''Do not be afraid" grins one of our Polish crew with relish as he slips a rope under my arms. He signals to some faceless figure high above me and I'm suddenly ascending, swinging like a box of toilet paper, a case of beer or any other piece of goods, over the side and across the water, then up and up into a different world. The sailors on the Jan Mayen are not scruffy and informal like our friends on the Norsel. They are smartly clad in yellow PVC with tall black boots, like policemen round a road accident. Unlike the Norsel, wildly bobbing below, the Jan Mayen is almost motionless. We are fed indoors and shown an air-conditioned bridge with quietly clicking consoles and men sitting around as if they were in Star Trek.
The stern resembles a bowling alley along which the long green nets are wound out with a cacophonous crashing and clanging to fall 1500 feet to the sea-bed. It is an impressive and exciting display, and one wonders what mighty creatures of the deep demand such terrible power. The answer is, shrimp. The Jan Mayen, with her million-pound state-of-the-art bridge, her forty-strong crew, her trawling Datasyncro display and her 4080 horse- power Danish-built turbine engine, is nothing but a glorified shrimping net.
They have been shrimping round the clock for over a month and they do have 400 tons of the little red things aboard, and they do have factory deck with processing facilities which can transfer the catch from sea- bed to freeze-pack in 24 hours, but somehow it all seems like overkill. Who eats that many shrimps? The answer, as in so many things, is the Japanese.
At eight in the morning, in the company of two coastguards inspectors, we watch the nets drawn in. Another magnificent display of technological expertise and human organization. Another three tons of shrimp.
At 9 o'clock the Norsel totters alongside and we prepare once again to be swung out over the sea. Clutching our complimentary boxes, we are dangled down onto the deck like children returning from a school outing.
Literally lost: 19
The extract was by Tim Cahill. The action took place in northern California. The winner was J Thompson, Norfolk.Reuse content