Fishing singlehanded aboard his 14m beamer Serene Dawn LT-7 in the Wash in May 2015, a freak set of circumstances combined to render this well-known, hugely experienced and much admired East Anglian fisherman suddenly and violently disabled in an horrific, split-second trauma, while towing for shrimps some miles off the North Norfolk coast.
Eighteen months and eleven operations later, he's back fishing and I joined him last week aboard the Serene Dawn to hear his story, observe the onboard routines and importantly for me, fish for one of tastiest seafood gems in the sea, brown shrimps (Crangon crangon).
We leave Lowestoft harbour astern, on a near-perfect but bitterly cold January morning, steaming into the rising sun, on a glassy sea and on a heading for the many sandbanks and bars that define the inshore waters. As Jeffery and I start to natter in the warm of the wheelhouse, crewman Darren busies himself on deck preparing the gear for the first tow of the day. I'm keen, but also slightly reluctant to hear the exact, but incredibly sensitive circumstances surrounding his crippling and life-changing injury.
‘It was just another day,’ he smiles. ‘A routine I've practised a thousand times. I got down to the fishroom to look at the pump and began to lift the hatch, which was proving stubborn to move. As I gave it a shove, it freed and I stumbled forward.
The ensuing seconds remain a blur to him, but in the following hazy and searingly shocking moments, he realised that where his booted and oilskinned left leg had been, was now a tangled, bleeding mass of shattered bone and torn flesh below the knee.
‘I thought to myself, Jeffery boy, what the hell ha' you done?’
The next few minutes proved critical to his survival. With the presence of mind and focus to override the now sweeping pain, he crawled painstakingly, from the fishroom back up the ladder to the wheelhouse, cradling the remains of his mangled limb, the only thing on his mind being how to raise the alarm.
‘I don't know quite how, but I reached the wheelhouse and collapsed on the floor,’ he reveals. ‘I knew I had to make the emergency call on the VHF, but the set was just out of my reach and I couldn't summon any more strength. Luckily, I still had my mobile phone on me.’
On calling the Coastguard, he recalls that the first hurdle he had to overcome was to convince them that it wasn't a hoax.
‘They asked me to give my position and I couldn't stand up to read it, but I'd engaged my AIS and told them to find me with that. I then tried to remain sensible, but everything was becoming hazy. I really thought at that point, this could be it….´
What had actually happened, was that a bolt-head on the rapidly spinning prop shaft had snagged his oilskins, and in a split second had wound the fabric onto it, taking the leg with it and tearing it off below the knee.
After what seemed like an eternity, the Hunstanton lifeboat was alongside and a crew member doing what he could for the badly injured skipper.
‘They did their best, he recalls. ‘But I don't think it was a scene they'd been prepared for. What actually saved me in the end, were the prompt actions from the SAR helicopter winch man. I heard the helicopter above and then remember seeing the guy come through the door. He stemmed the blood flow and and then they had to get me out to the sling on deck. That was hard, that was the most painful bit, even with the shot of painkillers.’
The whole incident lasted an incredible 45 mins from start to finish. Rather than tow the boat back, Jeffery had also had been astute enough to call one of his friends to come out and recover the Serene Dawn and make her safe, while he was airlifted to Addenbrokes Hospital for the start of an extended period of recovery and rehabilitation.