Why write books about fishing boats?

Fishing boats of Campbeltown Shipyard and Shipyard Memorabilia. Courtesy of Jan Nimmo.

Peter Drummond, photographer of fishing boats and co-author of Fishing Boats of Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Jan Nimmo.

Peter Drummond is co-author, along with Sam Henderson, of the comprehensive book, Fishing Boats of Campbeltown Shipyard, published in 2009 by The History Press. Peter and Sam’s book, apart from documenting each boat photographically from A-Z, also lists painstakingly key details about each vessel. There is a useful introduction to the history of Campbeltown Shipyard, the skippers who commissioned boats there and their successes with the boats and the challenges that faced the yard in its later days. The book, Fishing Boats of Campbeltown Shipyard, is clearly a labour of love and is invaluable to anyone interested in Campbeltown-built boats. 

Peter and Sam have written other books on boats: Sputniks and Spinningdales and Built by Nobles of Girvan.

Here Peter responds to our questions “Why write books about fishing boats?” and “Why write about Campbeltown Shipyard?”.

Why write books about fishing boats? Why spend hours taking their pictures, sometimes waiting for ages for a boat to move and/or freezing on a breakwater somewhere?

Well, there was a nice buzz about a busy fishing harbour back in the days when we had quite a few of them in this country. The place pulsed with life, boats coming and going, discharging catches. A big catch was always exciting, so was a mixture of species that had you wondering what was going to emerge from the hold next. Auctioneers barked, a fleet of lorries carried the catches away, damaged nets were spread on the quayside for repair.  And the next day it happened all over again.

If you’re exposed to this at an early age, in later years you reflect on the amazing extent to which childhood influences linger.

When you get big enough to use a decent camera, the hunter’s instinct kicks in. You’re out to see how much you can catch and a fishing boat, preferably recently painted, can make a very nice image. OK, it doesn’t depict the whole reality. It doesn’t show the drudgery, brutally hard work, danger, disappointment and sometimes outright misery that can be a fisherman’s life. But it’s nonetheless real for all that, a good moment in time captured forever and we all need a few of those in our lives.

Why write about fishing boats built by Campbeltown Shipyard? Why not? Pragmatically speaking, you have a sizeable but manageable number of boats. They were built relatively recently as these things go, and they were big enough to appear in Nautical Almanacs and other sources containing details of British fishing vessels. Therefore the target of obtaining at least one photograph of the whole fleet is achievable, even if the process of achieving it verges on being masochistic. It ain’t easy, folks. Nor is it easy to find all the information you want and make your book as accurate as it can possibly be. You get omissions from official records, you can find mistakes in official records. Eg different sources sometimes give different dimensions for the same boat, something which has on occasion led to the remark “Do these b—– things shrink in water?”

Enough about pragmatism. Let’s talk about fun. You don’t want to look back the way with too many rosy tints in the spectacles, but there’s no reason not to focus primarily on the positive. Campbeltown Shipyard was active during some of the best years the fishing industry will ever know. The yard began building small stern trawlers which were fine little sea boats; they could fairly catch fish and they could also carry a heck of a lot for vessels of their size. But things got spectacular with the later and larger seiners and trawlers. They were nearly all active during the years when very big grossings were there to be had and vessel earnings were a matter of general public knowledge. The big seiners started it off in the early 1970s. They started well and got better. As more top skippers built new boats at the yard, the performances got better still. Record catches were regularly reported and it wasn’t just one or two boats that were doing this. A remarkable number of the yard’s big seiners got in on the act. Looking at annual grossings, chances were the national champion seiner would be one built by Campbeltown Shipyard and it wasn’t unknown for the year’s top three seiners to have come from the yard. Later on, the larger vessels engaged primarily in trawling proved equally capable. More earnings records tumbled as these vessels showed what they could do, and more leading skippers built sister vessels.

Many of the larger vessels were based at Peterhead where one section of the harbour, “Campbeltown Corner” became almost famous as you could find up to a dozen boats lying there – all of them built by Campbeltown Shipyard. You could see a line of four Campbeltown 87 footers following each other out to sea – pity we didn’t have drones in those days as it would’ve made a nice piece of film.

So why remember Campbeltown Shipyard? Surely that’s self-explanatory from the performances turned in by the yard’s products? It’s always nice to recollect and catalogue success achieved by skill and hard work, and this really was a pinnacle of it.     

Peter Drummond, August 2019

Peter Drummond and Sam Henderson co-authors of Fishing Boats of Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Jan Nimmo.


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