Watch­ing their char­ter boats shattered by a dev­as­tat­ing storm spelled ruin for three skip­pers, but they bounced back in style

Sea Angler (UK) - - SEA ANGLER | CONTENTS -

Holy­head skip­pers are back in busi­ness.

Few get through life with­out some sort of ma­jor set­back, and the say­ing goes that ‘what doesn’t hurt you makes you stronger’. It’s how you re­act to a bad ex­pe­ri­ence that builds char­ac­ter and re­silience. The events of March 1 and 2, 2018 put three Holy­head char­ter skip­pers in ex­actly that po­si­tion.

Storm Emma bat­tered the North Wales coast for al­most 48 hours with sav­age east to north-east­erly winds ex­ceed­ing 85mph. The huge groundswell and mas­sive waves put se­vere pres­sure on the pon­toons within Holy­head Ma­rina, and th­ese even­tu­ally broke up or tore their moor­ings out in some un­prece­dented scenes of dev­as­ta­tion.

Some boats broke free and were washed on to rocks near the break­wa­ter, caus­ing ir­repara­ble hull dam­age. Other boats sank, tak­ing se­vere and ir­repara­ble in­jury un­der­wa­ter from de­bris and con­tact with the seabed. Around 80 boats in to­tal were lost or dam­aged.

Three skip­pers, Gethyn Owen (My Way), Aaron Smith (Bad Boyz 3) and Gareth Wil­liams (Spin­drift) could only watch from the quay as events un­folded, help­less to do any­thing about it.

We can only imag­ine what those three lads felt that day as they watched their boats, liveli­hoods and fu­ture dreams shat­ter be­fore their eyes.


The process of re­triev­ing the boats for ini­tial dam­age as­sess­ment ob­vi­ously took time. In­deed, Gethyn’s boat, My Way, was un­der­wa­ter for eight days. He was able to re­trieve a lit­tle of the ves­sel’s con­tents at low wa­ter, but much had been washed away and lost for­ever on the seabed. The boat was full of mud and silt, and had a huge hole in her port side, along with other se­vere struc­tural dam­age. It was the same for Aaron and Gareth, with al­most ev­ery­thing they owned, boat-wise, lost or spoiled. All three boats were a to­tal loss.

Equally dif­fi­cult would be the process of wait­ing while in­surances were sorted. Not know­ing whether you’d be able to pick up the pieces, or maybe even be forced into a ca­reer re­think, must have been un­bear­able.

I spoke to Gethyn dur­ing and di­rectly after the storm oc­curred, and the tragedy, shock and hurt were clear in his words and voice.

Amaz­ingly, some five weeks later I was back in Holy­head and pleased to re­port that all three skip­pers are back in busi­ness with new boats and look­ing for­ward to a new start. Gethyn and Aaron both had char­ters that day, but Gareth and his new Lochin 40 were work­ing else­where, so I didn’t get a chance to pho­to­graph her.

Hav­ing set­tled on the type of boat he needed, Gethyn found an Off­shore 35. It turned out she was the orig­i­nal Off­shore Rebel, but based in Gosport, and, most im­por­tantly, was well loved and cared for, so was ready to start work al­most im­me­di­ately. I man­aged to jump aboard, just with my cam­eras, at short no­tice, join­ing a group of in­di­vid­ual an­glers. It was only Geth’s third day work­ing with the boat with an­glers on board, but I was keen to get an in­sight into how things were pan­ning out.


Vis­ually, the once full ma­rina space was empty. Re­mains of some dam­aged boats were ev­i­dent on the far side off the break­wa­ter, and a lonely mast still stuck out of the wa­ter where a ves­sel re­mained sub­merged.

At the height of the storm, as the pon­toons broke up, the buoy­ant poly­styrene be­gan to dis­in­te­grate and cre­ate a pol­lu­tion con­cern. This was par­tially con­tained by adding a float­ing boom across the ma­rina area to stop the re­main­ing poly­styrene reach­ing the open sea, and this de­vice was still in place. But there were still ar­eas of float­ing poly­styrene and gen­eral de­bris within the boom. It brought home that this was not just about the loss of boats, but also about the en­vi­ron­ment too.

Head­ing around the break­wa­ter out to an earl­y­sea­son spur­dog mark and chat­ting with Geth in the cabin, it was good to hear the pos­i­tiv­ity back in his voice. The loss of the orig­i­nal My Way will never go away, but his new baby, armed with its Iveco 420 purring away in the back­ground, has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased his fish­ing op­tions.

The old boat used to cruise at about eight knots, but My Way 2 cruises at a very easy 13 knots and can do 20, so fish­ing time is in­creased, plus it brings into reg­u­lar range marks that pre­vi­ously were only fished oc­ca­sion­ally.


Drop­ping an­chor over the spur­dog mark, the lads were quickly into a cou­ple of dog­fish, and then I watched the 15lb-class rod of Lewis Kearns dip a cou­ple of times and a de­cent bend ap­pear as he set the hook. This seemed a longish bat­tle with a very re­luc­tant weight on the end, and while this was hap­pen­ing, lads on the port side beat him to the first tar­get fish aboard by land­ing two quick spurs. Lewis’s fish even­tu­ally broke sur­face, a nice spur about 8lb.

