I am at a loss to explain my emotional attachment to the old fishing boat Shemaron. It is a complicated thing to try to analyze and perhaps, it is better not to try too hard. To analyze too much would take away from an amazing boating adventures. On a simple level, ten years ago Shemaron showed me life from a different perspective. She opened my eyes and the world came flooding in. When we found ourselves literally about to abandon ship emotions ran high.
Shemaron had not been out on the water for some weeks. Preparations for the summer season were keeping us all busy. However, a favorable weather forecast on Sunday, May 7th, made a routine excursion from Tarbert out onto Loch Fyne seem like a good idea. A short trip would provide the opportunity to flush out the bilges, remove weed from the hull and give the engine a run. We anticipated a fairly relaxed day and thought we might anchor for a few hours before returning to Tarbert.
We plotted a course to our destination on the opposite side of the Loch. I enjoyed the exhilaration of being on the deck while we cruised along in the sunshine. We reached our destination but found it more exposed than we had expected. Simultaneously we cut the speed, checked the plotter and altered course. There was a moment of confusion as to our exact situation in relation to the small islands nearby. We seemed to be in the wrong location in relation to the green island marked on our plotter. While we were expanding the screen to clarify our position there was a loud knock. My first thought was that we had hit a floating log. Chris had realized our problem a few seconds earlier but there had been no time to take evasive action. Shemaron had grounded gently but was stuck hard and fast on Robbers rock.
The conditions were warm and sunny with light winds. When I looked over the bow I could clearly see rocks extending three or four feet ahead then a blue drop off towards the seabed. It was pleasant to be out. I remember noticing how still the boat was. It felt strange to walk on the decks when there was no movement. I didn’t appreciate how dangerous our situation had become straight away, everything was so calm. I went into the fo’c’sle and pulled up the floor boards half expecting to see water gushing in the bilges but they were only normally damp. Water wasn’t coming in anywhere else. It was only after the initial assessment of no very immediate danger that I began to think ahead.
The tide was falling. Chris made an emergency call to the coastguard on the mobile phone. He was already preparing to abandon ship and thinking the onboard radio would be no use. I was beginning to realize that there was a very likely possibility that Shemaron might slip off the rocks and sink. We gathered our belongings in two bags. As I placed them at the stern I noticed that decks were listing to starboard. Chris was on the phone with the coastguard keeping them updated with our proceedings. We decided we had to abandon ship. I got into the dingy first followed by the bags then Chris. We rowed for the shore.
Would this close the Shemaron chapter in our lives?
I couldn’t take it all in everything was so calm, no panic and no fright just a dawning realization that something extraordinary was taking place. We had always come through other boating adventures but this seemed like something that might close the Shemaron chapter of our lives once and for all. I had a strong feeling of togetherness and aloneness all at the same time. Chris and I were together in the dingy but I truly believed that Shemaron was about to sink. The thought of the three of us Shemaron, Chris and myself being parted in this manner was overwhelming.
As ramifications started to present themselves of what our immediate future might hold with no boat I began to feel disoriented. We were safely together but I truly didn’t know what would happen next. It was like freefalling in ultra slow motion. We imagined the pattern of events about to unfold but the exact events and their consequences were a huge unknown quantity.
We had abandoned ship after running aground on Robbers Rock but our rescue came quickly from the people at Crispie Bay.
The weight of ourselves plus our baggage meant that the dingy was slow in the water. It was difficult to row because I hadn’t managed to sit down straight and then once everything was in the dingy I couldn’t move. Chris took over the rowing and with nothing to do but sit in my squashed position, the consequences of what had happened began to dawn on me.
When we saw rescue coming we were mightily relieved. Another boat was coming toward us. We gratefully accepted the offer of a tow from the crew who took us to the small jetty on Crispie Bay. I was stiff after being cramped in the little dingy. I found it difficult to climb onto the jetty and almost fell. The quick actions of my husband who pulled me backward saved me from falling into the water. I had a brief recollection of treading water in my nightie for my bronze swimmers award.( Long years ago). Which, at that moment seemed a woefully inadequate lifesaving drill. I made it up onto the jetty on the second attempt.
A short while later we saw Golden View making her way toward us. She was coming from Tarbert. At the same time, we noticed the Tignabruaich lifeboat approaching. Our rescuers delivered Chris to the lifeboat and me to Golden View.
With the shock of leaving Shemaron so quickly we couldn’t remember if we had turned the electrics off. Chris went back across on the lifeboat to check, he had, however, turned everything off before we abandoned ship. The lifeboat crew discussed damage limitations with us and offered advice. Once they were sure that we were safe they left.
