Geoff Ingram was the safest fisherman I ever met

PUBLISHED: 07:10 20 July 2013

Somewhere in a safe and warm government office two armchair theorists have shuffled their papers and achieved what I thought impossible.

They have tarnished the name and reputation of Geoff Ingram, branding him the marine equivalent of a drunk driver. “Overloaded his boat and sank” concludes the report. Job done. Case closed. Next please.

Immaculate and maintained to the highest possible standard, the Sarah Jayne had an unparalleled reputation in the South West and, like boats everywhere, she was a true reflection of her skipper’s personality.

Chosen by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for the frontispiece of their RFS leaflet as a shining example of good practice, she lies south-east of Brixham in 25 fathoms – an ironic epitaph to the safest fisherman that I ever met.

Proactively embracing every safety regulation and stepping far beyond in many cases Geoff and the Sarah Jayne were an MCA man’s dream team.

Perfect boat, mature and self-disciplined skipper, what could possibly go wrong?

The MIAB think they know. With a recommended stability book limit of 17.8 tons she was carrying a shaky 20 and so here we have another greedy fisherman who pushed his luck. No mention of good sea conditions and the fact she was designed, with residual safety buoyancy, to carry 25 tons.

What it all comes down to in the end is judgement and experience. Experience. What an inadequate word that is for a lifetime’s knowledge, especially when applied to Geoff.

Decisions made at sea seem so easy from a cosy office.

To his friends and family this report is insufferable.

It is a travesty of real and moral justice. Do not give it credence.

As one of his best friends said the other day: “I would let my sons sail with Geoff without a second’s thought”.

Well, I would too, so you can see in what respect this man was held.

All we can do now is dry our tears and remember that being a hunter today is a blessing and a privilege and none of us would swap our lives for that MIAB office.

Geoff had hit a big shoal of sprats early that morning and must have been buzzing.

With a full fishroom and the hatch still off he took two massive waves over the stern at exactly the wrong moment. Waves that should not have been there.

Anyone seen some of those? And the verdict? ‘Overwhelmed by nature’ is how I will remember Geoff and how you should too.

To his two crew, Matt and Spud, plagued by trauma and guilt, I say Geoff would be proud he had radioed for help and that you were saved, so live your lives as a tribute to this fine man.

My final thought is why the world’s best maintained liferaft and EPERB didn’t work. I have seen four rafts fail to inflate in 30 years – perhaps the MCA should investigate something useful…

Myles Blood Smyth

The Exmouth Mussel Company

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