Times Past 08.05.09

25 Years Ago

Tom Fullerton of Burra, one of the best known skippers in the Shetland fleet, has now retired at the age of 65 and his boat, the equally well known seine netter Sceptre, is up for sale.

Mr Fullerton has spent his entire working life at sea, starting as a deck hand on the motor boat Surprise then joining his father, James Fullerton, on the steam drifter Angelina. During the war he spent five and a half years in the Royal Navy after which he bought a share in the Amaranth, an old Fifie which was used for both herring fishing and seine netting. Her career came to a sudden end when her engines finally broke down and her crew hired another old boat, Easter Rose, for a couple of seasons.

In 1954 at the end of the herring season Tommy went to the whaling at South Georgia being away from home for 18 months. His savings from those two seasons in the Antarctic were used to buy a share in the Sceptre which was built in 1958 by Herd and Mackenzie, Buckie, for skipper Fullerton and his partners Maxie and Bertie Williamson, John W Inkster and Alex Jamieson. While his new boat was being built Tommy served on the Northern Light and spent some time on his brother’s boat Golden Harvest.

With a length of 72 feet and a 52hp Gardner engine the Sceptre was typical of fine new boats that marked the post war revival of Shetland’s fishing industry. She was a successful boat as a herring drifter(she won the Bertie Robertson Trophy one year) and as a seine netter, running her catches to Aberdeen in the years Shetland’s fish processing industry was struggling to get on its feet. She had been a good safe boat with a reputation for her capabilities in rough water.

At the moment Shetland is going through another chapter in its fishing history and Sceptre, once the pride of the Burra Isle fleet, is a small boat when compared with the large powerful vessels that are now joining the fleet. Nevertheless she has several years of useful life left in her and skipper Fullerton is hopeful that some Shetland crew will come forward to buy her. She has provided a good living for him and his crew especially in the last few years when her modest power and low fuel consumption actually became an advantage.

Most of Sceptre’s crew will find berths in other boats while the skipper’s son, Wilbert, will be a shareholder in a new boat now on order for Burra owners.

But for Tommy Fullerton there will be no more rising at four or five on a winter’s morning and exchanging a warm bed for a cold, draughty wheelhouse. After half a century it’s time to take life a bit more easily.

50 Years Ago

Editorial – While there will be sympathy for Shetland fishermen in their protest against foreign vessels spoiling the local grounds, they can hardly expect much reaction to their protest against the use of port facilities by the Poles.

What can be done The Harbour Trust could not deprive the Poles of otherwise unused quay space, even if they wished top. Similarly, no one can prevent the Poles from renting privately-owned facilities.

It is doubtful if the fishermen’s desire to exclude foreign fishers from Lerwick is shared by many Lerwegians, for they are quite naturally anxious to have the port used.

The attitude of Lerwick businessmen who are benefiting from trade with the Poles is that it is the fishermen, and not the Harbour Trust, whose policy is the short-term one.

No one disputes that trawling damages – and may even ruin – herring stocks, but it does not follow that barring the Poles from Lerwick will curtail their activities. If the Poles, having ruined the Channel and all down the North Sea, are now of a mind to extend their depredations to Shetland they will do so, whether they have a shore base or not.

Indeed, the fact that the Poles are to work from Lerwick affords an opportunity for some degree of surveillance, and certainly for the settlement of any disputes that may arise. The same applies to the Russian fleet, which would be less troublesome if they anchored in Shetland harbours, instead of in the centre of Shetland inshore fishing grounds.

The problem is one of overfishing of the North Sea, and the immediate problem one of overfishing on Shetland’s inshore grounds. And fishermen can be assured that Lerwick people are not indifferent to the serious threat to their livelihoods.

Nothing can be done at a level lower than international to conserve North Sea herring stocks, but much can be done nationally to preserve inshore white fishing, and a national campaign, starting at local level with a demand for an exclusive fishery limit round Shetland – in a similar way to that now being worked in Faroe – would be a positive step forward.

Britain has admitted Faroe’s need to preserve her inshore fisheries for her own fishermen, and she cannot refuse to do less for Shetland – provide Shetland fishermen show that that is what they want.

100 Years Ago

While on a voyage from Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A., to Rotterdam, the steamer Ilderton, of London, Captain Crooks, sighted a vessel flying signals of distress, on 22nd April, in lat. 48 56N, long. 18 32W. The vessel proved to be the Danish schooner Lily, of Truro, and the crew asked to be taken off, as they could not save their ship. At the time the vessel was sighted, it was blowing a westerly gale, and there was a very heavy cross sea running.

Capt. Crooks, after consulting with his officers, decided to try and rescue the men off the Lily. The port lifeboat was then lowered away in charge of Mr G. Arthur, second officer, and a crew of five men. Mr Arthur and his crew skilfully guided their boat to leeward of the sinking vessel, and although the boat was in great danger of being smashed against the side of the schooner, they transferred the men in safety.

The passage back to the steamer was performed without mishap, despite the heavy sea running, and the rescued men were got on board. Owing to the steamer rolling very heavily, and the very high seas running, great difficulty was experienced in getting the lifeboat on board, but this was successfully accomplished.

Mr George Arthur is a native of North Nesting, and the two Shetlanders who formed part of the boat’s crew along with him were Messrs A. Irvine, South Yell, and H. Moar, Sandsting.


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