Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dangerous Jobs For Girls

I couldn't put this online until after the program had been put on the television, but now I assume its safe and its my thoughts and feelings of how it went. Thank you to everyone who took the time to watch it and thank you for all the comments. Sorry if I put anyone off there dinner with the puking, but hey ho - what can ya do. Its pretty long, but hope you enjoy...

I was taken on as one of twelve girls to take part in a four part documentary series called Dangerous Jobs for Girls. The series was to follow the journey of each girl and how they coped and dealt with one of the last few male only job roles in the world. There were four jobs in total including Logging in Canada, Hunting in South Africa, Cowboys in Brazil and the programme which I was part of - Trawler Fishing in Australia.

I have never done anything so demanding as this work and I am as proud of completing this challenge as I am to have won the British Championships and to have come 4th on the World Tour.

There were three girls taken on to accomplish this task. Alison who was an Olympic rower having won a silver medal in the Sydney Olympics, Nicola who was a Thai kick boxer who was 8th in the world and myself.

To give you some idea of what it was like there were 12 people cramming on to a trawler boat set up for 5 people. The job involved working around the clock. There was no night or day. We would get a maximum of 5 hours sleep in any 24 period and many times only 3. We were working with heavy chains, nets and fixings and over the 8 days separated, washed, gutted and iced 21 tonnes of fish plus discarded several more tonnes of wastage. Our hands would seize between shots and it would be agony to put on our work gloves plus we had fish spines in our fingers, bruises all over our legs and our arms were a mix of rashes, cuts and bruises too. One of the three of us fainted from the exertion of it all and both the other girl and I had to push through tough times using every ounce of strength and determination in our bodies.

Back to where it all began. Ricochet gave me 7 days notice that I had made it as a contributor to the documentary. I literally had to cram in all the photos and filming that I was working on while training in South Africa and then drop everything to get back home in time for a Sea Survival Course one day and for the television company to film a day in the life of me the next. They interviewed my family, friends and Naish James then me to find out about my passions, inspirations and motivations. After this it was time to hit the water and the forecast was dire, but like a gift from heaven we headed to a local beach of mine where the weather was absolutely stunning and the wind although bolt offshore was 20 knots. They filmed a good hour and I was absolutely freezing having been wearing my warmest wetsuit (5/3mm short leg suit) during February in England. In what felt like a near hypothermic state filming iconic shots where they wanted me to look mean wasn’t a problem despite the attempted distraction from James and my best friend. Now it was early evening and the crew wanted to film me socialising so we headed to my local pub and got smashed.

3 days after that I was flown from London to Hong Kong, Sydney, Adelaide and finally Port Lincoln.

Port Lincoln couldn’t be any smaller or so it felt. It was the land of Captain Birdseye only with longer and weirder facial hair. Everyone had blatantly heard that we were coming and from what seemed a man only town we had mocking comments thrown at us left right and centre regarding fishing. We got the feeling that they were taking the mick and thought we were three pretty girls out for a jolly hoping not to break a nail. Well little did they know that we meant business and that we were going to do our best to be the finest example of determined women today and anything they could do we could do better (well if not better then do as well.)

From stepping out the plane the film crew were with us. We had four days of training before heading far out in the Southern Ocean notorious for its bad weather and big swells. To begin with we were sent out on a small boat to catch squid with a line and as the days went on we offloaded the fish that had come into port from a previous trip on our trawler plus we changed nets, shovel fed tuna that had been caught out at sea and bought back in big cages to be farmed and fattened up closer to shore. By far the hardest day of the training was the Cray fishing. The crew had sent us out to sea on one of the most unstable fishing boats in the industry to get our ‘sea legs’ where we were to supposedly learn how to use the roll of the ocean to our advantage for manoeuvring ourselves and whatever we were carrying around the boat, but they were actually only really successful with one thing – giving us sea sickness. After two hours of bouncing and rolling around I was hanging off the side of the boat throwing up my mars bar along with my stomach lining. It was 13 hours of unnecessary evil, but between sessions of inspecting the oceans surface I did manage to bring in some crayfish pots and throw out some freshly baited pots ready for their next trip.

With the 4 days training complete it was time for the big challenge (aside from avoiding sneering comments of disbelieving Captain Birdseye’s around town). 8 days 200 miles out to sea on the Explorer S. We were emulating the lifestyle/work of the crew. Setting off was a much more emotional experience then I had anticipated. With all the training and build up there hadn’t been a chance to consider how daunting it all would be and as we steamed out to sea, with a flock of seagulls and a moonlit sky as our guide and leaving the world behind I momentarily felt scared and alone. There would be no contact with my boyfriend or my family and we were heading somewhere many hours away from help should there be an emergency plus we were heading far beyond where I had been sea sick only two days previous.

Snapping back into the frame of mind necessary we reached our fishing ground 24 hours later. The first few catches (or shots as they are technically called) were ok and even fun as we wrestled with small sharks, chased red snappers around the wash bins and slid down the mini ice mountain on shovels in the ice room but then after three days it began to take its toll. It was literally agony uncurling our fingers after the rest between each shot and some spines in our fingers were deep and infected. The bruises we had from having to find ways to overcome the lesser physical strength that we had in comparison to the guys were getting bigger the more shots we hauled in and the tiredness was ever increasing. Our muscles ached but we never missed a moment’s work and we put 110% of our energy and effort into accomplishing this mission.

The final mission was to be able to run the trawler ourselves for the last 24 hours. Not once I doubted our ability to make it and we pulled together. Through team effort we kept our spirits up, motivation high and worked through the down moments together. Nicola fainted at one point and there was a stage in the last 48 hours where my forearms were rock solid, my upper arms were shaking and I felt like all the strength had gone. At the end of that particular shot I had to find myself a place on this boat away from 11 other people onboard and just regain my thoughts and somehow refuel my determination.

The crew who run the boat trained us well they were methodical, easy going, but also strict. Initially they were reluctant to hand over certain jobs to us as they know only too well how dangerous the job can be. One of this very crew was hit by one of the heavy duty chains attaching the nets to the boat a year previous. The rough sea forced a motion where the chain whipped up and cracked his head. It split his hard helmet clean in two and they had to get him back to port where emergency doctors were waiting to rush him to hospital. He would have died had it not been for the helmet and the crew were evidently worried that this could happen to us, but reluctantly resigned to the fact that they had to hand their jobs over to us. Once they realised that we had listened to every word they said and were cautiously but conscientiously handling the job of bringing in and sending out the nets there was no more careful treatment. They heckled us to work faster, forced us to get tougher and genuinely took us on as a new team of lads. They were fun between shots, but harsh and stern when the work was on. There was no
special treatment here which is exactly as we had hoped and expected.

I am sat here at home now exactly one week after we successfully completed the job. The three of us ran the boat as was challenged plus we offloaded the 21 tonne of fish despite the fact that we weren’t expected to. Just running the boat for 24 hours didn’t seem fair. We were there to do the job of the crew. We wanted to see the job to the end and see our fish being shipped off to shops and restaurants around Australia. I don’t remember the pain, the bruises and the tiredness. All I remember is the achievement and feeling of satisfaction and pride as the 3 of us drank a cold beer together. I have never felt so privileged to have worked with two other highly motivated and ambitious girls and this experience is one that I have learned from and will remember forever.

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