David & Caleb:

Father and Son on the Ocean Waves

David & Caleb:

Father and Son on the Ocean Waves

It was the moment of truth.

When 12-year-old Caleb Stevens set out to sea on a cold spring morning, the future of his family’s fishing tradition was on the line.

How would a boy raised in the 21st century world of Snapchat, Xboxes and TikTok cope with life on an Atlantic trawler, tossed by the constant waves, chilled by the icy winds?

 Caleb’s father David recognised the dangers. He himself was just a child when he sailed with his own father. Indeed the family has handed down fishing lore from father to son since the 13th century. Could this generation be the last?

For the first couple of days aboard Crystal Sea, Caleb was seasick. Undaunted, he cooked daily meals for his father and their three crewmen, serving up spicy Mexican dishes, stews and curry. He took his turn sorting the catch, gutting fish, chopping ice and filling buckets.

“I was really pleased that he stood up and put the effort in,” says David, as the two of them sit together at home in Cornwall remembering this first outing. “He wanted to be part of the crew.”

Caleb had asked to be allowed on the boat for a while, so David knew he was keen. But it could have gone either way, once the reality of a week out on the ocean struck home. It was a challenge for David too: would he be able to teach his son? Would Caleb listen?


To David’s relief, all the lessons were good ones.

The left-handed Caleb was taught to gut fish by a left-handed crewman. His talent for maths and physics meant that he quickly picked up navigation skills. His cooking - learnt from Mum, a professional chef - went down a storm with the crew. And when the nets landed 128kg of John Dory (which sells for upwards of £25 a kilo in the shops), the crew declared that Caleb had brought good luck to the trip! No need to throw him overboard like Jonah.

Caleb’s favorite fish? A giant red gurnard, caught during the voyage, with its big bony head, mottled pink skin and poisonous spines, one of the most exotic creatures of the north Atlantic. And squid, delicious when fried up as calamari with a twist of lemon.

At 24.5 meters, Crystal Sea is among the largest and newest trawlers in Cornwall, built in northeast Scotland and delivered early in 2020.

A Rolls Royce of the ocean.David realises that it’s still early days. Caleb has now made three trips, including one where they survived a force 8 gale which ripped the nets. He’s watched dolphins and humpback wales, wild sunsets, and seen a dishwasher trawled up from the depths. “It didn’t work,” adds David.

Getting out to sea has definitely brought them closer together. Caleb could previously only imagine his father’s working life, over the horizon for days on end. Is it different to being at home? “He swears more at sea,” says Caleb. “And we had more time to talk.”

Father David was delighted with his son’s work ethic. There was money on offer, but only if Caleb completed the tasks he was assigned. “He got his full share,” says David. “I was proud of him.”

With fishing deep in his family’s veins on this beautiful but isolated peninsula at the southwestern tip of Britain, Caleb’s future could be bright, as catches recover and quotas may increase post-Brexit.

So much could yet divert him, but at least he can draw on these powerful memories, battling the elements to land another lucky catch, with his father standing proudly in the wheelhouse.