Drifters

1929 , Great Yarmouth (Norfolk)

The North Sea herring fisheries, filmed at Lerwick, in the Shetlands, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth and in the North Sea.

The exodus of the fishermen from Hamna Voe, Lerwick. Shots of the low white-washed cottages and of the men marching across the grass, through a few black sheep, carrying brown paper parcels. There are shots of the sea and of the gulls feeding on the water, a recurring theme. The East Anglian coast. Shots of Yarmouth and Lowestoft are combined to give an impression of a fishing port. Drifters moor alongside the quay at Yarmouth, several deep. One drifter, `The Maid of Thule', is preparing to leave. Shots on board of the men preparing the nets. The captain, an elderly men with grey hair and whiskers, smoking a pipe, gazes out of the wheelhouse. Coal is loaded aboard the drifter and the engine crew prepare the engine ready to depart. Mixes are used in the sequence to superimpose shots of the engine room with shots of the sea. As the boat leaves Lowestoft harbour, there are shots of the quay and of other drifters. The harbour entrance is filmed and then the drifter is out to sea. There are shots back to shore and shots showing the sea breaking on rocks, the engine room and of other drifters. The log line shows the miles passing as the drifter goes further out to sea. Shots of herring swimming in water as the nets are cast when the drifter is forty miles out. This is a lengthy sequence as there are two miles of nets. These shots are intercut with domestic scenes from the living quarters of men preparing food. One of them is smoking a pipe. Two lengthy sequences feature a young boy working aboard the drifter. The mizzen sail is adjusted before the men eat. There are green-tinted night shots of the nets out at sea. These are mixed with scenes of dogfish, conger and herring swimming in the nets, and of the men asleep in their bunks. There are blue-tinted shots across the sea at dawn and of other drifters. The men wake and dress, pulling on water proofs, prepared for another day's work. A montage of shots of the men on deck, interior cabin views, the engines at work and the winch pulling in the nets. The men pull the nets over the side of the ship, shaking out the fish. The weather is bad and deteriorates whilst they work. In all, it takes eight hours to pull in the two miles of nets. Shots taken during the storm show water coming up onto the deck and convey the power of the sea through their shaky nature. A porpoise is filmed coming up close to the boat. There are shots from the engine room as the men continue to pull the nets aboard. The catch nets one hundred and fifty crans of herring - a thousand herring to the cran. The fish are stored in the hold. The drifter builds up full steam to head for the harbour to catch the earliest possible market. The engineer prepares the engines. The sequence that follows intercuts shots of the engines at work, with shots of the men on deck and the sea pounding. Shots across the sea show a line of drifters steaming in the same direction. There are shots of the men below. In the engine room the fireman opens the boiler and takes out a shovel of burning coal which he uses to light his cigarette before returning it and closing the boiler. The quayside at Yarmouth, a hive of activity and anticipation as the port waits for the drifters to return. There are carts loaded with swills, ready for the incoming catch. Lorries are full of coal, ready to load onto the drifters for the next sailing. Fisher girls wander across the quay. The auctioneer wanders along the quayside ringing his bell, calling the buyers to the sail. The drifters at sea enter Lowestoft harbour mouth and steam up the river. There is a coal tug amongst the drifters. Their registration numbers reveal that some are Lowestoft boats, but most come from Scottish ports, Fraserburgh, Banff, Peterhead and Inverness, as well as Lerwick. The men leave the hold and raise the mast. The approach to the quay is filmed from the drifter. At the quayside where the drifter moors, boats are moored several deep. Shots of the boat at sea are superimposed over shots of the buyers meandering to the auction, which is filmed at Yarmouth. The catch is unloaded by a rope and pulley system that moves the crans to the quay. There are shots of the auction. Some of the herring are boxed whole, packed in salt. Others are gutted by the fisher girls. As the barrels roll away to be loaded onto cargo ships, the scenes are mixed with further shots of the sea. The catch is loaded onto the ships and also onto trains. Concludes with the ironical shots of the herring being taken by steam train over the Forth Bridge and back to Scotland - where the trawlers and their men originated.

Featured Buildings

The Forth Bridge

Keywords

Drifters; Fishermen; Herring fishing

Intertitles

The herring fishery has changed. Its story was once an idyll of brown sails and village harbours, - its story is now an epic of steam and steel. Fishermen still have their homes in old time villages - but they go down, for each season, to the labour of a modern industry. Out past the headland - to open water and the North Sea.The log-line tells the miles. Far to seaward swim the herring shoals.The skipper keeps a look-out for 'appearances'.While down below - Forty miles by the log and dark patches of water mark the shoals below. There are two miles of nets to cast - and work goes on into evening. Then an extra float for the end of the line. And the mizzen is set for the night. With the ship made fast to the end of the line the nets go drifting through the darkness.Dogfish and conger - the destroyers of the deep - gather for the killing. One man keeps watch. In and out work the dogfish. Dawn breaks with heavy swell over land and sea. Out in the waste of waters the men are called to the labour of hauling. The storm gathers - the labour becomes heavier still. Despite the winch's help. Every foot has to be fought for. More steam for the straining winch.A hundred and fifty crans - a thousand herring to the cran. After eight hours labour the hauling is done. The rolling ship turns her head for harbour. Then full speed through a head-sea for the earliest possible market. One sea in the hold and the catch is ruined. On the quayside the auctioneer's bell calls the buyers together. In quick succession the ships rode through.The heaviest laden come last of all. And the sound of the sea and the people of the sea are lost in the chatter and chaffer of a market for the world. So to the ends of the earth goes the harvest of the sea. The End.

Other Places

Hamna Voe Noss Head; Lerwick; Lowestoft, Suffolk

  • Director : John Grierson

  • Camera : Basil Emmott

  • Editor : John Grierson

Manifestations

Drifters

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