As the setting sun hits it, you could be excused for believing that the paintwork of the canary-yellow catamaran tied up to the pontoon is responsible. But - it goes a little deeper than that.
The catamaran Top Cat is owned by the Wrightsons Trust and is skippered by Steve Golden. So, with a name like that, maybe that's where the golden glow comes from? Well, almost, but not quite. The owners of Top Cat are a foundation who work hand in glove with the Second Chance children's charity. Between them they are responsible for taking children who need 'special help' out for what is often their first day afloat on the briny. To catch what is often their first fish. To experience a side of life they may have never previously known a thing about. Oh, and to have some fun.
A couple of times each year I volunteer my help on one of these trips, and always leave feeling like I have put one over on someone. Like I got something for free. I don't think that's how one is supposed to feel, it's not exactly altruistic is it? Yet perhaps it's not so unusual; the satisfaction of a job well done mixes well with the sight of a few good fish and a lot of happy young faces. This trip was fairly typical. The day started in usual chaotic fashion, mobile phones running hot tracking down the missing skipper/kids/minibus/boat/helpers (fill in as appropriate depending upon your perspective) but finally we were under way.
Three adults assisting Skipper Steve in the marine education of four youngsters - and me praying to all the Gods that ever existed for a calm sea. I swear, people only ever invite me sea-fishing to save on the cost of chum. Tough. This day the sea was as calm as a duck-pond and anyway, the catamaran Top-Cat is probably the most stable thing in that part of the ocean, apart from the IOW itself.
One of our young charges eyed me up and decided that, as the softest looking one aboard, I was ready for a little antler-locking. The pint-sized gum-chewer eyballed me with an expression that could only have been learned from Grant on Eastenders.
"Wot you s'posed to be then?" he half-asked with a James Dean lip, "The cabin boy?"
I was spared the effort of a snappy retort by Steve opening up the engines and hitting a swift and smooth 25knots which had the youngsters' mouths falling open at the sight of the rooster tail appearing at the stern. I was forgotten as the first smiles of the day appeared.
Out at the mark, 30 minutes later, four rodtips were soon nodding away just prior to slack-water. We didn't have to wait long before one of them announced that we had company. My questionable status as cabin-boy was forgotten as a battle developed between boy and smooth-hound and the other lads watched on open-mouthed. Not for long though. No sooner had the first fish entered Steve's landing net than a second fish was ripping line from a spool. A second lad needed little encouragement to pick the rod up and strike, and there was only a moments panic to see whether a birds-nest would ensue. It didn't. He'd obviously watched the first capture carefully and had learned from it.
And so it went on. One after another, hard-backed crab-baits enticed the 'sharks' as the boys were calling them. A couple of rods were originally set for tope but with the hounds baying below, these rods too were baited with hard-backs and so the catch-rate increased. Some good fish too, several of them hitting double figures.
We, the adults, cheated to find time for a cup of tea and a sandwich. We snatched a snack knowing the baits had been robbed from the hooks. The boys were hunched over the rods, expectantly awaiting another fish as we gobbled up the grub, then they looked at us suspiciously as we reeled in the empty hooks. We were forgiven on the first re-cast as multiple hook-ups ensued. I swear, you have never seen so much action on one deck as we had that day. We caught so many fish - get this - that the boys actually pleaded with us to reel in for a break. They were exhausted!
They are not all little cuties. At first meeting, some of these Second Chance kids are a bit too 'street-wise' to be immediately engaging. They can be hard work, in more ways than one. I really don't know how Doug Hulme, Second Chance's director, puts up with them sometimes. Yet he seems to work minor miracles with them. I have watched some of these kids; watched them as they alight from the minibus in the morning. Eyes shifting everywhere, silently asking 'where's the catch'; mistrust oozing from every pore. Sneering underage adolescents waving cigarettes with an unspoken 'oh yeah, and who's gonna stop me then' challenge in their expressions. No, not all of these youngsters are easy to like - yet, as Doug constantly reminds us, these are the ones who need the most help. I've watched them covertly as the day progresses, changing. When it's time to once again board the minibus in the evening, their 'attitude' is gone. Happy laughing kids replacing the small sullen paranoids who boarded that morning.
So it was this day. By 2.30pm, excited happy children bounced up and down in their lifejackets as they pleaded with us to try 'something else'. Steve up-anchored and obliged, taking us closer inshore to drop anchor on top of a wreck where the lads caught pouting three at a time.
By this time I had acquired a nickname.
"Oi, Hippy. Wasssareck then?"
Yes. Original nickname I know, but it was a question asked in innocence. So follows a lecture on sunken ships, pirates, the Mary Rose and all the jazz that turns on your average 12 year old. Smashing kids. And so it went on; to why there are so many fish on the wrecks and so few away from them - and the boys learned more about the fine balance of nature and the local ecology in a couple of hours on that boat than they will in a year in a classroom. There really is no substitute for experience.
All wishful thinking of course - it probably went in one ear and out the other, they were all so excited.
I remember one kid (this is many years ago when I was helping out for a day on a charity pike bash at Thorpe Park) his name was, I think, Craig. I mentioned to another helper how nice this kid seemed and wondered aloud why he was along, as there seemed to be nothing wrong with him. Turned out his parents had both committed suicide. No. There was nothing wrong with Craig; not on the outside anyway. I stopped asking about the kids after that. I didn't want to know.
That's half the problem that Doug has to contend with. His charges seem to have no visible problems. Most seem to have the regulation amount of limbs and are at first sight no different to the little monsters running around my own house. This obviously makes it harder than it could be when it comes to fund-raising - I'm glad that's not my problem.
If you want to make it yours, that's a different thing. You can find out more about the Second Chance Charity - here:
Or, if you can't be bothered, just send them a cheque here:
The Second Chance Charity
Second Chance House
Somers Road Bridge
And that golden glow? That's coming from me. Self-satisfied smugness. A brilliant day! Oh - and Doug can always use a few new helpers. Call him on 02392 872790