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Friday, 27 May 2016

Here I am with my head among bluebells

A few weeks ago I found myself once again in the little cottage by Seal Rock and captivated by the night. After a winter in the city when the nights are long and so cold that we draw our curtains across them for much of the time, to have the night flood into my room alight with stars is always a special thing. Over the city, nights tend to hang like a hard flat canvas, if we are lucky we see a few stars, tiny pinpricks of light in an unyielding black sky.

Kintyre is a great place for watching stars because of it’s dark skies. On this particular night the stars were so low that I thought if the wind lifted my hair it could touch the stars and leave a trail of starlight through the sky. Instead of the hard city night sky, here, I looked up through layers of darkness, they moved at different speeds and in different directions. This was something I had never noticed before and was at odds with the sea, which, on this occasion was ever so still…

Here I am with my head among bluebells.

Here I am, with my head among bluebells,
Lost in dreams, in the little bay that sings with spirits under the stars.  

On another night, I had watched wild geese swim beneath a copper moon.

But tonight...


I am lying on the edge of the silent sea.

Round the rocky shore of Arran the Pladda light spills out, I catch it as a gleam that dashes across the bay.

The stars hang so low they almost touch my head, they well like pools and glisten like water under the sun.
They, are guardians of the ancient night. 

I hear their aria's calling, caressing millennia through the lucid layers of ages.
Past years watch over present under starlight.

A circle blushes on the curve of the horizon, another beam, 

Spinning out, 

Over the owl clipped night.

"On another night, I had watched wild geese swim beneath a copper moon."

Saturday, 7 May 2016


The starboard sea danced a sliver jig with the sun on a spring day that delighted us with its brilliance. Light sparked on the slight undulation that moved between us, the Ailsa Craig, and beyond to the tip of Northern Ireland. Smoke from the chimney billowed over the deck, but just behind it, I caught the fresh tang of the sea and instinctively knew that Shemaron rejoiced in the wash.

The winter has been long and wet, and despite the year having moved into spring the weather has continued in its melancholic mood, even so, it has not been wet enough to prevent gaps appearing in the aged larch planking of Shemaron's hull.  During the weeks since she has been back in the water, enjoying a restorative bathe, the sea has soaked slowly into her wind dried crevices. She has taken up well but unable to find any shelter in the boat yard her starboard shoulder has suffered from the sun and wind. Although soothed by stories of the ring net during our short stay in Irvine the brackish waters of the estuary prolonged her thirst, to feel the salt on her bow once more suits her well.

A calm silver sea was pretty much the state of affairs for the whole journey, interrupted by the wake of an old herring boat happy to be under steam once more, slaking her thirst. Sometimes a gannet flew some distance off,  I have watched strings of them tracing waves, flying low on the back of the sea, for now only one or two cross our bow; perhaps they look for food for their mate who sits on a nest on the Ailsa Craig.  Four large ships rippled ahead of us like a mirage in the distance, we couldn't be certain exactly what we were seeing, but they were some way off and when we looked again they had vanished.

The new stem Shemaron had waited so patiently for, letting men climb about her hull in order to reach the highest point at her bow and mould into place the finely crafted piece of oak, pushed forward into the sea. Adorned with a strong steel guard her stem has pulled together the strength of her planks. The steel rubbing strips that were forged into place by the sheer strength of human muscle, bind her tight, and the skilled workmanship that replaced her weakened planks now allows her hull to work in harmony with the water. She is confident in her strengthened sate. The recent hours of long and painful labour are slipping into the past,  Shemaron looks forward to a new stage in her life. 

Whilst in Irvine visitors enjoyed the step back in time on descending to the fo'c'sle, a welcome experience, and one which facilitated the resurgence of stories based round the ring net, other ring net boats and stories of the sea. The fo'c'sle became a lively place and every now and again I heard congenial laughter from the open hatch which mingled with the general happy chat and smiling faces of other guests standing on the deck.

We had left Pladda Island and the Ailsa Craig behind, Sheep Island had moved behind Sanda Isle and Davaar Island lay ahead, Shemaron was almost home. We passed Davaar as the gap in winter that had allowed Spring to fall through closed hurried on by a south east wind. The blue skies disappeared and without the sun we fell back into winter, it was about 5pm by this time and the warmth went quickly as cold once again overwhelmed the day. 

Shemaron was home repaired, rejuvenated, strong and grateful for the coinage that enabled this extension to her life. Welcomed by the gulls, she rocked between gusts on the winter wind, her ropes tugging on the harbour wall.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Irvine Shemaron log 2016

After several months in the boat yard it was so good to see Shemaron back in the water! A few days on the pontoons in Clyde Marina re-assured us that we had no leaks and a break between storms allowed us to take her down to Irvine in preparation for our Museum event on 8th & 9th April. We are happy to report that there were no problems and everything went as it should!

We left Ardrossan in perfect sunshine although looking across to Arran was not clear, in a couple of places cloud hung in columns down to the shores and in others sun filtered through shining on the sea in hazy rays. The patch of sky we travelled under remained clear and blue, on our starboard side, sheltered from the wind by the wheelhouse, it was pleasant and warm. There was quite a roll on the sea, this didn’t bother us too much because we were so invigorated at steaming once again. After so long out of the water the movement was welcome.

We slowed at the mouth of the Irvine and Garnock estuary and proceeded cautiously over the sand bar gauging our depth by swinging an anode tied to a piece of cord over the bow. The anode sank to the sea bed pulling the cord with it, when we pulled it up we could see where the wet point was and thus knew what depth of water we had below our keel. After three or four repetitions we judged Shemaron was clear and continued up the estuary.

It is interesting to watch a town or village emerge on approach from the sea, one can appreciate it's contours, the way the shape of it lies in the land. Long before we could make out individual buildings the tower of the Old Parish Church was visible on the skyline. Gradually other buildings and features of the estuary became clearer. The sun was still shining as the town and harbour side grew to starboard and mudflats expanded to port.

Once secure on the river we settled in for a lovely evening, the sky remained clear with occasional broken cloud, enough to give a dramatic sunset. After a wet winter with long dull spells and a multitude of overcast days the night light lifted our spirits. Wild foul called out from the mudflats, it was calm and still.  Night fell and soon the only natural light was the sunset and it’s reflection in the river. We could not see anything on the mudflats the area was as lalck as pitch, but, the river picked up the reflection of a fox hunting on the water’s edge. As darkness fell more heavily we sat in a world of silhouettes, swans on the river tucked their long necks under their wings. We stayed on deck until the stars came out and watched while the current carried sleeping swans down the river.

"As darkness fell more heavily we sat in a world of silhouettes..."

Monday, 28 March 2016


Easter 2016

Hesitant on the brown-capped moors, Spring, 
Sneaks in under the wind.

Not too far away, the days of a heavy lidded winter cling to cold grey walls,
Moss browed and bloated.

Whispering through last years nests, Spring rides below the clouds, 
Caught in the throats of blackbirds.

Not too far away - three rooks in perfect symmetry, sitting in a tree, 
Branch black and bare.

Spring falls off the back of the north wind, 
Lies on streams and shines in blue glances between branches.

Not too far away, rivers spewed down valleys, 
Mud backed with grit.

In the space between raindrops, 
Spring spreads a green blush that softens the sharpness in trees.

Spring, carried on sunbeams, dances in daffodil trumpets and melts into summer.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour - week #3 get a flavour of the book...

Looking towards Davaar island and Arran

It did take a while but eventually my involvement came from myself and not because I was attached to Shemaron through a third party. I loved our trips out on her, I loved watching her move forward to a better state, and I loved the fact that she began to reveal her history. Thankfully, when I looked back on our time in Campbeltown, the long hours spent on the road would fade increasingly into inconsequence in the light of our adventures. When we emerged from the car at the quayside, although we were stiff and sore, we were soothed by the scenery we had come through. It was a changing dynamic, it spun round us, strengthening the thread that pulled us from south to north and back again.

Over the course of these car journeys, we encountered many beautiful and varied scenes. They could be made mysterious by the changing moods of the western weather; the expanse of Loch Fyne for example, could be smooth and sultry, with a colour spectrum anywhere between heather, ash and all shades of blue. It could shine like glass and hold the hills in its embrace or it could be agitated, confused, and whipped by the wind. And then there was the sea, another changing dynamic, but on a far greater scale, which we finally reach after leaving the deep and ancient waters of West Loch Tarbert. The sea tumbled into our final miles almost touching the road. The Atlantic roll could be long and slow, it could be fast, furious, and unforgiving, ripping up the sands, or it could be gentle and welcoming, a showering of foaming kisses upon the rocks.

Kintyre coast Gigha in the distance
As we drew ever closer to our journey’s end and the road eventually came to the Atlantic coast of Kintyre, the light would spill in splendour no matter the weather, falling around us to give a particular clarity to the hills, rocks and the islands over the water. Sometimes we could see Gigha, Islay, Jura, Ireland and Rathlin. Sometimes, it was only the three closest islands that loomed across the sea, and at other times we could hardly make out the rocky shores of Gigha through the smoor. Every journey was different and every time was beautiful, although in the winter when the long black night blocked everything from view it felt like we were driving through endless tunnels, it was harder.

When we finally set foot on board and descended through the hatch into the lonely fo’c’sle, it seemed as though we all – Shemaron, Chris and myself - had to adjust to each other in the confined space. Used to her long quiet times, Shemaron seemed to recoil when we lit the stove and condensation would run and drip from the beams before she relaxed and welcomed us back. Any fresh and fragrant cosmetics, in which I may have indulged, were instantly and irrevocably overlaid with the smell of bilge, oil and damp wood. Before we reached our compromise (Shemaron having to put up with my softer ways in return for a load of attention and the promise of a trip away from the quay), wafts of peat smoke and harbour air filtered back through the open hatches and skylights. There were no soft places for my aching limbs to sink and I walked, stooped in an exaggerated manner, for fear of thwacking my head against the oak beams.

The only comforts on board Shemaron came from the heat of the fire, the glow from the lamp, and the gentle tilting motion as she settles continuously upon the sea. Happily, I have discovered that these few comforts are all I need; they are more valuable because of the lack of any others.

Somewhere amid the history and the traveling and the adventure, it seemed as though we had created a different life for ourselves. We hadn’t, of course, but we had added a new experience to our normal daily toil. It wasn’t easy, but the lure of Kintyre, Shemaron and the freedom that they created, beckoned us forward and northward.

Friday, 26 February 2016

The Sea - Week #2 Get a flavour of the book...

I imagine Shemaron and similar boats on big seas. Theses must have been humbling experiences for skipper and crew. The vastness of the ocean and at times the loneliness, gives rise to emotions in me tinged equally with fear and awe, and shared I am sure with many fishermen who have faced danger out at sea. As is typical with memory the general daily grind of work does not surface; it is particular and precise moments that we recall. These moments associated with varied and strong emotions, keep memories alive. I believe there is nothing comparable to the life of the fisher folk.

The history, fascinating as it is, covers only a single aspect of our lives with Shemaron. The worry and the hours of driving up and down to Campbeltown some three hundred miles or son from our own home in the north of England, was a challenge. The shear amount of effort required to venture forth on such a project inevitably strained the comfortable vision of my future I once held. The minimal retirement funds we possessed had been depleted and the resulting gap filled with a large question mark, while the amount of physical labour looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future. Despite these struggles we have brought her a long way, restoring her thoroughly through a series of small undertakings. There is much to do and at times, it feels like her future hangs on a wing and a prayer.

At some point during our time with Shemaron, a subtle bonding process - I like to call it magic – had begun, and I changed. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognise myself any more; it was more like I recognised a new part of myself. Alone on the sea while the dawn laid claim to the day, I felt the magic, I felt my place and it was very small, an indiscernible speck on the face of time. Yet within my head, heart, and soul, the recognition of myself as that speck was immense and timeless. Until this moment I had been a happy bystander, content to indulge my husband in his vocation and to be rewarded for my efforts with the beautiful scenery that enveloped us on our road trips and lovely nights in hotels along our way. Afterward, I was more aware of the sea and sun, of the moon and tides; how they stretched into the world and how their power might affect life the world over.

Within the boundaries where I had lived my life so far, I shifted and grew and found greater scope for adventure. These times on our boat allowed me to look at life with a different perspective. My inner eye had been opened and I could see my life as the consequence of the massive continuing ripple effect that started billions of years ago. It is easy to get lost among these ripples so I will bring the focus back to Shemaron, as she was the enabler the catalyst that wrought the change in me.

Where as my husband bonded through the oil, paint, and grime and the blood, sweat and tears that the Shemaron experience seemed to exude, I bonded through the romance and the stories that surfaced on the wave of nostalgia that swept into Campbeltown with us when we first arrived. Mostly this nostalgia was conveyed from the harbour side, often on our deck, where sometimes a visitor would join us in the fo’c’sle for a dram in the darkening hours. We would chat below the gentle glow of the Tilley lamp until my eyelids grew heavy under references to engines and other mechanics, but I would be revived by the mention of the northern islands and other adventures our companions would share.

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour Published by Mascot Books
with Ring Net Heritage Trust

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