A Deckhand’s Lunch

by Jim Grindlay, Learner, Writing Workshops

The rhythmic rocking and rolling of the deck beneath my feet, on an undulating sea. The oily stench of diesel exhaust. And now peat smoke – astringent and saccharine – redolent of burning hay and scorched Guinness – wafting across the deck from the galley stove below.

I’m fighting the muzzy-brained, bubbling-stomach churn of seasickness. ‘Just do like they do – focus on the fishing…’

For the past six months I’ve been a hitchhiker. But for this one day, I’m a deckhand on a coastal trawler fishing Clew Bay, a salt water salient of the North Atlantic biting into Ireland’s remote west coast.

‘Lunch time, Lads!’ hollers the skipper. I’ve fished hard and I’m ravenous, despite my teeter-tottering equilibrium. Me, the two regular deckhands and skipper drop into the smoke-hazed galley and slide onto the wooden bench cleaving to the inside curves of the bow.

Then the skipper unpacks our lunch. I’m quietly stunned:  white, store-bought bread and cheap strawberry jam.

We take turns smearing our bread with the runny, sugared redness – one hand upturned as a plate. Then a thermos of milky, sweet tea makes the rounds. My lunch tastes like penny candy. I squelch my disappointment; I chide myself for my middle-class expectations of more.

Then! A startling spectacle. From a bucket at his feet, the skipper scoops out a handful of just-caught scallops and lays them on the stove’s hot metal top. Quiet h-i-s-s-s! of sizzling juices. Delicious aroma of seafood restaurant. One-by-one, each cooked scallop opens itself wide with a small puff of steam. The skipper hands me a spoon. ‘Try one, lad!’ he urges. Digging out the poached morsel, I do.

HOT! Then s-m-o-o-o-t-h…and buttery tender… a whisper of natural salt…then POW! The zesty piquancy of the sea. I laugh with delight and pleasure. ‘Wow! That’s fabulous!’ I exclaim.

Waiting for the next round of scallops, I chomp into my simple jam sandwich. A sudden Jolt! of freshly invented tastes electrifies my palate. Like lager with honey, like cheddar with grapes – the savoury aftertaste of seafood fuses with the sweet strawberry preserve to create a flavour entirely new – greater than the sum of its parts – as ineffable as heavenly manna.

I lean back against the gently swaying hull and grin with happiness.

Jim’s travel story was written for Ann Ireland’s online course for travel writers: ‘Creative Travel Writing’ (CWWR 952).

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