Festival film relates tale of sinking boat

Documentary of Cornish fisherman's bid to stay afloat is cult attraction

A DOCUMENTARY about a Cornish fisherman who caught so many pilchards that his boat sank has been shortlisted as a prize contender in the Celtic Film and Television Festival next week.

The film, Troubled Waters, tells the tale of Cadgwith fisherman Martin Ellis, who lost his boat, the Penrose, as he tried to revive the Duchy's beleagurered pilchard fishing industry.

The Penrose went down in heavy seas with 800 stone of pilchards, worth about £1,000 the week before Christmas, 1999.

To make the 60-minute documentary, local film maker Jed Trewin followed Martin as he tried to raise the wreck of the Penrose, which lay 80ft beneath the waves.

Troubled Waters has become something of a cult film in Cornwall where, at two prior showings at Helston Flora and at Falmouth Arts College, it played to packed houses.

Jed said: "At Helston Flora it was unreal. They were sitting on stairs - you can't put a price on that really."

The Celtic Film and Television Festival, in Truro from March 28-31, aims to unite film makers with commercial buyers, as well as to celebrate Celtic film. Films qualify if they are made by or about Cornwall, Brittany, Scotland Ireland or Wales.

But for Jed the festival is just the icing on a rich cake. He has enjoyed making the film, becoming a closer friend to its main character, Martin, and has seen his work acclaimed at its two prior showings.

Jed said: "I'm absolutely delighted. Getting in the festival is a massive bonus really. I have received far more votes of thanks than I ever imagined."

Martin said: "When I saw the room at Falmouth I thought, how are we going to fill this? But they came in and they appeared to absolutely love it."

Jed and Martin's close relationship and the popularity of Troubled Waters means the filming is continuing.

Jed added: "He just doesn't stop. I keep thinking we'll finish this off but wen you receive so much in the way of nice comments about it asking for more parts, you just keep on going.

"He's a trier, he tries and tries and tries. His spirit is absolutely incredible. He'll get his sights focused on something and will just go for it. Characters like Martin are so few and far between."

Jed decided that his old school pal Martin would be a good documentary candidate before the sinking of the Penrose.

The film documents Martin's unfailing optimism, as the Penrose's raising failed and it slipped back into the sea for good. Martin's character embodies the fighting spirit which has kept Cornish fishing alive for so long against such odds.

Speaking yesterday, Martin remembered well the five days before Christmas in 1999, when the Penrose went down.

He said: "I had made a good catch but the sea was getting up so I telephoned the fish buyer, Nick Howell, to say I was out and I had a big catch but I was concerned about what was going on.

Falmouth Coastguard phoned me up to ask me if I was all right. I thanked them for telephoning and I told them what was happening and they said they would phone back every 20 minutes."

But by the end of the phone call, the phone was under water and the Penrose was going down.

"They were very quick, and had the lifeboat and helicopter on standby", said Martin. "I'd have got back if I'd never had any fish or any gear on board. I was using a small boat to do a large boat job.

I've been wanting to do this for so long. I was over laden as well as the rough seas. The waves were breaking but weren't clearing the deck".

Martin owes much to fishing colleagues like Billy Stephenson, owner of the vessel the Cornishman, which he lent to Martin for the bid to raise the Penrose.

"I can't thank him enough," he said. "As soon as I get on my feet, I've promised to take them all down to Cadgwith and give them some beer money. I haven't forgotten them."

Martin recalls his thoughts while in the life raft. "I realised I was going to have to start all over again," he said. "But thanks for still being alive comes top of the list, so everything else is immaterial."

Western Morning News - 22nd March 2001