Vic & Pauline Wheeldon

Vic talks about his time working on board trawlers and his progressions from ‘Deckie Learner’ to eventually becoming a Skipper. He describes the conditions on board ships in some depth and provides his thoughts on what made the industry so exciting and appealing to people like him. Challenges of balancing home life and work, and also a section describing the loss of his brother on the St. Romanus.

In this interview Pauline alongside Vic, tells us about her experiences as a trawlerman’s wife, the hardships of looking after the home and children whilst he was at sea and making the most of the times he was at home.


Media No: 1107
Interviewee Forename: Vic & Pauline Wheeldon
Interviewee Surname: Wheeldon
Year of Birth 1945
Interviewer: Dan Dearing
Location: Interviewee’s Home
Date of Interview: 04/04/2017
Duration (HH:MM:SS): 01:34:15 & 00:31:26


Time Code Notes

[00:00:00] Father and brothers were fishermen. Early on fishing meant not seeing a lot of his dad. Would fit a lot into the weekends he was back. This was accepted as normal.

[00:03:30] Had no plans for fishing, was going to go into Merchant Navy. Went down the docks with his Dad and signed on a boat instead, on the spot. Explanation of ‘working out’ that needed to be done with various tax reliefs that were in place at the time. More detail on him joining a ship ‘on a whim’. Decided to make a career of it after first trip.

[00:08:05] First trip out to sea. Description of ‘pleasure trip’ on trawler as a schoolboy, more like work experience with jobs to do. Felt at home, supported by fishermen who took him under their wing.

[00:11:10] ‘Fishermen were a tough breed’, hard work they would have to do.

[00:12:00] Went straight on as Deckie Learner – was usual to be cooks assistant first. Easier work on way out, very hard when actually fishing – 18 hour days. Description of his actual job as a ‘deckie learner’, learning the trade. Starts describing scene on deck, phone interrupts.

[00:15:28] Continues with description of scene on deck and his duties as Deckie Learner. Description of fish being brought up and emptied on deck.

[00:19:10] The adventure of going away on trips, they were ‘hunters’. Money wasn’t a motivation. Wanted to be skipper from first trip, liked the idea of being in charge. Appeal was the the ‘thrill of the chase’ and camaraderie with the crew.

[00:22:12] Dangers of the profession. Was aware of them, but didn’t think about it much. It was a job that needed to be done. Bad weather would ‘sharpen your mind to the job’.

[00:26:10] ‘Fresh weather and bad weather’. Description of being on ship in fresh weather, ship moving around. No health and safety as such. Would work out on deck in all conditions, up to a limit.

[00:31:10] Danger of ships icing up in winter. How ship would be kept safe in icy weather. Cutting ice off of the ship in bad weather, often several times a day when ‘dodging’ bad weather.

[00:34:50] Down time on trips. Would play cards and read, but also study to learn his trade. Sole aim was to be skipper. Some were happy to remain on deck, didn’t want the responsibility. You head to have resolve, will and dedication. Needed to study at college and pass exams also.

[00:39:10] Requirements to progress through the ranks, different ages and time served needed. Different certificates that could be earned, eg net mending. Time at home between trips. Ships sailing on Sundays was taboo, dates back to early days when many fishermen were lay preachers. Would sail at one minute past midnight if necessary.

[00:42:55] Ritual and superstitions. Lots of good examples given. Took them seriously in that they were followed, more of a tradition than a superstition.

[00:45:45] Limited time at home, impact on social and family life. What he would do when at home – pub, cinema. Learned to drive and bought car at 17. Had more money then most of peer group, but probably earned same as ‘road sweeper’ when broken down by hours.

[00:48:43] Was always considered casual work. No redundancy when industry folded. Signed on trip by trip. Industry was strong enough at that point, that he thought there would always be work.

[00:50:28] His progression up the ladder. Was mate at 21. More on rules of progression from Boson, to mate, skipper etc.

[00:53:15] Had a disagreement with company he worked for when his brother was lost during triple trawler tragedy as skipper of St. Romanus. Lost some career time as a result. Inquiry into the tragedy, owners wanted to move on. His opinion was that the ships were sub standard and not safe, this was common knowledge in the community. Felt it was a ‘whitewash’. Skippers had little choice which ships to go on, the owners controlled their ‘tickets’.

[00:59:20] How loss of family member affected him as a fisherman. No question of not carrying on, still aspired to be skipper. Changed company as he didn’t feel he could deal with the owners.

[01:04:08] Actually becoming Skipper, felt like ‘winning the lottery’. Everything is down to you once you leave the dock. Was everything he hoped it would be.

[01:07:11] First trip as Skipper during Cod Wars. Had gear cut by gun boats. Was ‘frustrating’ sailing during this period, areas they couldn’t fish, were being protected by the Royal Navy.

[01:10:10] Left the industry after two years as skippers, most of the old style of trawlers were being scrapped. Did not want to go on the new style of trawlers so went into the Merchant Navy. Feelings at having to leave the industry, was difficult, but easy in some ways – didn’t want to be away from home for longer periods.

[01:13:30] Meeting wife and family life outside of fishing, wife is in room. Doesn’t feel social life was difficult for him as he was the one going away, perhaps more difficult for others. Phone interrupts. He was used to this, because of his Dad and brother.

[01:16:31] Tried to fit as much living into the three days at home as he could. Description of what he would do typically day by day. First day for settling up and time socialising with wife, other days for family and kids. Felt pressure and responsibility to give as much of themselves as they could. Adapting to domestic situation – again harder for the wives. They had to be ‘mother and father’. Wondered if he was missing out, but hoped the rewards outweighed the costs.

[01:23:20] Birth of children, particular memories that stand out.

[01:24:24] ‘Loved every minute’ of the job. Thinks most people would do it again.

[01:25:55]  Living conditions onboard the ships. Felt better ships were comfortable at the time, wonders how they coped now. Description of conditions on older ships that could be rough. Phone interrupts again.

[01:27:50] Facilities on board modern ships, they had nothing like this. Description of toilets on board. Some ships had showers, but a lot wouldn’t bother during the actual fishing. Sleep would be prioritised, would groom more on way home. Fresh water was carried in small quantities and had to be rationed. You got used to the smells. These things were a shock as a young boy on a pleasure trip.

[01:33:32] Final thoughts on the job – ‘it’s just what you do’

These time code notes are provided as a rough guide to the above recording. Untold Hull would like to thank all the volunteers who took part for their time and hard work in producing this information.