It was such an exciting time, nine years ago at the beginning of what has become the Shemaron ring net fishing boat project. The long hours spent driving to Kintyre where we kept our boat were exciting. Driving so many miles was challenging however the scenery was breathtaking. Consequently the long hours on the road were continually engaging. We had to check on Shemaron every couple of weeks. This meant that we made the trip to Kintyre in sun, rain, wind and storm. Often in really quite dramatic weather conditions.
I loved to watch the way light interacted with the countryside. Changes in the quality of light can happen quickly in the hills, and often during the course of a six or seven hour journey. The way it played on the lochs, or scudded the hillsides with shadow, provided an endless source of inspiration. The first site of the Atlantic Ocean was another thing I never tired of on our journeys to Kintyre. The light has a strong refreshing clarity along the Kintyre peninsula.
An Old Ring Net Fishing Boat
After my husband bought the ex ring net fishing boat Shemaron so many things changed so quickly. I began to write a blog as a way of remembering all the things we were seeing and experiencing.
Most times when we visit Shemaron I find it noteworthy. In the early days however there was a sense of raw excitement about our visits. Stepping onto a weary work worn ring net fishing boat was somehow encapsulating. It smacked of a different life. A way of life that took me right out of my skin and made me think about things in a number of new perspectives. It was more than just being onboard, there was the fascination of how the boat came to be. If we think about it we can trace the use of boats way back into pre-history. Equally captivating was learning about the way fishermen interacted with the sea and honed their skills. By some bizarre coincidence I had tapped in to these experiences which became enhanced whilst I was myself on the deck of this fascinating boat.
There was plenty of evidence of a working life that had survived being painted away or polished out. Every dint and damp corner was a statement to a long and successful fishing career. The renovation demanded a certain amount of replacement. We wanted to keep this to a minimum. Some of the original stringers remain and I still enjoy running my fingers over these older parts. Despite a fresh coat of paint they still hold onto the story of a hard working life.
The first thing we did was to overhaul the engine. Once this was completed we went out onto Loch Fyne. My involvement with this lovely old ring net fishing boat began to evolve on a deeper level.
Rather than watching the scenery and trying to capture the memory simply because I found it beautiful, I actually felt like I was an integral part of the scene. When I watched the changing light whilst on Shemaron it was enhanced by the way the air felt. It could be warm and still, or it could cut to the bone with cold. It could carry the scent of wildflowers, tilled earth and bracken. Or it could be heavy with the smell of the sea. Being on board was so very engaging. Everything moved all the time. The sea moved about us, we moved about the sea. Seals jumped, gannets dived, basking sharks meandered. There was so much to take in. The blog kept growing and I began to think that the Shemaron story was one that was worth sharing.
A Strong Anchor
My husband and I became more confident and began to venture further out to sea. We visited different places and working harbours where ring net fishing boats used to discharge. We always found a warm and interested welcome. People made themselves known to us who had either worked on our boat, worked with our boat or simply recognised our boat from years ago. Our knowledge of the ex fishermen began to grow as did our interest in ring net fishing. We soon learned that although visiting many of these places was a new and exciting experience for us, Shemaron had on every occasion been there before.
Whilst ‘at the herring’ Shemaron was a regular visitor to the Clyde and Scottish West Coast harbours. She also went to the North. She followed the herring from the Isle of Man round to Whitby on the North East coast. In the 1950s Hugh McPhee was working as the cook on board Shemaron. He was a keen photographer. It was a particular pleasure to come across a photograph of Shemaron in Seahouses harbour. Seahouses is only a few miles from my home, on the Northumberland coast. We often go there for a blast of North Sea air! Details like this and the oral histories that were shared with us provided a strong anchor for my book. They became the stitches that held the Shemaron story together.
During the winter, in between trips to Scotland to check on Shemaron, many hours were spent researching the ring net and looking for more old photographs from the Shemaron era (1949 – 2007). Stalked by a sense of urgency that arose from the sad fact that almost all of these beautiful ring net fishing boats have disappeared, along with a detailed knowledge of the method of fishing they employed, I have recorded as best I can the years Shemaron spent fishing and the impact the ring net story had upon me.
The people we met along the way and the information they shared added a rich human element to the story. I hope I have managed to weave the lovely moments our experience with Shemaron has afforded us, with the historical detail we became aware of as we grew to know her. I tried to find the right threads and textures of words to blend the romance and the history.
Some days the land and sea seemed to merge into one. The photograph (above) on the front cover of Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour was taken on a day like this. The cloudy grey tones surround the image of Shemaron returning from Flotilla 2014 that marked the commonwealth games in Glasgow. The photograph (below) on the back cover (taken by H. McPhee) shows Shemaron working as a ring net fishing boat searching for herring in the North during the 1950s. These photographs encapsulate and illustrate not only a 66 year time span but also the changes in Shemaron’s lifestyle from fishing to the more gentle pursuits she enjoys today.
Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour
Published Mascot Books USA