“It’s a great privilege to be skipper of this vessel”

You don’t become the skipper of a fishing trawler overnight. It takes years of study and dedication. Some of the studying takes place in a classroom, but most knowledge is gained by working at sea; fishing in different seasons, weather conditions and on a variety of trawl grounds.

Ryno Blaauw, skipper of the 47.6m, 1 111 ton Harvest Krotoa, took 17 years to qualify as a skipper and has now spent 13 years as a member of the elite team of skippers who captain Sea Harvest’s fishing trawlers.

An affable, easy-going man when off duty, Ryno is the ultimate professional when he’s on the bridge directing the trawl operation.

“Being the skipper of Harvest Krotoa, is a privilege,” he says, “to be in charge of a vessel of this size is a huge responsibility.”

The Spanish-built Harvest Krotoa is one of the largest fresh fish trawlers in the Sea Harvest fleet and is unique in that it is a twin trawler with a powerful engine that allows it to simultaneously drag two nets through the water. It also has extremely sophisticated trawling equipment, including an electronic sensor system that accurately monitors the amount of fish in each net throughout the trawl operation.

Like many of the professionals who captain deep-sea trawlers, Ryno is modest about his achievements and quick to acknowledge the role that others have played in his career. He names skippers Clive Lewis, James (Jimmy) Baker and Zennen Ruiters, and mate Harold Arries, as particularly important mentors and friends.

“I spent almost nine years as a mate with Zennen, and I spent a lot of time with Jimmy when I was a cadet, a bosun and a mate,” he says, “I learnt a lot from them.”

As a skipper, Ryno is not only responsible for the safety of his crew and the vessel they work on, he also makes decisions about where to fish, when to fish and how to fish, i.e. with one net or two. As such, the Harvest Krotoa’s catch performance is largely in his hands. Ryno appears to carry the responsibility lightly, but he sleeps only for short periods and spends long hours on the bridge monitoring the plethora of variables that combine to make a good catch. When the trawl nets are hauled, he watches and guides the operation with razor-sharp attention.

That Ryno leads by example is evident from the teamwork and commitment demonstrated by his crew who safely and efficiently deploy and retrieve the trawl net and process the catch as fast as possible. Their work takes place at all times of the day or night and regardless of the wind and waves that often create an unsteady and sometimes uncomfortable working environment.

Ryno emphasises the importance of mutual respect on a fishing vessel, quoting the French military leader, Napoleon, who is reputed to have said “there are no bad armies, only bad generals”.

“I try to live by that,” says Ryno, “I still believe whatever happens on board a vessel reflects on me and I don’t want to be a bad general.”

“But credit must go to the crew. Whether its 3 o’ clock in the morning or 5 o’ clock in the afternoon, they work hard, they go about their business. It’s just another day on the trawlers.”