Patrick pens life’s tale in dazzling colour

Patrick Garratt with his third book, Born to Fish, and the first painting he did since primary school, on the deck of his Marina da Gama home.

Patrick Garratt has survived two accidents at sea, been a commercial fisherman and director of the Two Oceans Aquarium, and he’s also written three books the latest, Born to Fish, was launched in Muizenberg last month.

Patrick spoke from his Marina da Gama home about the waves, eddies and swells of his world and his belief that — as Gary Player always said — you make your own luck.

Patrick is a marine biologist and was well on his way to building a career in research, when a yen to take a sideline occupation became impossible to ignore, and he took up as a commercial fisherman.

Born in Bulawayo, Patrick moved to Johannesburg first, and it was during his navy service that he survived the sinking of the tuna fishing vessel, Dolphin, which sank 16 nautical miles off Cape Point.

Two years later, while working for the Oceanographic Research Institute of Durban, he had another lucky escape when the ski-boat he was in capsized in rough seas. He spent 22 hours in the water, taking a breath every few seconds, before the next wave broke over the slowly sinking boat.

“Wow. An interesting experience,” he says, stressing again how lucky he was to survive.

He was spotted, and rescued by a South African Air Force (SAAF) helicopter.

Some might have stayed far from the sea after that; not Patrick. His love of the ocean remains steadfast.

He made Cape Town his home in 1994 when he was appointed curator of the Two Oceans Aquarium. It hadn’t been built at the time he took the post.

He took a team of inexperienced, young staff and trained them in diving, animal collecting, animal transport and husbandry. And he designed and stocked the new aquarium, which he became the director of in 2003.

Since retiring, he has dedicated himself to writing, and even to painting. Need it be said? Also to fishing.

A copy of each of his books is on the table, and they show the progression from the scientifically based first book of his youth to the memoirs inspired by the 60th birthday party speech he gave seven years ago (recorded for his grandchildren).

The new novel is a smorgasbord of information (by the end of the book you will know how to catch a number of different fish) and good storytelling.

How did this book come about? Well, with the urging of his wife, Alice Ashwell, (“A different take on dementia,” Echo, July 26) and with the keen editing eye of Dr Dawn Garisch (“To get to the Moon,” Echo, March 15).

He says Alice urged him at his 60th birthday party to record his life stories in more than just the video taken on the night. The videographer who recorded his speech then put him in touch with author and medical doctor Dr Garisch, who runs courses teaching people how to write about their lives.

Without that help, Patrick says, he would never have written his second book, the autobiographical Crazy!, never mind Born to Fish, his third.

Born to Fish explores the teen years of four fishing buddies, three young men and a young woman, who live and fish along the coast. It’s the first of a trilogy, Patrick says, that will follow the characters and the consequences of their choices.

It is written for young adults, but it has a wide appeal, and even the book’s cover was a community collaboration.

Patrick hasn’t painted since he was in Standard 5, but he picked up a brush recently, and after painting a friend fishing, he was so happy with the results he decided to use the work as the cover for his book.However, after chatting to his daughter, Su Haggett, and photographer David Rogers (also a Marina da Gama resident) the plan for the cover took a different tack. And in the end, a photo by Bruno Hart was used.

It was chosen from a photographic workshop David ran for young local photographers.

Patrick says writing has drawn him into a state of mindfulness from where he feels his greatest successes have been in giving those around him the space to grow, to become the best they can be. And that, he says, keeps him tapped into the stream of synchronicity that has so coloured his own life.