Book Review Argyllshire Advertiser.
THE COURSE of true love never did run smooth.
Shakespeare could have penned those lines to describe the relationship between former ring net fishing boat the Shemaron and Newcastle couple Chris and Fiona Malkin. Make no mistake; this is a love story – and a tempestuous one at that. For Fiona, the book’s author, it began slowly. So slowly that it was less love and more of a mild dislike. The seafaring life was not for her. With a successful business and two grown-up children, she thought her life was fairly settled. The dream of owning a fishing boat was her husband’s alone.
Chris fell head over heels as a boy watching the boats sail in and out of Campbeltown harbour. When the opportunity came along to buy their own vessel – a neglected 55-foot former ring net fishing boat named Shemaron – Fiona was unprepared for the impact it would have on their lives. Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour tells of the characters and places the Malkins encountered as they went through the ups and downs of bringing the old boat back to life.
Beautifully written in evocative prose, the book takes the reader on a voyage through turbulent waters and calm seas in such a way that we feel the salt air, smell fresh varnish – and experience mild seasickness as they round the Mull of Kintyre. The men who once stalked our coastal waters searching for herring on these boats are not forgotten. Their exploits are remembered, and that is, at the end of it all, what the boat represents. Fiona eventually fell madly in love with Shemaron, a boat with personality; the two reaching a level of mutual respect and acceptance Fiona would not have thought possible at the journey’s beginning.
This is a fascinating book, affectionately recalling, warts-and-all, a memorable and unexpected voyage through waters never before explored by the author. The ring net fishing boats may now have passed into history, but something of the tradition remains through boats such as the Shemaron. Fiona’s journey and that of the Shemaron continues.
This is an ideal Christmas present for anyone with salt in their veins or memories of herring and the ring netters. Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour is published by Mascot Books and is available from local bookshops.
Book Review. Editorial WelcomeTrust
By Annelise Anderson
Descriptive, insightful, beguiling: Shemaron interweaves the narratives of one woman’s journey to restore a fishing boat with her reflections on life, family and the power of relationships in helping you achieve what you aspire to in life. Malkin’s prose is considered and precise, painting a just picture of what must have been hours of work, exhausting in its demand for meticulosity. Her descriptions reveal a wealth of knowledge about the world of fishing boat exploration, the kind only possible through very deliberate and determined dedication to what is clearly, for her, a great passion.
Out of context, the detail of her writing might at once seem inaccessible to an audience unfamiliar with boats or the harsh realities of restoration. However, Malkin’s approach is human as much as it expert. She does not forget her audience throughout her chapters, nor does she stray far from the very lucid and captivating memories she holds dear of her own first impressions of Shemaron and the series of decisions she took in its management.
Exploiting her position as both observer and participant, she stands the reader firmly alongside her as she recounts her experiences with her fishing boat. The effect is one of live narration, rather than an archived past we see the boat for the first time with her, notice the intricacies it wears alongside her, and wonder too how we would approach such an epic but worthwhile project. She is particularly adept at setting the at times very different scenes in which we meet Shemaron throughout the book.
Not only is the reader left with a clear image of what the boat looks like at any given time, but we also know the context behind why Shemaron is at it appears in that moment, and what it needs because of this. Malkin recognises that, for better or worse, the restoration of a fishing boat is an undertaking not to be sneered at, and as such will affect everyday life in various and at times unexpected ways. As a result, the reader is always aware of the other factors that could be affecting how Shemaron is being handled at that moment, be it money, time, resources and so on.
For a story that has already been written about a boat that has in some sense already lived a life, Malkin’s writing teems with life and is engaging to the extent that the reader feels very much a part of an ongoing journey. From the outset, there is a sense that whatever happens towards the later chapters of the book will not necessarily usher in the end for Shemaron. Rather, the text continuously unfurls. As a result, the reader is left on the one hand with an acute sense of the impact that unpredictable and unknown forces can have on a boat, but also the equally exciting if unstable position of deciding how to respond to these.
There is a sense that we will hear more of Shemaron, her tale is not complete yet. Lucky for the reader, she continues to be exposed to the forces of nature. Her vulnerabilities may prove something of a test for her owners, but we are lucky in that they create captivating and complex tales.
Shemaron Book Reviews
I guess every book is written with passion – or should be – though some have more passion than others. Passion itself is complicated and can manifest itself in many ways – driving devotion, uncontrollable feeling, ardent affection, anger even, to name a few possibilities. Seldom, though, is passion aimed at an old fishing boat by someone with no connection with fishing. Here is that exception by an author who, in her own words, says it ‘absolutely never entered my head that I would one day have anything to do with an old fishing trawler’.
