Memories appeared through a posting on my timeline, Dauntless Star, alongside the pier. The following photos are all courtesy of Allan Flett and are posted on a Facebook group page West coast Fishing Boats (Past and Present).https://www.facebook.com/groups/703557696334874/.
1977, I first went to sea in February of that year and worked down the Sound of Sleat and up Loch Hourn. We used to go on wee two-day trips in the Spring when we would haul 800 creels from the North and then anchor at the head of the main loch at Barrisdale before heading back to Kyle the next morning hauling from the other direction. The Golden Rule used to work down there as well and a little bit of completion as well was involved. Used to land over 20 stones per day on most of these trips although the fishing would take off around may time. When you think that is around 130 kilos and the creels were hauled every day it is an indication as to where the fishing is today. That was a time for growing up quickly , although still had my dad as an alarm clock to get me up at 5.30am and then it was day in day out. There were very few days we missed for weather. Always remember one day going through the narrows at Kylerea, a reasonable forecast but still blowing a gale from the south-west with a following tide going south….result pyramid waves. Probably the most worried I have ever been at sea, and I probably did not realise the severity of the conditions, was a trip south in the Dauntless, as feeling well queasy and down below with Big Don, we topped a wave and went down and kept going down into the trough, that was when I saw Don’s white knuckles clutching the bench and heard him questioning him the wisdom of his skipper. Aside from that I learned not to be seasick as there were no prisoners taken with lots of vivid descriptions,usually of colourful food, to help me on the way and no stopping so had to time my hanging over the gunwale in between the creels that kept coming across the deck.
Also on the Facebook site I found photos of the Mary Ann, which was part owned and skippered by Iain Ali Bheag who was one of the two survivors from TB ravaged Coillie Ghillie.
My dad was engineer on board and a few cran were caught by these boats mainly in the 50s and 60s. I remember my dad coming ashore, I think in 71, and the Mary Ann was sold not long after.
In fact one of the biggest ringnet”shots” of herring was caught in Toscaig off Camus na Ba. There was a far stronger Applecross/Kyle connection in those days, indeed the west coast was a lot closer as boats would call in to ports to pick up crew before heading out to the fishing grounds. Over the years the Mary Ann had a mix of crew and possibly the last of that generation still here will be Eachann (Hector) from Kyle.
There were younger boys who crewed just at the end of the ringnet era. Technology usurped the ringnet in the form of the purse seine net and it is more of an industrial type of fishery. We have not learned to mix the technological advances with the spawning biomass of the stocks. We have the capability to wipe everything out but have to regulate ourselves or be regulated. One reason I do not believe in neo-liberal free market ideas, not that they exist anyway. Possibly an anecdotal tale but a Hearach on one of the early holidays to the Balearics was down at the shore met with local fishermen and exchanged tales of their fisheries. Being involved in the herring boom was explaining how technology in the form of echo sounders helped them catch the shoals of silver darlings. Olden days they chased the fire, looking out for the phosphorescent plankton the herring were feeding on. The conversation came to a conclusion when the locals asked how the herring fishery was getting on now to which the reply was “Oh it is closed down because it has been over fished.” A sagely nodding of the head and the suggestion that maybe they will do with out echo sounders.
