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Interview with a busy man, Robert Davies, “well-kent roon the harbour, like”. Robert speaks true Dunbar when he’s recalling the past but switches into standard English when he chooses. Robert’s nickname with friends is Fuzz, we won’t ask him why. 

Robert, your family are fisherfolk, does the fishing go back a long way? “My faither died on exercises with the Airborne during WWII when I was 2 months old, but my grandfaither brought me up. Every one of us Dunbar folk and all in the fishing. I had four uncles, and all in the fishing.”

Who were the main fishing families when you were young?  “Easingwoods, Bruntons, Johnstones, they were all here then, and still are.”

How old were you when you got your first boat?   “I’m 76 now but got my first boat at 13. She was the Zealous, about 20ft. She was wrecked in Cromwell Harbour when a spring tide lifted her over the quay and dropped her on ane o’ they posts there. Yon wis a tragedy fur a young lad of 13.”

Any other wrecks?   “The family lost 7 boats over the years. ‘Endeavour’ ripped her bottom off on the bar, the Johnstones roped the boats together to get her in. I lost ‘Misty Isle’ when we were coming into the harbour and there was a guid sea coming on. The sea pushed her into the castle and stove in her prow, she was filling up with water so I shouted to the ‘Endeavour’, a Johnstones boat, and lashed them together to try and keep us afloat but we were going to pull the ‘Endeavour’ under too; we got half way into the harbour when we had to cut her free or they both would’ve gone under. Nearly lost 'Spitfire' twice. “

At what age did you get your skipper's ticket?   “Ye didnae hae tae dae that then, ye jist paid fur it an awa’ ye went. The risk wis aw yours.”

Your boat is Spitfire, easily the most recognisable boat in Dunbar, is she named after the aeroplane?   “Aye, an ma brither was supposed tae hae the Hurricane, but he didnae want tae take on the debt.”

Spitfire was built in Dunbar?   “Aye, 1974, o’er there behind us at Wetherhead’s boatyard, where Barry Buglass has his lobster business noo. A stern trawler,  we used to catch scallops, prawns an' 4 months at the white fish. You need a different net and gear for each. Mainly prawns noo.”

And your crew? “Peter Brunton, 8 year in the Navy, 8 year in the Army, then with me til he retired. Aye, ‘Big Neeps’, was a good crewman.”

Were you ever caught in a serious storm?    “Hundreds over the years. Once we took seven and a half hours to cover the eighteen nautical miles from Eyemouth to Dunbar into the teeth of a north-westerly gale. That’s walking speed, it takes some fuel, and if the engine quits then it’s straight oot wi' the anchor an' quick!“  'Spitfire' is a very stable boat, heavy, with a wooden hull and steel-covered keel.”

Was your expensive gear ever lost?     “Aye, ye can lose a mile o' nets in a minute.“   

How much did that cost?  “Dinnae ask.”

Your son, also Robert, is now skipper of 'Spitfire', do you let him run the boat or do you still 'stick your oar' in?  “No, ye cannae dae that. He looks after her fine. I’m shorebound now.”

You still keep an eye on the harbour from your "gannet's nest" above the slipway. Got any advice for new skippers?  “Keep plenty of water under the keel coming o'er the bar.”

Do you sometimes miss the fishing?  “Aye, it was ma life, but ye’re oot there fur 20 hour sometimes.”

Prawn trawlers fish mainly at night, do you ever go out now?    “Just stay tucked up in bed”

Your store at McArthur's Store is an Aladdin’s Cave (see photo 2) with the best access of all 11 stores. How did you manage that?   “Luck; it was my partner’s faither’s.”

You're an exceptional net-mender, always outside. Do wind, rain or snow ever stop you?  “No. Ye start and carry on til ye’re finished. Ah’m aye daein’ something.”

How long does it take to master the making and repairing of nets?   “Difficult to master. Nooadays nylon nets last a long time but they were sisal afore and only lasted 3 month. Tae learn repairin’ nets it’ll tak ye 2 year to learn. To make nets it’ll tak ye 10 year. Tailored for the type of catch. Ah’m still makin’ mistakes after 60 year at it.”

A few years ago you were getting older and unfit, but now you're 'younger' and extremely fit. What do you do differently nowadays?   “Walking 15 miles a day gets the weight off and fitness comes fast. Maybe I’ll start swimming again to build up the arm muscles.”

Do you like to eat prawns?  “Love ‘em, an’ they’re gey guid fur ye.”

What's your favourite recipe?   “Prawn cocktail.”

Finally:  What's your favourite feeling and memories of the harbour?  “Swimming in the harbour as a lad wi’ Eddy an’ Ian then runnin’ tae Barns Ness fur a race.”

Robert, thank you for your time and stories.

photos by Kenny Maule, photo 1: a busy man, Click <<READ MORE>> below for photo 2: a busy man's store

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