Dream shot with a Magnum

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The Independent Online
How Far (figuratively speaking) would you go to realise your dream? Stan Massey knows all about sacrifice. He is prepared to prostitute the best fishing boat in Great Britain just so he can say, one or two or five years from now: "I told you so."

The 53ft Magnum, moored off Oban on Scotland's west coast, is an astounding triumph. It was built by Massey and a few others who shared his dream. The Big Game Club of Scotland scrounged, cajoled and threatened to create a fishing boat that could reach hitherto unfished areas off Scotland. They roped in for- mer Clyde welders, called in favours and put their marri- ages in jeopardy by working every weekend and holiday on the boat.

Three years and a thumping bank overdraft later, they have a fishing boat that would not be out of place in Hawaii or Florida. It is better equipped than most trawlers. The time had come to start repaying the bills, by turning the Scottish west coast into an angling mecca as famous as Cairns in Australia or Cabo san Lucas in Mexico.

Massey is convinced - and he in turn convinced others - that bluefin tuna, albacore, mako shark, bonito, skipjack tuna and even broadbill swordfish (of which more later) are just waiting to be caught. No boat with the capacity to travel 60 miles out had existed - until now. If European anglers are willing to travel to Cairns, Cabo or Chile and spend a fortune in pursuit of the ocean's giants, surely they would welcome the opportunity to capture the same fishes nearer home? What a coup for Scottish tourism!

His plans had overlooked just one thing. It needs a booking of at least four days and probably a week to have a chance at the giants, because of the distances involved. The cost of a week's fishing is nothing in the world of big-game fishing, where boats can cost pounds 1,000 a day in the prime locations. But it also needs an act of faith. You see, all Massey has are statistics from various museums, biological associations and trawling records, his 25 years' experience as a charter boat and trawling skipper, and his gut feeling that monsters lurk in the depths.

Plenty of anglers have been happy to book the boat to fish for big skate, which abound off this coastline. Massey has had over 100 this year, including three over 200lb, and one just a few pounds short of the British record. But it isn't what he really wants to catch. To keep the money coming in while he waits for those anglers brave (or foolhardy) enough to believe his dreams, Massey has had to resort to other options to pay the mortgage.

When I first met him, he knew two sorts of birds. "The ones that float are ducks, the ones that fly are gulls," he told me. Now he can identify scaup or eider duck by their flight. Bird-watchers have become valued customers. So have whale-watchers (plenty of minke there at the moment), deer spotters, divers and (whisper it) seal-lovers.

Seals eat fish. Lots of them. Fishermen and seals get on as well as, oh, trees and chainsaws. But needs must. The bank has to be paid, Massey and his crewman Cameron Drysdale have to eat. Until the boat captures one of those exotic species, the pair will have to photograph seals and look excited about it.

And that's where the Angling Writers Association comes in. Next week, we set off with Massey after broadbill swordfish. If we catch one, it would be the first on rod and line from British waters, an exclusive every bit as big as, say, the Spice Girls becoming nuns, or the water companies admitting: "OK, we were wrong."

The traditional broadbill fishing areas are New Zealand, Portugal, Hawaii, Chile, Panama and Mexico. But that's because people go there to fish for them. Massey says: "I would bet my left hand [he's right-handed] that broadbill are out there to be caught. They live off the west coast. It's just a matter of finding people with the skill, determination and belief to fish for them."

I'm not sure our motley crew qualifies on even one out of three, so we're taking along Vic Sampson, who has caught more great white shark than anyone else in the world. And even if we don't catch broadbill, we can photograph the seals.

To book Magnum (for fish or seals), telephone 0141 777 6738