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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Remembering The Commonwealth Flotilla

Two years have passed since we took park in the Commonwealth Flotilla - here is an excerpt from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour describing our journey from Princes dock in Glasgow back to Campbeltown... 

One of the great things about writing this blog is that I can include as many photos as I like - I really feel they help illustrate the atmosphere onboard!

We left Princes dock the next morning in the rain and sounded the Claxton as a goodbye to the remaining boats in the flotilla. Soon all we could see was the mass of flags that ran to the tops of the masts still sitting in the dock. The riverbanks were wet and quiet but we still enticed a wave or two from people out for a Sunday stroll or a spot of dog walking. We continued on to Greenock where we said goodbye to our crew and helped to unload their gear. Then it was just the two of us again alone on the water heading for home.

The forecast was for winds up to force five, occasionally gusting to force six. We decided to take a route round Bute, an island in the Firth of Clyde, and keep to sheltered waters. There was a thin gap between sea and sky as Shemaron entered the Kyles of Bute, heading towards the ever-closing space. Eventually it became impossible to see where the sea and sky met, and the Burnt islands were almost lost in the fog. There was only an opaque grey wall ahead. I soon discovered our new exhaust was a comforting source of warmt it was like holding a hot water bottle in a chilly bed, and standing behind the wheelhouse, I could stay reasonably dry.

We picked out the buoys marking the safe channel through the Kyles and by the time we cruised round the western side of Bute the weather began to clear. We had thought to stop for the night in Portavadie, the old favourite place from our early voyages, but with the up-turn in the weather conditions we changed our minds and decided to press on for Campbeltown.

We cruised in to the Kilbrannan Sound welcomed by a southward tipping swell. After eight hours we were tiring, so thankfully there were only two more hours to go before we would be tying up in Campbeltown harbour. The weak evening sun leaked through holes in the sky, casting watery rays to our starboard side. Shemaron dipped into the swell and rose on its back. We turned on the radio and songs of the 1960s floated along the sound with us. The sight of the sun after the long grey hours lifted our mood and we passed Davaar in high spirits. After so many hours on board we were happy in the rhythm of everything, comfortable with Shemaron and the sea. Despite being tired, we found ourselves reluctant to bring an end to our journey by climbing on to the quay.

 If my husband hadn’t been interested in fishing boats I am fairly certain I would never have stepped onto the deck of old ring netter. My husband wanted to help preserve these incredible old boats but we never expected to unlock such a treasure trove of experiences. The changing times of dawn and dusk, where the sky meets the sea or the waves meet the rocks, places on the edges of energies that have manifest over thousands of miles, have a powerful pull, and I can feel them all from the deck of our boat.

Excerpt taken from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour
Published by Mascot Books for Ring Net Heritage Trust

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Shemaron Log June 2016 Cairndow

“…and there was the softest voice, so fragile that I almost missed it, as if she whispered, “I have been here before.” The sound of it was lost in the rotation of her propeller; I caught it as it fell. It brushed my senses but I couldn’t hold it. I lost it in the brilliance of the day.”

Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour

It had been a while since I had felt any communication with Shemaron. During the months of her enforced inactivity Chris and I had become like slaves, working long hours until our shoulders burned and our backs ached. Climbing up and down ladders while balancing equipment and tools, caused our muscles to recoil in shock, by evening, exhaustion had set so deep that we couldn’t think straight and our eyes closed against the pain of it all. In the mornings when we woke it was to the realisation that Shemaron demanded even more tortuous rounds of physical labour. We bent so low under her hull to apply toxic antifouling that we thought we might never be able to straighten our spines again. We hauled steel so high our muscles bunched tighter than the knots that secured the long metal bands onto the ropes that we inched upward, before moulding them into place along her upper quarters. When the soft planks were taken out and the winter wind blew around her ribs scouring the dark places that perhaps afford comfort to an old wooden boat, I imagine Shemaron felt it too, but if she voiced her anguish I didn’t hear it. Even when she was re-launched I did not hear her. Perhaps she was drowsy like a patient on waking from anesthetic and then quiet through her long weeks of convalescence, for myself, I was too involved with my own coping mechanisms to remember to listen out for her.

I was simultaneously attempting to undergo my own private metamorphism, trying desperately to find within myself the qualities needed to push the Shemaron project forward. After years of working from snug comfort of our kitchen the thought of putting the project out for public scrutiny via the development of the trust and publication of a book took me so far out of my comfort zone I thought I would never feel calm again. I have somehow survived so far. It was therefore soothing to share a communication with Shemaron, one that rose in the warmth of her fo’c’sle, a small bloom of latent memory. The warmth of it was consolatory and I was reminded of the bond we shared. I can know little of her fishing career having only known her since her working days were finished; despite this there have been many powerful situations on the sea that we have experienced together. I appreciated her reaching out, we both look forward to an uncertain future and can only hope we have it within us to do enough to make it all come right. 

Since her re-launch we have taken Shemaron to the head of Loch Fyne. The trip had a double purpose, one, to see that everything was in working order and two, to say hello again to Argyll. It was approaching mid summer the days were long and unusually hot. I lay on the fish hold listening to the engine steady up the loch, above me, dissected by the cross masts, the sky stretched away in acres of blue. We passed Otter Spit then navigated the Minaird Narrows, we said a quick hello to Ivererary, and the engine steadied away nicely. We passed people paddling and picnicking on the loch side and we eventually stopped at Cairndow where we caught a mooring. 

We sat on the scorched deck, Shemaron was so still, she didn’t tug on the mooring, or rock, or sway, she sat just so. Everything was easy, the loch was mirrored, the trees unruffled, and when we cut her engine she simply became part of the tranquil landscape connecting imperceptibly to her former life. We stayed on deck while evening tiptoed across the sky turning the hills from green to grey under the shadow of the summer night, then we slept, the three of us taking a well-earned rest. When we woke the loch was bright with the reflection of morning, the air was deliciously cool and it seemed to me all too soon that our bow slid away from the mooring buoy causing lazy ripples to roll towards the shore. 

This had been the tonic we had all needed, a restorative interlude in a busy year that allowed the three of us become reacquainted.

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.

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