Weighing in at over a ton each and having been photographed well over a million times, sisters Rio and Senio Rita are our two local superstars.
Gaining a subsistence living from the sea by netting fish from shore-based boats is an age-old manner of earning a living. The two colourful sisters have been the backbone of “Trek” fishing ( seine netting ) in our valley and have served generations of local fishermen and their families.
It’s a hard life that often starts before dawn when nets and meticulously wound coils of ropes are carefully packed into the boats preparing them for a quick response to the lookout’s signal.
From the mountain above the bay an ‘uitkyker’ ( lookout ) or ‘wagter’ ( one who waits) holds station scanning the ocean.
Blue water or sometimes light yellow, indicates harders; elf ( yellowtail ) give a bluish tinge; or snoek ( a long thin species of snake mackerel ). A dark colour shows a compact shoal and an experienced fisherman could estimate the number of fish. In days gone by the lookouts on the mountain would signal the presence of a shoal by sound a snoek horn.
The boat with the net piled in readiness in the stern , sets out from the shore with one end of the net secured to the shore by a rope manned by all available volunteers, sometimes even including members of the passing public. The net is paid out over the stern and the boat maneuvers in a circle in accordance with instructions signaled from the look-out post. In days gone by this would have been accomplished by the lookouts waving flags. With the advent of modern technology this now occurs via two way radios or cellphones.
The other end of the net also has a hauling rope which is brought ashore. The net is pulled in and the enclosed fish are thus hauled to the shore.
It is a hard and dangerous life offering only a precarious existence that involves much heavy labour, rowing out through the breakers, followed by the tedious hand hauling of the net to the beach, with the men trudging backwards in a tug-of-war exercise, until the cod-end of the line comes out of the water and the catch can be assessed.
Some days the ocean is bountiful offering up multiple catches of tons of fish. On other occasions efforts are all in vain , like the day 8 mantra rays with 3 metre wingspans were all that ended up in the nets.
On others days the ocean throws in a bronze whaler shark or two to complicate matters. By catch of this nature is returned to the sea wherever possible.
There seems to be no specific ‘Cape’ design boat. Tradition has prevailed with changes being made as the conditions warranted them. Over time the sea eliminated the bad points and gradually the boats began to resemble each other in appearance and handling qualities. They all conform to local conditions – are easy to row, sail fast, of a strong construction, a good surf boat, but light enough to handle up the beach in the strong south-east winds of the False Bay area. This is accomplished by passing stout poles through rope strops at the bow and stern; these are then hoisted on to the shoulders of as many as 16 men.
The boats have a broad beam for stability; were short-ended with little or no overhang at bow or stern so that it can negotiate steep, short seas and surf; a broad transom for load carrying and work space. The length varies from 5m to 8m and the beam from 1,6m to 2m. They are pulled by 4 to 5 oars with a rudder steering for off-shore work although the helmsman uses a steering oar or ‘sweep’ through the surf. On the whole, the boats did not have to do anything well, but, what is more important, they did not have to do anything badly; they are likeable and well-behaved sea boats with no dangerous habits.
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