Time and tide waits for no man


We all have particular clocks that we need to respond to. For farmers I guess it’s the dawn, when its light enough to see what your doing and which stretches to the dusk. All in all a long day in the height of the summer, but is balanced by the dark of winter. For factory workers it’s the clocking in machine, that no nonsense system that demands you be on time, or you won’t be paid. What I hated about this system is that it never seemed to take account of day or night, snow or sunshine, just a continuous pattern or rhythm like Fords assembly line.
For fishermen in the Cheekpoint area they rhythm was the tides. The tides tripped off our tongues, even as children, and before we really knew what they meant. Tides change approximately every 6 hours and we get two high waters and two low waters in an average day. As a fisherman you followed these with a tenacity of any good hunter following his prey.

Sonny Doherty and Andy Cunningham "hauling them back"
from an outward bound ship on the Ebb tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

For Eels , fishing tended to happen when the tides are at there slowest, hence High and Low Tides, day or night. Similarly for Trawling and for setting and hauling the weirs. But the salmon fishing was a bit more complex. The salmon had a season and a weekly close. So we started originally on February 1st and fished to August 15th.and weekly we fished from 6am on Monday morning to 6am on the Saturday. The rest of Saturday was giving over to repairing nets and Sunday to rest. The drift net was used in Cheekpoint, employing two men to an open 18ft punt. . We used a set of 6 nets marked by buoys on either end. Originally punts were oar powered but outboards made things a lot easier in getting about to the drifts.

For simplicity lets say that tides started with High Water. Thus the tide was at its highest on the banks of the river and along the shore. On neap tides high waters were something you could relax around, but on spring tides you needed to be cautious, the higher tides tended to bring weeds off the shore and you were at risk of filling your nets. Once the nets stood still in the river it was High Water, and once they started to slip back down the river it was known as “First of Ebb”.

Following High water boats went ashore, and nets would not be set again in the area until the “Stripping of the Mud” about two hours after high water. The Strippin was a word we heard daily during the salmon season, and even as a child there was a recognition of its importance. The Strippin was a drift that was waited for in the Bathing Box below the mount quay. Boats would often go in to the bailing box to wait for two to three hours for the chance to be first boat to set on the Stripin. The wait was straightforward. First boat in, was first to set, as long as one of the two crew men stayed with the boat. If they left, their place was forfeit.

Once the stripping boat set others could set at the same time from the Binglidies or Snow Hill or at the Point. The Stipping occurred when the mud on the Wexford shore was exposed by the outgoing tide. It also marked the tides being at their strongest. 

The ebb tide continued with punts drifting down as far as “The Castle” or “Buttermilk Point” on the eastern side of the estuary or to the Barn quay or Ryans Quay on the Western shore (Waterford side). When the drift ended the nets were hauled and the punt returned to the Bathing Box to await their turn to set once more, or set them in on the Point if there was a space. The drifting continued to “Low Water” although many punts went home depending on how catches were going, whilst others when they reached “The Castle” would haul and reset the nets on Seedes Bank and drift them down towards Passage East and Ballyhack.

Tom Sullivan hauling nets at Ryan's Quay on the ebb tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

Low Water could be drifted from a number of points, but the favourite was “Low water on the mud”. This drift was waited for at “the Rock” and was started depending on the strength of tides or wind direction and indeed time of day and whether the sun was out. Again, the boat had to be manned and generally it allowed that one person could go home for a feed, while the other waited. They could use the time to repair nets and generally it was a great way to hear news as other boats passed by. Coming close to low water, a stick could be placed in the mud beside the dropping tide to gauge the time it was taking to drop. The stick would be moved to beside the river until the river stopped dropping, and actually started to “rise” on the stick. The rising tide meant that it would soon be low water ie the tide would stop running out of the river and start to run in again. Antoher great measure of the tide was the stroke that would drift in onto the rock marking a change in the tide.

First of flood pushing inwards at "the Point"

When the punt and crew decided it was time to set for Low water, they set off for the wexford side of the estuary and set the nets off from the mud at “Campile Pill” and then came back in and held the nets close to the mud as they drifted down, in order to “jam” a fish in the shallows, or prevent them getting round the inside end of the nets. Low water was determined when the nets stopped drifting down. This would be seen first with the outside bouy on the net “hanging back” or the corks going “slack” as the current slowed. “First of Flood” was marked by the nets starting to drift upriver again. As the tide strengthened this was called “Flood Tide”. 

Tom & Michael Ferguson RIP drifting the flood tide
Photo credit Tomás Sullivan

The “Covering of the Mud” was another milestone in the day, as the mud on the Wexford shore was covered once more by the inflowing river, and most boats were keen to have their nets in the water for this time of tide.  The Flood tide then continued to High water and the whole process was repeated.

So to recap:
High Water
First of Ebb
Ebb Tide
Strippin of the mud
Low water (Standing tide)
First of Flood
Flood Tide
Covering of the mud
High Water

 I publish a blog each Friday.  If you like this piece or have an interest in the local history or maritime heritage of Waterford harbour and environs you can email me at russianside@gmail.com to receive the blog every week.

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