In 2019 David Waters talked to Ben Bengey who has recently won a national award for his work here in Ilfracombe Harbour.
To say that Ben Bengey was shocked to be recognised as Young Fisherman of the Year by Fishing News is something of an understatement. Up against Scottish fishermen known for their expertise in sea-fishing, Ben was not expecting much. “To win was incredible!”, he remembers.
Aged just 22, Ben is the youngest skipper currently working in Ilfracombe Harbour on his boat Shelly N. But, despite his youth, Ben is not lacking in experience. Born and raised in Ilfracombe, Ben was always around the harbour. He recalls riding up and down the quay dragging rope around behind his bike. From a young age, he watched with interest everything that went on in the Harbour and remembers listening to many old sea dog tales from local fishermen. “Boats have always been in my life. I had my first boat in the harbour when I was 12 so it’s all I really know! There was a stage in my life when I thought this isn’t for me, but you soon overcome that and just crack on. I don’t see it as a job, more of a way of life”. Ben’s successful career had very low- key beginnings. One quiet evening in a local pub, he received a call to say that a skipper was looking for crew. Ben started the next day at 3am. He said, ‘I was in the right place at the right time, and never looked back!’. Obviously, fishing can be a dangerous occupation, as fisherman work in all sorts of environments, but as Ben says “if we listened to all the dangers, we would never go out!” There have been some hairy moments in his time, losing part of his finger when it was caught in a rope is probably the most gruesome! Ben has not been deterred, “You get used to it and just crack on!”.
Despite the potential dangers and the 2am starts to each day, he is clear about what he gets out of the job: “You see things which no one else does, sunsets, sunrise and wildlife to name but a few. You are away for twelve hours a day from the hustle and bustle of town life, and it is a real sense of freedom. We are known as the ‘last of the hunters’. You have an ever-changing office where no two days are ever the same.” Ben warms to his theme, “Fisherman are like rock stars, we nail it at both ends!”
Not satisfied with his own career, Ben is keen to play a part in helping the careers of other. He would like to see more youngsters get into the fishing industry, and has had many talks with MPs in London, starred in the local boat stories and is working with schools to increase awareness and interest. As he says, “the average age of most crews is 45, so to bring that down is my goal in the future.”