With 10 mack­erel baits ooz­ing their scent in the tide, the spur­dog packs were quick to fol­low it, and spurs from be­tween 3lb and 8lb started to trickle aboard. Geth had given the lads an early warn­ing that the sport would be ini­tially slow, but would pick up with the change of tide when there was a chance of big­ger fish.

Top rig on the day was a heavy-duty twohook pater­nos­ter armed with red mup­pets with a lu­mi­nous head, but from past ex­pe­ri­ence, lu­mi­nous yel­low mup­pets work too. How­ever, spurs are pack fish and like a mov­ing bait, so you need to oc­ca­sion­ally lift the rod tip up and down to move the lead weight and lift and drop the baits to at­tract the spurs.


What had started as a gloomy, over­cast day, now saw bro­ken clouds and a hint of warmth from the south to coun­ter­act the chilly north-west wind. It was a great day to be afloat!

True to form, half-an-hour later, with the tide pick­ing up speed a lit­tle, the bites in­creased in fre­quency, and it wasn’t long be­fore the first bet­ter fish, it looked about dou­ble fig­ures, was aboard. Wi­gan an­gler Keith Heaton was on the port­side stern cor­ner and I watched him be­come in­stantly alert as his rod tip bounced a

cou­ple of times, then curve over as he lifted into a spur with some weight in it. It was a spir­ited bat­tle, and when landed it looked close to 12lb or so, but could have been more.

This same mark can give some qual­ity bull huss too, and Lewis landed a re­ally good-look­ing huss tight to dou­ble fig­ures with dis­tinc­tive leop­ard-like spots on it. Al­most im­me­di­ately, a sec­ond huss hit the deck, fol­lowed 10 min­utes later by an­other.

The spurs were com­ing thick and fast now, with two or three more fish of 10lb or more, plus a num­ber of smaller fish. As the tide run picked up, bites again eased back and it was time to con­sider a move. Geth elected to take the lads back in­shore to a mark off South Stack where there is mixed ground with the chance of coalies, dabs, maybe a ray or two, plus whit­ing and other bits.


Thanks to his new boat’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Gethyn has plans to fur­ther ex­pand his fish­ing op­tions in the fu­ture. He in­tends to do more wreck fish­ing and has some un­fished hulks within range that look very promis­ing. A cou­ple of years back he had a day ex­per­i­ment­ing for por­bea­gles out in Holy­head deeps with some hint of suc­cess, so that could also be on the cards.

He al­ready has a large num­ber of in­shore marks lo­cally, but with more speed and range avail­able, the in­ten­tion is to seek out new ar­eas that, as yet, have seen lit­tle rod-and-line ac­tiv­ity. He may even move the new boat for the win­ter to give him ac­cess to al­most year-round fish­ing. His hori­zons have def­i­nitely widened, and it’s great to see some good come from what was a dev­as­tat­ing event.

We dropped an­chor over a mixed-ground mark and the lads in­stantly found some coal­fish. Not huge, maybe a cou­ple of pounds on av­er­age, but they can run to 4lb or so.

Smaller baits on the bot­tom started to pick up a se­ries of dabs, along with the in­evitable dog­fish and whit­ing. The hoped-for rays did not ap­pear, but this ground is good for thorn­backs, a few spot­ted ray and, oc­ca­sion­ally, blonde rays can also show.


On the way back, Geth made the point that the char­ter skip­pers have stood to­gether shoul­der to shoul­der through­out this trou­bled pe­riod in their lives. They want to make it known that their re­cov­ery would not have been pos­si­ble with­out a huge amount of help from friends, mem­bers of the pub­lic, and as­so­ci­ates.

Nu­mer­ous events to raise cash for the lads were or­gan­ised, in­clud­ing fish­ing matches on Holy­head break­wa­ter, staff from Ys­byty Gwynedd hos­pi­tal in Ban­gor raised £215 sell­ing cakes, and Ir­ish char­ter skip­pers John Flem­ing, from Gal­way, and Kit Dunne, from Wick­low, auc­tioned off boat places to raise money, as did other skip­pers, and there were many more.

In the days of so­cial me­dia, it’s also in­ter­est­ing to re­port that peo­ple spon­ta­neously and in­de­pen­dently set up crowd fund­ing for the skip­pers, which helped raise in­stant money to cover boat­ing es­sen­tials at a time when the lads needed it most. They are eter­nally grate­ful for all the help and kind­ness, the re­sponse be­ing in­cred­i­ble from all in­volved.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, tragedy turns to tri­umph. So it’s fan­tas­tic to see that The Holy­head Boys are back in busi­ness, with pas­sion, re­newed op­ti­mism, and a very bright fu­ture ahead of them. ■

Wreckage from the dam­aged boats

Lewis Kearns holds a nice spur of around 8lb

Paul Brooks with a huss

James Kelly got a big spur­dog too

Keith Heaton took the first dou­ble-fig­ure spur­dog of the day

A coal­fish for Mark Dol­ben

A spur­dog for John Badley

Red mup­pets worked well

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