I have mentioned in previous blogs my fascination with listening to crofters stories for well over 50 years. However one of my favourite stories regarding a crofter fisherman actually involves me being an integral part of the story. I have well documented my failings as a fisherman in my younger years in the blog of the Roadside Beanie. When I was 13 my dad invited me to go off to the drift net herring fishing on the family fishing vessel the Dauntless, my first “deep” water fishing experience. We left Lerwick harbour on a beautiful summer’s day passing by the islands of Bressay and Noss to the east of Lerwick. We were heading for a fishing ground known as Millscore, 22 miles South South East of the headland called the Bard on Bressay.
I was fairly anxious about this experience taking into account my previous trips at sea albeit inland, and on a smaller boat. I was assured that I would feel a lot better as this was a larger vessel, and I could take the wheel and keep us on course for the fishing grounds. At first my uncle the skipper was on watch for the first hour reassuring me I was keeping on course following the overhead compass. My uncle left the wheel house as we were joined by the cook, an elderly gentleman who hailed from the North East of Scotland. He too said I was coping well and he would leave me and attend to other duties. I would keep glancing out the rear wheelhouse window watching the Shetland mainland recced into the distance and then to disappear altogether.
There was no sign of the cook and it seemed a long time since he left me. I clearly recall looking out the port window and could not believe what I was seeing a solitary fisherman in a small boat, occasionally dipping out of sight between the undulating sea swell. He gave me a wave which I returned still not believing someone could be so far off with no land in sight.
Some- time later my other uncle arrived checking the compass and asking where was the cook, I explained I had not seen for what seemed like hours, sincerely hoping he had not gone overboard. I asked about the man in the boat so far from land, I was told it was Tammie o Gorie, a crofter from the south end of Bressay, and that he was catching fish by hand line. It appeared to be fairly common to see him fishing in this area. I have explained in a past blog what unfolded on my first solitary fishing trip, it would be fair to say it was a defining moment in my life!
It was during the wool season of 1967 when weighing in this particular crofters wool clip I came across the croft name Gorie Bressay. I told him of my previous sighting of him several years before and the circumstances. He smiled and said “so you weren’t cut out for the fishing “. My last sighting of Tammie of Gorie was in a grocer shop at the bottom of King Harald Street where he was selling or bartering his dried salt fish. If I am correct the shop keeper was formerly from the island of Bressay. This was fairly common occurrence in the life of the crofter fisherman, a way of life and a case of survival and making a living.
Quite a few years later I had the good fortune of actually visiting Gorie. Sadly the croft house was empty, Tammie having passed away. I had a good look around the croft and found it had been well cared for. In the walled enclosure well away from the sheep there were fruit bushes and it was obvious the garden had been well worked providing all types of vegetables for the house holder. I asked a local Bressay man who told me had acquired Tammie’s boat, called the Veng, after an area in the south end of Bressay. He had gifted it to our local museum so hopefully it will be restored to its former glory and a testimony to the life of a crofter fisherman for generations to come. I for one will always remember my first sighting of Tammie o Gorie, in my eyes a legend!