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INTERVIEW


By the Dart INTERVIEW


HILARY HEMSLEY


C


JOInT SKIPPER OF THE AFRICAn QUEEn CHARTER FISHING BOAT


Hilary Hemsley


HARTER fishing may seem like an unusual occupation for a


woman but Hilary Hemsley is in her element taking eager anglers out to sea.


At the turn of the new Millennium,


Hilary and her husband Alan threw in the towel on their secure jobs and home in Oxfordshire to take command of the classic Second World War vessel ‘African Queen’. It was Alan’s dream of chartering


his own boat that led the couple to ‘up sticks’ and take the plunge with ‘African Queen’ which is now their home as well as their workplace. And they have never looked back. Life aboard does have its


drawbacks but Hilary says she wouldn’t want to live any other way. ‘We don’t live with airs and graces,’ she said. ‘You don’t get much chance to dress up, I don’t wear nice shoes and dresses because they are not conducive to boats. ‘I don’t think a lot of couples could


live and work in each other’s pockets but we are good mates as well as a couple and that is so important. ‘We’ve both got a wicked sense of humour. There is an awful lot of laughter on the boat and I sometimes wonder what the other boats are thinking, especially the times we have music blaring out. Our trips are good humoured’.


The extreme stormy weather that battered the South Coast earlier this year resulted in the worse start of the fishing season the couple have


ever experienced. But when the weather is good,


‘African Queen’ heads for the open sea as often as she can. ‘Going out is all down to the sea conditions,’ Hilary said. ‘It’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience. It doesn’t worry us if it’s wet because we dress for it. Our biggest problem is the wind.


‘The conditions have to be good to go out because we often travel offshore for wreck fishing. A boat like ours isn’t the fastest in the world and it takes a couple of hours to go


Hilary turns fishing into a fun experience for youngsters – especially those who have never have been fishing before.


25 miles. It has to be really good conditions for us to go out in the winter.


‘But we are out every day when


the weather is fine and our longest consecutive run was 39 days. ‘We had to book half a day off to do the laundry because we had run out of clothes,’ Hilary laughed. ‘You just keep going and it’s not


until you stop that you hit a brick wall. It’s when you get a natural break that you just collapse in a heap’. At the age of 59 many people are dreaming of retirement, but that’s the last thing on Hilary’s mind.


The physical opposite of the


brawny male anglers fishing off ‘African Queen’, Hilary is as slender as a reed. But watching her pull a 30 ton boat onto the pontoon against the wind and tide proves that looks can be deceiving. ‘Because I’m a woman a lot of men want to jump in to help,’ she said. ‘I don’t say I’m as strong as a man, I know I’m not but I did do a lot of athletics, weight lifting and circuit training when I was younger’. Every now and then though Hilary does get to enjoy some female company. ‘A female stag party comes back every year to fish, watch football and have a few pints – basically everything the men do,’ she said. Hilary and Alan each have their


own roles to play on African Queen. Often as not Alan concentrates on driving the boat while Hilary is out on deck interacting with the anglers. ‘If it’s very busy I take the front and


he takes the back,’ she said. Taking out young families is one of pleasures of the job for Hilary. With her infectious laughter always ready to bubble up to the surface, Hilary turns fishing into a fun experience for youngsters – especially those who have never have been fishing before. On-board entertainment includes spotting diving gannets and scoring their plunging efforts out of 10. Education also plays a part with children using feathers with crushed barbs to catch mackerel so the fish can be returned untouched, as they


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