I could now see that Shemaron was leaning at an alarming angle. My heart was heavy as I climbed onto Golden View and my eyes were brimming as I stepped into the open arms of our friends. Shemaron had tipped further towards the sea which was by then lapping around her gunnels. The thought that she might be about to sink filled me with dread and the fact that I might have to watch it happen made things so much worse.
Golden View’s skipper that day was Tony Barker he went on board Shemaron one more time. When he came back he reported that water was flowing in and debris was floating in the fish hold and fo’c’sle.
The effort we have pushed into the Shemaron project was such that even with her sudden possible demise the momentum continued to carry us forward. My mind raced ahead to plans we were laying down for her future and ricocheted back to the present. Unconsidered possibilities began to warp our planned framework for renovation.
We stood for what seemed like hours just watching. There was a loud crashing and Shemaron shuddered further towards the sea. Mercifully as the tide fell we could see that she had become wedged in the rocks. We eventually left her and made plans to return that night with the next high tide.
Shemaron ran aground three times during her fishing career. Almost unbelievably in 1950 the year after she was built she ran ashore on a rock just 200 yards from Robbers Rock. Billy Sloan was at the wheel. Shemaron had already had the experience of a similar precarious circumstance, this would hold her in good stead for the night ahead.
The kindness of human nature is sometimes truly amazing. Kindness is a virtue that is precious in these times of world unease and for those who have been on the receiving end of it, it is a humbling experience.
After unintentionally beaching the old fishing boat Shemaron on top of a rock in Loch Fyne we were dependent on the help and kindness of others to save her. It was only through the kindness and generosity of the Tarbert boating community that Shemaron came out of the situation so well.
The pooled effort shared skill sets and the complete readiness to go above and beyond the normal call of duty demonstrated by this group of men brought our situation to a happy ending. That is not to say however that the following is an account of a swift or risk-free end to our plight.
Acts of Kindness 8:30 pm Sunday, May 7th
We met on the pontoon by St Claire. It seemed appropriate that it was another old ring net boat that was coming to our aid. We cruised out of the harbour into the sharp evening. The moon was already bright and at any other time, I would have been rejoicing in the excitement of being on the water in the glow of the evening. The Isle of Arran was suffused in lilac and gray shadows to our starboard side. On our Port side, the sun was setting and the sky was coloured with delicate shades of orange. Hard on the back of the sunset, the night was approaching, bringing with it a slightly feral and vaguely predatory atmosphere.
There was no time to dwell on any of this. The men who were focused on the task ahead were quiet and serious. The plan was to try and tow Shemaron off the rocks with St. Claire while the little rib FlyAway darted back and forth between the two boats catching and delivering the ends of the ropes.
A deep chill had set in when three of the men left St. Claire and got into the rib. I could tell by the lack of banter and serious expression that they were already thinking about the next stage in the rescue mission. Feeling cold was the last thing on their minds.
Against The Clock
Shemaron hadn’t moved since that morning and sat angled on Robbers Rock with the last rays of sun hitting the pine forest behind her. High tide was at 11:28 pm. They had two hours to rig up the pump and clear the water from inside.
There were three of us left on St. Claire, all we could do for the moment was wait and watch. It became increasingly difficult to see what was happening across the water on Shemaron’s deck. Darkness had come quickly. Sometimes we caught a movement as the men moved carefully about. Walking was difficult at the angle she was lying and her decks were slick with diesel. We could tell the pump was working sometime later because we saw the occasional gush of white water streaming into the loch.
An hour later the water was still gushing and it seemed as though nothing much had happened. A further thirty minutes on we were beginning to get jittery, this was a one chance operation and if Shemaron wasn’t ready she would miss the high tide. A few minutes later, however, we made out the vague silhouette of Shemaron sitting upright. The rescue crew attached a rope round the wheelhouse, Fly Away brought the end of it to St. Caire and we were ready to tow.
Nothing happened on the first attempt. We knew we had time to keep trying because we were still on the right side of the tide. In the end, I lost count of how many times we tried. All were to no avail. It had grown very black and between tows St. Claire jostled in the swell. The pots and pans clattered and I had to set right items that had fallen several times. I was drinking cups of coffee to keep awake.
