In 2013 the Weatherhead boatyard was used by a garage. Closed off to the sea by massive corrugated metal doors, the old yard reverberated to the beat on the radio. A happy and productive space for small industry. A huge winch that had possibly lowered the newly built Wistaria towards the water was still in situ. As were two sets of rails that ran the length of the floor until they disappeared under the doors onto the beach. We spent a few minutes soaking up the grunge and grime of broken boats, silent winches, and redundant rails. In an unused area the detritus of scrapped boats, planks, hulls, and giant rusted nails was jumbled in a pile.
It has always been easy to imagine Wistaria the finished product because there are so many old photographs of her. Visiting the old boatyard made it easier to imagine the whole boat building process. Oak which was locally sourced was crafted into the ribs or frames of the boat. The oak frames supported larch planking. Steam was used to curve the planking rendering a perfect carvel alignment. This design created strength in the main body and speed in the sleek keel. It held the lines that give Shemaron the beautiful shape that still attracts the eye of a fisherman today. During the many tasks on board Shemaron, there was an occasion when a hole had to be drilled through the deck. The sharp resinous smell that emanated from the aged wood was still strong after sixty-odd years.
Grant and Loan Scheme
Weatherhead was one of the longest surviving boatyards on the East Coast. The introduction of the government’s grant and loan scheme at the end of the war ensured the continuance of their boat building industry. The authority administered low-cost loans and grants to go towards the cost of building new boats. The scheme meant that fishermen could afford to buy boats during post-war depressed conditions. Some fishermen came home to find their boats not fit for purpose after lying neglected during the years of hostility. The scheme was a great help for anyone in this situation. The scheme also encouraged new ventures. During the late
Some fishermen came home to find their boats not fit for purpose after lying neglected during the years of hostility. The scheme was a great help for anyone in this situation. The scheme also encouraged new ventures. During the late 1940s, a huge number of boats were built at boatyards across Scotland.
During the years immediately after the war costs for equipment required for the day to day work of a fisherman rose to higher levels. The price of fish was twice what it was before the war. The cost of catching it, however, was several times greater. This situation resulted in many fishermen finding themselves unable to cope with spiralling costs. They needed to find a way out of their financial arrangements. This circumstance led to a glut of boats on the market during the 1950s. Sometimes the pressure to sell was so great boats could be bought for as little as the sum of any outstanding debt.
This fact doesn’t fit with accounts of Wistaria’s early years which were generally of success. The fact that some men were able to make a successful living during these difficult times shows yet another facet of the life of the ring net fishermen during the 1950s.
The formation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board gave further help to the fishermen on the West Coast of Scotland. The board supplemented the grant and loan scheme. This gave fishermen the means to obtain boats, either new or second-hand. Six years on from its formation the board had helped to employ 850 men on 235 boats.
Some of the ring net boats from this era such as Path Finder, Ribhinn Donn II and Village Belle IV are still working today. In some situations after the war, as in the case of the Sloan brothers, men returned to make up a “team”. This happened if they had connections with boats that were able to work throughout the period of war. Some fishermen managed to re-join a financially stable team. Adequate stocks and the fixed price for fish during the war meant an easier market for those at home.
Adapted from Shemaron: A Beautiful Endeavour
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