A couple of days of intense contrasts. Following a phone call from Dundonnel it was off to Kenny’s at Shieldaig where we met up with Sue for a chat about the herring fishing, have to say several people more knowledgable than me from Applecross to talk on the subject.. Although Kenny and I had not a lot of involvement in the actual fisheries it was great to hear some of his stories and that in itself brought back memories about my Dad and the Mary Ann, the ring net boat he was engineer on. Kenny and his brother Dickie went off on trips when they were 7/8 years old and this was for the whole week. The negotiations between his Mum and Dad would have been interesting. His Dad’s boat, the Seaflower, would head of to Stornoway with the four share owners to pick up crew for the season and they were drift netting rather than ring netting. Also these boats did the ground nets in the spring for cod which came in to spawn and feed on the herring eggs laid in great quantities in days of plenty. Kenny had spent 10 years with the Torry Lab working on fisheries research and what he was say about the herring spawn was fascinating. They used to take sample grabs of gravel and the herring spawn would be a sticky,like frog spawn,layer on top of the gravel. Seems ,like sea-trout and salmon they needed lots of oxygenation, hence the gravel base. Off Melvich,Gairloch and Ballintrae, south end of the Clyde,were two main herring spawning beds. Sue was suggesting that the young herring stayed in the lochs for a year before heading of out and they provided good feeding for the sea-trout population which following the herring collapse has also to a large extent disappeared. Descriptions of the spotless and warm focs’le where up to seven men ate and slept reminded me of trips over to Applecross from Kyle to the communions here. We were allowed down below and it was great us young guys messing about on the way home down below free from supervision and away from the pressures of the day’s church attendance. The trust and camaraderie of these men can only be imagined and the pressures on the skippers to find the fish to pay for their crew and families must have been great. My conversations with Hector in Kyle were remembered, he was also on the Mary Ann. Some of the stories had a bit of regret as well with my Dad telling me that they should not have caught the “mazy” herring, the herring that had not spawned. And Hector landing beautiful silver darlings for fish meal and in some cases dumped when they could not sell the herring but got paid the subsidy. My saturday lunches in August in the 70s I remember well, salt herring well boiled served with Kerrs Pinks, jackets bursting open. A great way to spend two and a half hours on a wet and windy Friday morning. The only drawback was my developing headache which I can control for a certain period of time but always wins out.
Off to Sarah’s for a pre planned massage and after warning her about my delicate health I only managed about half an hour before admitting I had a full blown migraine under way. After a visit to the bathroom and another attempt from Sarah I had to admit defeat and accept the kind offer of a lie down. To cut a long story short six hours later after a period of excruciating intense pain and lots of stomach upset I now know I can drive over the Hill with one hand and hold my head in the other. It did take an hour. What I will always remember is the sympathy and care people express when you are in trouble up here. Offers to stay in Shiedaig, offers to drive me home, looking after Dougal and family, even wishing they had a magic sympathy wish to cure me. I have to say that thinking about all this on the way home it was quite overwhelming and fits in with what I think is ultimate community spirit. People do care, we may disagree but we care. The one thing I would say in favour of migraines or like pain you know what ultimate pain is and you sympathise so much more easily when you come across other people’s pain.You also experience the intense relief when you come through. Maybe that sums up the wonder of life. Loved the comment this morning that my public image took a bit of a beating “being laid horizontal in Shieldaig Thai massage parlour for six hours”. Past the Hall where there was a busy AppleX factor taking place. It sounded a great night out and seems there is lots of talent here, singing, poetry and Chris with Emily taking the prize of the night.
The day after a migraine reminds me why I do not drink any more. Today is what it used to feel like the day after a hangover and a couple of good chats today and a good walk with Dougal and family on the Forgotten” walk although there were contrasts there as well when Dougal and his Mum decided to disappear and go off hunting hopefully mice and other rodents but suspect they may have taken a fancy to some venison on the hoof. They did appear after 20 mins and seeing I am no dog whisperer it was a smack followed by a relieved pat and hug, hope they understood, means they will be tired when I am out to work tonight. Although there are still lots of local politics rumbling on with another letter from the Trust and residents making sure the ACC is in line, which I take as good in that there is interest in what we do going to take a break on this. I think most people are getting excited on the news about broadband which is seeping out locally. We have to wait for national announcements before making it official but suffice to say it is all good. Nice views of clachan from the “Forgotten Path”
The colours even this late in the year are still so vivid. In the photo below there is much community and personal history. From the left is the Clachan manse then the Heritage Centre and the Clachan church and gave yard where my gentle grandparents are lying….much gentler than me I have to say .