I am spending my life in a Safeway supermarket – at the fish counter!

I am over the worst of my queasy feelings and am able to attack the beer in my fridge. I don’t know whether I mentioned it or not, but I was given a case of beer and a bottle of Japanese whiskey on arrival by the fishing master. He is the most gentlemanly of the whole crew, and the senior officer. The captain looks and behaves like a wild man. These men are not the well-groomed, tidy, automaton-like, businessmen I always associate with Japan. far from it…they are rough, tough, informal, friendly fishermen, as fishermen the world over tend to be. There is little that is typically Japanese about this lot, except the shoe ceremony, which I shall describe at some other date.

I will complete today’s entry in about 8-9 hours or so, which for me will be tomorrow. Incidentally, my dreams last night (night/day) were all about flying or acrobatics. (the effect of the rise and fall of the boat?). I could fly. It was great!

Breakfast was divine. Yucky eggs, cucumber and lettuce, but also yummy steaks mmmmm, it was good. I did my sampling early to get the first one out of the way and also to avoid the crew (I didn’t want to be in their way). As it turned out I did get in their way.

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3. Preparing to go to sea

Thursday 10 March 1988. Port Stanley

Up early (7.30am) -ish to go to a seminar on board the Falkland Desire (research vessel). Fortunately the sun was out and it has been a pleasant day. There is a quality of light here, it is so clear and bright.

The seminars were on the whole fairly boring and I didn’t make notes, a mistake perhaps.

I discovered the bank and the Post Office and am just about to post my first three letters (Deb, Ma and Ad and G&G K). They will not go until Saturday.

Lobster Krill washed up on the tide line, Port Stanley March 1988
Lobster Krill washed up on the tide line, Port Stanley March 1988

I spoke to an Italian fisheries man, Dr Luigi Giannini, over lunch (king crab, beef etc.). He gave me his business card and an open invitation to meet up.

I drove the long wheel-base Land Rover to FIPASS. I am now going out to pose a bit with my camera. ‘Til later, ciao.

I have just been subjected to the most horrendous half hour of my life so far, here in the Falklands. It was a meal of rice and chilli con carne type of thing with beans (kidney?) and baked beans. I was gagging and almost puked several times. What a horrid experience. I couldn’t finish it.

Friday 11 March 1988. Port Stanley

So far on subsistence alone I have notched up some £115 in 4 nights, can’t be bad. I have done very little real work, although I am almost completely sorted out for going to sea. Another beautiful day – the difference between this place and any other I have been to is that you can see for miles, there is no mist or haze in this sunlight. It is clean here. I have driven both Rovers now and can’t say I like either of them. Bizarre road rules include giving way to hills and to the right. I don’t understand myself, but I am a bit stupid with these things.

Tonight is Friday night and it is fish and chips (relief). It is the horrible food which is driving me to sea, I can’t wait to be on board a jigger, but I may have to wait now until mid-week. I am beginning to pick up the storyline of the Archers – oh my God, what is life coming to?

The past two days I have seen the same elderly bearded man fixing exactly the same fence in exactly the same place at the infant and junior school. Things can take forever here. I found the Co-op today and went to the West Store and Farmers Store to get a hold-all (brill) boots and overalls. I still need some kit, mainly a hacksaw for removing otoliths from very large fish.

I have just taken some pictures of one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, the pink and orange mackerel sky to the West. I took about six pictures and hope at least one comes out as it was. Fish and Chips – here we come.

Saturday 12 March 1988. Port Stanley

First film of 24 exposures is finished – I think I booked real bad…I opened the camera, so I must start again and retake as many of the pictures as I can.

I spent much of the morning doing what I had travelled so far from London to escape, namely data entry onto a computer. I was given the afternoon off because I go to sea for sure on Monday and tomorrow I see my first squid – what a joke! I am a little bit miffed because I will be boarding the ship alone without guidance for the first couple of days.

I had a walk out of Stanley up towards Tumbledown Mountain. I took stacks of photographs of geese (Upland and Kelp) and washed up lobster krill. I also went to the Co-op to buy some provisions for the trip. I may be at sea for three weeks – it is very likely.

It has been so hot today. I was not expecting that.

Falkland Islands 29p stamp, March 1988
Falkland Islands 29p stamp, March 1988

Sunday 13 March 1988. Port Stanley

My last day in Stanley and blazing hot too. I am exhausted, too tired to write, I have sunburn (face and arms) and am aching (ankles and back). Walked for miles with Crag and took tons of pictures. I will fill in the detail tomorrow…meanwhile, night night.

AFC lost 1-2 v Nottingham Forest in the cup.