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Witnessing people in an environment in which they are totally at home is a satisfying experience.
Last week I was on a day trip from Holy Loch, Dunoon, on a converted fishing boat, accompanied among others by my friend, 81-year-old Alec Thorburn, an ex-fisherman originally from Fisherrow, Musselburgh.
He is the great uncle of Rory Thorburn Grindlay, who plays drums in the band, and when we were offered the opportunity to take the trip, we thought Alec would be the perfect person to join us.
The boat we were on, Splendour, was built in 1959 by Jones’s yard of Buckie at around the same time that Alec, aged just 21, had his own first boat, Honestas, built. Seeing Alec looking totally at home in the surroundings, especially when he took the helm, and hearing his stories and recollections of fishing days gone by, were the highlights of an enjoyable day.
As well as being a great storyteller, Alec is also a fine singer and he recently recorded backing vocals on our recording of the song below.
As we steamed up the Kyles of Bute, Alec was talking of the huge number of boats, fishermen and families that, in his time, had fished in that area. Changed days when compared with the present time.
Last of the Hunters, Angus MacPhail
Here’s a health to the fishermen who plough the lonely sea
And battle with the ocean where it’s in their blood to be.
Dear the fruitful bounty of the blind and savage foam.
They’re the last of the hunters, and they’re proudly sailing home.
Away to the fishing ground against a flooding tide
The hunters of the wild, now the last in our time.
Through living gale and storm they sail, the crystal sea they roam.
They’re the heart of every harbour when the boats come sailing home.
Sailing home, sailing home,
The last of the hunters sailing home.
From the mighty fleets of Yarmouth to the deep-sea ships of Hull,
The famous Fleetwood trawlers all have suffered from the cull;
In Lossiemouth, Lochinver, Fisherrow and Pittenweem
Golden days in memory, but now a fading dream.
Quiet now the harbours where the distant echo rings,
Eriskay and Scalpay where the herring men were kings;
Laden deep for Stornoway, the skipper’s chair a throne
Legends of the sea and still their ghosts are sailing home.
A realm of strong intrepid men and heroes of renown
A shadow of the past, traded off and torn down;
The pawns in politicians’ games, lives ravaged to the bone
But still they go to sea and still the boats come sailing home.
And in Newlyn, Plymouth, Weymouth, Poole, The Wash and Grimsby town,
North Shields and Eyemouth, Peterhead, the Broch, they’ll hold their ground.
Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides, in Oban and Kintyre
Kilkeel, the Isle of Man and Killybegs, they will not die.
So we’ll toast the Mallaig trawlers and the creel men of the West,
Pelagic ships of Whalsay and the seiners of Caithness,
Brixham beamers, Cornish crabbers, and in every pier and cove
We’ll give a welcome at the harbour when the boats come sailing home.