Mike Waiters has spent more than thirty years at sea, and 25 of those have been spent in the skipper’s chair in the wheelhouse. Things have changed over the years, notably with more automation that has made much easier what had previously been heavy manual tasks, making working conditions better for the crew on board, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that fishing remains a job with anti-social hours and working heavy weather, especially for long periods, remains a challenge – while the skipper’s role in the wheelhouse is the least physically active one on board.
‘I like to keep active,’ he said. These days he spends time between trips on the golf course and out walking, and he played a lot of rugby in the past.
‘I did my first trip at sixteen to see what it was like, and then worked in building for a few years before coming back to fishing again,’ he said.
Mike started fishing on the Perkes family’s boats, before moving on to work for Langdon and Philip and took over Catharina when it was acquired from Holland in 2007.
Catharina was built in Holland in 1992, designed to fit into the Eurocutter size bracket at just under 24 metres in length and with a 7 metre beam. This size of vessel has proved to be ideal for the South-West of England and there are several others in the Brixham fleet built to much the same dimensions.
‘Catharina is a very sound boat, and has plenty of years left in her,’ Mike Waiters said, adding that keeping a boat in shape is a constant and something that can’t be ignored. ‘But if you keep on top of the maintenance, then the boat will fish well.’
Brixham’s black gold
‘It’s all demersal fish, black gold (cuttlefish) in the winter, and we concentrate on quality, so we are catching fairly small volumes of the highest-quality fish. We’re at sea from five and up to nine days, but I like to split a longer trip with a landing half-way through, putting our fish ashore and going straight back out. It’s a good way to break a trip, especially in winter, and means that the fish is fresher when it reaches the auction,’ he said.
He added that cuttlefish have become a staple species for the Brixham fleet, and this fishery through the winter months has grown significantly in the last few years.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it, with both volume and prices,’ he said. ‘Summers are generally quiet, and April always used to be the poorest month for fishing, so that’s when a lot of the maintenance work is done. It’s in the winter that we see our best fishing.’
With crewmen Stephen Hall and Kuster Gillie, Catharina has had the same core crew members from the start, fishing waters from Brixham and out in to the Channel, and Mike prefers to work further off.
‘We know not to fish one area too hard,’ he said. ‘We harvesting the sea and fishing grounds need to be allowed some rest.’
A significant change over the years has been the switch to more selective fishing gears following the success of the 50% project some years ago that dramatically cut the level of discards, and the Brixham fleet as a whole followed suit to use larger mesh and lighter fishing gears. Other changes over the years include better communications, and that includes broadband at sea and innovations such as sending crew lists via WhatsApp instead of on paper so the company has a record immediately of who is at sea on its vessels.
METHOD Beam Trawler
CALL SIGN MRQY8
REGISTERED PORT Brixham
HOME PORT Brixham
PORT LETTERS BM11
OVERALL LENGTH 23.97
YEAR OF BUILD 1992
COUNTRY OF BUILD Holland
DATE OF ENTRY INTO SERVICE: 11/06/2007
AREA FISHED Area 7 / SW Approaches
FISH CAUGHT Hake, Monkfish, Turbot, Cod, Haddock, Pollock, other mixed fish
Picture of the Catherina supplied by Martin Johns