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Sharkey 1926-2017


…Was born Llewelyn Stephens, in Long Loft, Cadgwith on the 10th of July 1926.  
First son to Ernest "Lammie" Stephens and Edith Anne (née Hocking) of Ponsongath he was little brother to five-year old Edna. 
     As befitted a Great Grandson of the famous Huer Jan Fred, Llewellyn early showed the force of character that would earn him legendary status in the Cove; lying in his cot, the baby boy put up his fists to his uncle Fred who, grinning with pride, named him for the era's star boxer Tom Sharkey.  
     Despite the macho mores of the day underpinned with poverty that would shock contemporary youth, Sharkey’s childhood was idyllic: Cove children were free to ramble and roam, climb, sail and swim in nature’s Adventure Playground, surrounded by a supportive community of cousins plus three aunts and, seven uncles.
     There was nearly a younger brother who died at birth - as did so many then - but the family was completed in the nineteen-thirties by a baby girl, named Winifred after one of Lammie’s sisters.
     Sharkey soon distinguished himself on the football and cricket fields, and built a reputation as a swimmer in the cove regattas during the long school holidays… but, childhood was short: leaving the Ruan Minor Village School at fourteen, he clamped a cigarette in the corner of his mouth – where it stayed for the rest of his long life - and started working on his father’s boat, a 25 foot Cornish Crabber also named the “Winifred”.  Unpaid, Sharkey became a fisherman.
     In those days, boys climbed trees.  The tree has gone now, but in the nineteen-forties, a mighty beech grew by the river at Saint Ruan.  Sharkey was near the top when he slipped and fell eighty feet, breaking his ribs as he cannoned off the branches and fracturing his pelvis on the unforgiving rocks when he landed.  He also tore his trousers and, when he managed to drag himself home from an accident that would have killed a weaker teenager, he was soundly beaten for the torn clothes by his father. 
     One of the broken ribs punctured a lung, and his parents finally realised he was hurt.  The Doctor was called and the boy was put to bed supported with sandbags so that he couldn’t move, a primitive sort of plaster jacket.  Recognizing the seriousness of the injuries the Doctor sent for the Priest, who administered the Last Rites.  Miraculously Sharkey recovered, went back to sea and, continued to build a formidable reputation as a boxer. 
     War came and with it came the Evacuees, bewildered children from the blitzed cities, who had never seen the sea.  The Cadgwith children had never encountered urban style, slang and attitudes.  Both groups were astonished and the locality was enriched forever, as many evacuees fell in love and, chose to settle here.
The war dragged on and in1945 the young fisherman received his call-up papers.  As a seafarer, he assumed he was bound for the Royal Navy, but: on that day the Navy office was closed.  He was sent to Colchester to undergo that most un-sought-after process, Army Basic Training; Rebellious by nature, he learned a great deal about peeling potatoes. 
This misery was relieved when he was put on a troop ship and sent to the Middle East; in dock in Haifa he saw a soldier struggling in the sea and made a perfect hundred-foot dive into the congested water below.  With his prodigious swimming skills the rescue was a success; the crew helped the half-drowned man up the long ladder, leaving the exhausted hero to save himself. 
          Sharkey went on to play football for the Army, made Corporal and was on his way to becoming a Sergeant when Lammie insisted he return home.
          Saying a reluctant goodbye to a life he’d learned to love, that of a professional soldier, he found himself back in the cove again as crew on board the "Winifred", still unpaid.  Through determination, energy and talent he went on to become the most celebrated fisherman of his generation.  He learned the tricky seas off the Lizard by heart and served with distinction on both the Cadgwith and Lizard Lifeboats, standing by the historic ‘Flying Enterprise’ for all 26 hours of the worst storm of the decade, his final mission before retiring from the RNLI.
          By now he was married to Madge, a pretty girl from the Lizard, and he didn’t fancy leaving her a widow with his first son just two years old. Three more children followed, but the harsh life of a seafarer, especially when he was away fishing on the bigger boats from Newlyn, took its toll on the marriage, which ended in 1963.
          Back with his retired parents as a single man at Seaview, he started to fish from the Cove with his childhood friend Arthur Williams, still aboard the little Winifred; he loved the camaraderie in the pipe-smoke-rich cellars during the winter when the fishermen made their own lobster pots from skillfully hand-woven willow-withys, the banter and singing in the Cadgwith Inn, the precision teamwork of the launching and beaching of the boats, and the ancient miracles of navigation before Crabbers had any instrumentation or radio.  
          Arthur in early middle-age graduated to his own boat, Cornish Light; Sharkey’s eldest son Gary having joined the Royal Navy, second son Rodney was delighted to crew for his by now renowned father who, rakishly bearded, unfairly handsome, famously kind to children and animals and a tough man to cross, was referred to by many as the King of Cadgwith.  The little Winifred, now eighty years old, was retired to Penzance harbor and appropriately, their new, bigger boat was christened with Champagne: The King Fisher. 
          Meanwhile Sharkey with his second wife had developed the family cellars to a fine café restaurant that served the Cove and its thousands of visitors for a quarter of a century until it passed to Arthur’s family. 
          A Fisherman’s working life, though longer than that of a Boxer or, a Footballer, depends on strength and agility, and despite his extraordinary constitution, Sharkey, now as insurmountable at Golf as he had been at his other sports, was ready at Sixty-Five for a long and peaceful retirement in the cottage that he loved, with Monty, the dog he loved, in the cove which he loved; walking the cliffs and sitting on the Stick as a grand old fishing consultant; holding court from ‘his’ corner stool in the front bar of the Inn on firelight evenings and, known and respected far and wide. 
          Eventually even Sharkey’s extraordinary vitality waned; he was heartbroken when Monty died and at last in his late eighties he could get no farther than the chair on the sunny step of his cottage, to where his many friends and admirers would beat a path to the very end for a still-firm handshake and a twinkle from his fading but unforgettable blue eyes.                                J X Coudrille, Cadgwith 2017

 

(Thanks to JXC for the words and the picture on the left, and thanks to Marea Downey for the picture on the right)
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