A Tradition Saved
Folks generally think that everyone who works on the sea is able to swim, so then they gets surprised when they discover that this aint necessarily the case. Your Prawnman cannot swim and there is a very good reason for that: it is because fishermen have a great understanding of the sea, nobody knows it as well as we do, and one of the first things we learns about it is that it is the fish that does the swimming – not the human beings. Y'see, the fish get themselves born in the sea and stay in it all their lives. Whereas for humans it's a place that is very easy for us to get into but not as easy to get out of – there is no back door to the sea. Which is why, thousands and thousands of years ago, Poole Prawnmen invented the very first boat: they wasn't daft, they worked out straight away that they needed to put something between their feet and the watery depths.
Sometimes, of course, your Prawnman will end up in the sea by accident – either someone has chucked them in or, more often than not, because they have fallen overboard without intending to. When that happens a crewman can only hope that he don't get the same sort of treatment that Old Sid got from Bluey White, Master of the Prawning Vessel 'Penelope' – which was usually shortened to the 'Penny' and known to the crewmen as 'Penny Pincher'. And that's because Bluey White was not the best of Masters when it came to the paying of wages – and when he did pay up he always found an excuse to deduct a few shilling for little or no reason. Not only that, he had a special dislike of handing over the Pot Money – which is one of our old traditions in the Prawning Fleet and nobody likes it much when our traditions gets ignored.
The Pot Money works like this: The crewman for the season gets taken on at the beginning of May but the potting for prawns don't start until August: so that gives three months for the crewman to get all of the prawn pots made good for the season, repairing any damaged ones and giving them all a good coat of bitch. As a bonus and an incentive to the crewmen, a Master will pay out the Pot Money to his crewman once they are all done, the amount depending on how many pots that crewman has managed to make good. The prawn pots are an expensive item to replace so care of them saves the Master money in the long run. The paying out of Pot Money started about a hundred and fifty years ago and back then it was a tidy sum of money: it meant that the crewman could spend out on new wet weather gear, boots or anything else which he needed. Unfortunately the rate per pot has never been increased since the day it started, so nowadays it hardly covers the price of a pint – but that is by the by: it is still one of our traditions and no matter how hard Old Sid worked, Bluey White always found an excuse not to stump up the Pot Money. So Sid never had much in his purse at the best of times – and it got even worse for him after he fell overboard one day.
The Penny was out on the Prawning Grounds and somehow Sid ended up in the briny – quite how this came about has never been fully explained, and subsequent events led more than one person to point a finger at Bluey White. He it was who pulled Sid out of the water – which is suspicious in itself: normally a Master wouldn't touch his crewman, certainly not to the extent of helping him back on board. Instead he would be looking at his watch so he could see how much time was being spent off the boat, and therefore not at work. At first Sid was grateful for being rescued because he wasn't one to enjoy the thought of being drowned. But he wasn't so cheerful when he discovered why Bluey White had saved him: it was so he could claim Sid as salvage.
Now then, you got to bear in mind that the laws on salvage are quite complicated. Well, that's not quite true, the laws on salvage are fairly straightforward – but folks who live by the sea have always had their own special understanding of them, depending on what suits them best at the time. What suits them best at the time has rarely been anything to do with what the Receiver of Wrecks might have to say about it all, so they do tend to have foggy notions about the rights and the wrongs of the laws of salvage – so much so that Sid wasn't aware of any hindrance to Bluey White claiming him as his own personal property.
Of course, this situation was one that we talked about amongst ourselves over a few jars , we wanted to try and find a way out for Sid - and there's quite a few of us who'd be good as lawyers if only we wasn't Prawnmen. As far as we could work out Bluey White had two very strong things to back up his claim: the first is what the law says about the value of the salvage, that is what the salver is actually entitled to. And as none of us could think of Sid being worth anything if you tried to get a few shillings for him, then Bluey White could say that he hadn't got anything of value out of the sea that needed declaring.
If this line of thinking were to fail, then he had another to fall back on: what with this happening at the height of the Prawning Season, a time when crewmen smell worse than usual, if Sid had been left floating around in the sea he would have posed a significant pollution risk. That meant Bluey White could be in line for a substantial reward for preventing this – and Sid may well be held responsible on account of it being him that fell overboard in the first place. And as good as the crewmen are as sea-lawyers, in fact it's something we pride ourselves on, not one of us saw any way in which we could help Sid out of that one. So rather than face a huge legal bill for being a pollutant, we told him that he had to make the best of a bad job and put up with now being Bluey White's personal property. Which wasn't so good for Sid because it meant that he had to work for the Master and not get paid at all – but he did eventually come to realise that Bluey White had done him a big favour and saved him a lot of money in legal costs. Most importantly for the Prawning Fleet as a whole, there was now no question of Sid getting Pot Money anyway – so our traditions wasn't getting ignored.