How Quickly Things Can Go Wrong
We were all ready to call it off when someone decided it was worth one last try. We re-attached the rope and St. Claire pulled from a different angle. The rope came on, pulled taught and snapped suddenly. It writhed across the water and became tangled in our propellor. How quickly things can go wrong! A thin crack of fear snaked through me. I wondered if we might have to call the coastguard for a second time in 24 hours.
We floated at the mercy of the tide as the crew on St Claire worked hard to free the propeller and regain control of the boat. At one point I craned my neck to see out of the wheelhouse window. I saw the three men on Shemaron standing in a row. They were ready to come off and were now watching us. Thier features were both enhanced by the moonlight and hidden by the night. Thier faces were pale and their eye sockets dark. They looked drawn, tired and wet. They were precariously balanced on a deck that was still slick with diesel on a boat that was once again filling with water and tilting towards the waves.
The next thing I remember is the rib Fly Away appearing out of the dark with all crew onboard. The moon had disappeared, the darkness had grown deeper, and a jabble had come up on the water. The rib was bouncing onto the bottom of the ladders which in turn were jumping up St Claire’s hull making it difficult for the men to climb back on deck. One wrong move, one slight misjudgment could result in a man overboard and more than a boat being rescued.
Out there in the impregnable night, I saw how difficult it would be to able to see a person in the water let alone bring them to safety. I stood balancing by the gunnels, watching. Recent events had refocused my thoughts on the skill of the ring net fishermen. Keeping control of these boats in demanding conditions would always have been a challenge. To say nothing of how quickly that control can slip away. Floating near the rocky shore at night with men climbing from one vessel to another was not a comfortable place to be.
Fishing for herring at night close to the rocks was a continual hazard for the ring net fisherman. Back in 1949 when Shemaron was built she was known as Wistaria BA64 and she neighboured Watchful …
“Wistaria would shoot her net, which was marked at intervals with buoys and its progress over the water would be called to skipper and crew across the night. The end of the net was marked by the Winkie, which would be picked up by Watchful. The neighbouring boats would be constantly talking over the radio, easing the procedure along. Wistaria and Watchful joined by their net would then tow for a short period before closing the circle. An eloquent scenario played out on the waves the as two boats worked as one, every man a smooth piece in the precise process of the motion.”
Shemaron was not rescued that night
We finally gave up about 1:30 am. The mood was somber. We had continued trying to move Shemaron long after the top of the tide. No one had been prepared to give up until every last idea, every last suggestion had been proffered and tried. Shemaron had not been persuaded to free herself from the rock. She was not rescued that night, our hopes had been dashed.
The safe arrival of the men dissolved my overwhelming disappointment. Fly Away left us and headed back to Tarbert and St Claire prepared to follow. Unfortunately, her propeller still wasn’t free from the rope so it was a long, slow and quiet journey back to the harbour.
We tied up and I left the men to finish the night with a dram. I was exhausted beyond sleep and felt the need to be alone with my thoughts. I resolved to call the insurance company in the morning and walked numbly towards my bed.
The next day when Fly Away yet again crossed over to Robbers Rock I wasn’t there. It was an early start preceded by a late night for the second rescue attempt. After her night lying on the rocks, Shemaron had taken on more water. The pump had to be set up and the whole grueling two and a half hour pumping out process repeated. There was still no surety that things would turn out differently.
Swn y Mor is the beautiful old lifeboat that stays on the pontoons in Tarbert. She is a worthy vessel and has been around the world under the tutelage of her current skipper and his wife. It was Swn y Mor who went across to Robbers Rock on the second rescue attempt.
Rescued from Robbers Rock
Morning tides are always higher. This was a last-ditch attempt but more water could only be a good thing. As long as it was outside the boat! The tow rope was tied around Shemaron’s wheelhouse and attached to the lifeboat. Swn y Mor began to pull. At first, the attempts were to no avail. However after a little while the tow rope went slack. With no drama, Shemaron began to bounce then like a feather on a breeze, she floated off Robbers Rock. A little while later I was standing on the harbourside watching the sweetest thing, Shemaron coming in under her own steam!
Fly Away bumped into the harbour on a lively wake followed moments later by Shemaron who was gliding sedately towards the pontoon. Hard on their heels and loud on the claxon was the Lifeboat Swn y Mor with one more rescue under her belt!
With that life clicked back into focus.
Divers have checked Shemaron and she appears to be no worse the wear for her escapade.
In the words of trustee and engineer at hand Tony Barker –
“After an epic weekend of effort from all involved who helped get her back off the rocks.
Thanks to all who assisted words do not express thanks enough.”
For further information about this intrepid boat see Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour