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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

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Chapter 1 The Sea

The Scottish seas have given rise to many highlights in my life. The sea has given me experiences through which I have pushed the boundaries of my horizons; the ends of days when I have rolled exhausted into my bunk, held safe in oak and rocked to sleep on the tilt of the tide; the early mornings when I have risen to a fresh, lonely world, then steamed through the pre-dawn dusk as colour gradually defined the coast. It is the ability to be part of the balance, bearing witness to nature in such a timeless manner, that elates me. Through that ability I can engage in those long, peaceful, perfect moments held in sighs and locked in memories.

Of all the things I could choose to do, one thing that absolutely never entered my head was that I would one day have anything to do with an old fishing trawler. This came about because my husband had a dream and his drive and enthusiasm in pursuit of this dream has seen us to the point of actually owning an old boat. Even though I could accept that this might happen for him, the idea that I would be involved in the experience at all, let alone enjoy it, was far from any future I had imagined. The acceptance that this was going to happen for him was very neatly compartmented in my head, inside a box with a closed lid, labelled “Chris’ life”. I was never a person who knew where she wanted to be; rather, I took all that life threw at me and tried to make the best of every situation. I suppose if I saw anything in the future at all, it was probably running our business for as long as possible, hopefully followed in later years by a fewer number of commitments mingled with tea and scones, lunch with the girls, shopping trips, and a couple of slightly exotic and unusual holidays every now and again. It failed totally to connect with anything to do with a fishing trawler built in 1949. In retrospect, this vision of my future seemed more than a little mundane. My teas, scones, and lunches with the girls have been replaced by invitations to refreshments around the hearths of ex-skippers, crew, and any person wishing to reminisce about the old days of the herring fishery. Although not much of a talker, I am fascinated with the banter and stories, which have opened up a whole new, previously unacknowledged interest. The beauty of it all is that it just keeps growing.

Our boat, Shemaron, has an intriguing social history, and through the research of her past lives, I have grown to know her extremely well. The name Shemaron replaced her original name of Wistaria and is a joining of the names Sheila and Marion, mother and sister of Sandy Galbraith who was the last person to fish with her. The road to all things Shemaron has been so well camouflaged that I never quite realised I was travelling upon it; I was unwittingly becoming enmeshed in the world of our beautiful old boat. One of the things I find so striking about fishermen is the love and passion they display towards the boats they worked on. They recall with ease the names and circumstance of various boats, like they are members of an extended family. Looking back sixty-odd years and remembering a first car just isn’t the same; nostalgia is there to a degree with a car, but I think something runs much deeper with these men and I wonder what it was really like to be fishing for herring, or “at the herring”. The names of these beautiful old boats reflect a romance that is ever present on the lonely Scottish seas. The New Dawn, Rolling Wave, and Fair Morn could almost tell a story in their own right. As could the Storm Drift, Brighter Hope, Maid of the Mist, and Golden West. The beautifully sensuous names of these boats, their partnership with the sea, and the poetry they inspire, must be a reflection of many beautiful moments captured from their decks. 

Shemaron sleeps seven, which meant up to seven crew members at a time were away, sometimes for many weeks, sharing a confined working and living space. These men must have respected each other, and would have trusted one another readily; they would have had to, given the dangerous conditions they worked in. Ring net boats worked in pairs, coming together after shooting their nets to haul in their catch, a partnership at sea that required strong bonds. I wondered also about the boats themselves. There is something very comforting about wood, being surrounded by it and cocooned within it. Sleeping on Shemaron is an unparalleled experience: in the soft light with the paraffin lamps swaying, the wooden interior warms and glows and the brass handrail flickers with shadows from the stove. The fo’c’sle is very comfortable. There was obviously a lot of pride and care taken in the upkeep of one’s boat. Fo’c’sle is an abbreviated form of the original word forecastle which referred to the castle like structure at the front of old sailing ships. These days it generally refers to the forward living accommodation on boats; on Shemaron the fo’c’sle is the forward third of the boat.

I imagine Shemaron and similar boats on big seas. These 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 the 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.

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour
Published by Mascot Books

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Slow and Deepening Interest

Welcome to the introduction to my book Shemaron A;Beautiful Endeavour! 
Over the coming weeks I will be sharing the first chapter here on Journey To Scotland so you can get a real flavour of the story ...

My experience with Shemaron opened a portal through which I could step back in time and allow the past to mix with the present as I tried to understand what it was like to be a ring net fisherman. The impact she had on my comfortable urban lifestyle was totally unexpected. Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour is a story is based around the Scottish coast where the ring net fist emerged as a method of catching herring.

The early ring net boats were built for a world I had not yet come to, I have somehow found myself at the wrong end of the ring net story, standing quite literally, under its bows; trying to catch the frayed threads of it before it unravels too far for me to draw them together. As I became more involved with Shemaron, I found my self getting drawn deeper into accounts of her previous life. The more research I did, the more it became clear that, history, poetry, romance and adventure blended on a synergistic level; providing a powerful platform for memories to gather. My first impression of Shemaron, stripped of all her working gear, was of a rather lost and sad boat; there was however something in her emptiness that appealed to my sense of space. The moment I stepped from the quay over her gently moving gunnels, an unlikely partnership began; it was however, to be many weeks before I realised that something quite special had occurred. I saw the world from the deck of an old ring net fishing boat, and it was a much bigger place than I had given it credit for, I was seduced by the whole beautiful natural order. A slow but deepening interest began to evolve; an interest that is still growing, enhanced by the oral histories that have found their way back to her ring net roots. I sailed away with her, by the time I returned we had bonded on an intimate level, I had learned much about her life and the industry for which she was built, the pursuit of herring with the ring net.

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

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