But this wasn’t ‘any old trawler’ but a ring-net boat of the motorised variety, built in one of the best yards in Scotland, owned by one of the best ring-net fishers in Scotland and one of a few survivors of that long gone time when Clyde boats roamed the seas with their ‘circled nets’. Shemaron was built by William Weatherhead of Cockenzie in 1949 as Wistaria, BA64 and then moved to Carradale as Shemaron, CN244, in 1964.
There’s a short 15 minute Gosling film entitled ‘Build me Straight’ (words taken from Longfellow’s poem ‘The Building of a Ship’) which shows some of her build amongst other boats in yard. She worked for some sixty odd years before being withdrawn from fishing. By 2008 Chris and Fiona Malkin had bought her in Tarbert where they’d been watching her for several years. This book, then, is the story of the author’s relationship with the boat and discovering her history rather than just being a potted history.
Of course it started as a dream as have many other purchases of old fishing vessels. For some, the dream is realised whilst for others it often comes to an abrupt and unfortunate end. When, at the outset, the engine needed a complete rebuild, there must have been regrets and even that fear of the abrupt end. Nevertheless, they pulled through, enough that, when they had their first voyage in March 2009, those initial regrets must have been long forgotten. Who could possibly forget a motor up Loch Fyne on a lovely spring day!
But of course, there was always work to do and living away in Newcastle necessitated weekend trips over to Tarbert which were, in themselves, long drives. But, as these visits progressed, as did the restoration on the tired vessel, so did the author’s realisation of just what went into the boat during its working life. The plan from the beginning had been to put her back to ‘her former glory’, with the layout just as she was when working the ring-net.
By 2011 they’d sailed as far as Campbeltown, though the route was the more unconventional long one via the Crinan Canal, visiting the Crinan boat festival, then down the west side of Kintyre, to Gigha and thence around the notorious Mull of Kintyre, past Sanda Isle and into the shelter of Campbeltown’s lovely harbour. No quick run down the Kilbrannan Sound then! That, then, was the year I was last in Campbeltown and I remember taking some photos of the boat alongside the quay.
A boat such as Shemaron is a magnet for retired fishermen. I recall the same thing when, in 1992, I brought the Lochfyne skiff Perseverance, CN152, back to Campbeltown for the first time after she’d left in 1946. For the Malkins, it seemed wherever they went, there were stories to be recounted, history to discover along with the ever-growing list of jobs to do on the boat. I guess to the author it was a challenge to fall in love with the boat rather than just the captivating scenery they sailed through when out aboard the boat.
The boat in its working life visited numerous ports and, together boat and owners sailed back to many of these places to listen to more stories from the past. Living on the east coast, they were pleased to discover the ring-net boats had sailed as far as Whitby and one particular photo showed the boat in Seahouses, a place they had often visited. In time, all the collected oral evidence was pieced together – the stitches in the boat’s history as she puts it – to form the book which, added to her sense of poetic style, and the numerous photos of the boat, form to create a personal memoir of the ring-net and its traditions, previously unseen.
Book Review Boating Times Longlsland
There are people to whom the past is just a memory, and others who dwell in the past to avoid the here and now. Then there are people like Fiona Malkin and her husband, Christopher, who saw a vessel firmly rooted in the past but refuse to let her stay there. The loving (and frustrating) details of the voyage from 1949’s Wistaria to today’s Shemaron are detailed in Fiona Malkin’s book, Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour.
Wistaria was a fishing boat – more specifically, a working boat called a ring netter. It cast a circular net in pursuit of herring, and employed a mechanism to haul up its cumbersome and heavy haul. Built to fulfill a need, it did so for decades before the industry moved on and left its boats behind.
Christopher Malkin’s childhood memories included the ring netters and his wife was looking to include new experiences into their family lore. She was in love with the sea and slowly succumbed the Shemaron’s clumsy flirtations with her. Eventually tight on money but abundantly rich with expectations, the couple gave the boat a model-worthy makeover while mostly preserving her working-class stance.
As Shemaron tosses out her net and draws Fiona in, she inspires her new owner to pen both prose and poetry. The resulting book moves seamlessly between these two means of expressing admiration and affection, the author is a talented writer who spins her tale of refurbishing a boat in Scotland into an account of accomplishment that will catch every reader.