Ullapool Celebrates ‘Klondyke’ Past

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A day trip on a tour boat at Ullapool led to a museum exhibition in the village. Passenger Frank Hempel from Naumburg in Germany got talking with a crew member aboard the Summer Queen and it turned out both had worked with the Klondyke fishing fleet - a large fleet of Eastern Bloc factory ships that used to anchor in the loch off Ullapool processing mackerel from the 1970s to early 90s.

Frank had sailed upon these boats having left school to become a seaman and net maker aboard what were in those days East German vessels. Summer Queen crewman Noel Hawkins had worked as a ferry man taking stores and personnel to and from shore.

This encounter led to an exchange of old photographs, including some from a day in the early 80s when fishermen came ashore to play football with a local team.

This friendly exchange was quite controversial at the time as cold-war tensions were running high and the game was described as a threat to western society by television networks in America and Australia and even found its way into the Daily Record’s cartoon strip Angus Ogg.

Interest in these picture inspired Ullapool Museum to speak with Frank who was invited to return to the village and record his memories with museum staff.

Not only did he share memories and stories but he also brought some souvenirs from his time as a seaman including an original ship flag and his original seaman’s logbook recording his very first visit to Scotland.

His first trip to Ullapool was in 1981 as a 17 year old – where he tried his first ever beer at the Seaforth Bar by Ullapool Harbour – and he continued to return until the end of the 80s when the fall of the wall saw the end of the Klondyke industry.

Having left fishing and taken over a successful fashion business in Germany, Frank and his wife Beate and daughter Lena now visit Scotland every year – but by land these days.

They travelled over for the opening of the exhibition and to contribute to the celebration of a special time for the village and Frank himself.

Ullapool Museum Curator Helen Avenell was keen to put together the exhibition to remember and celebrate what was a remarkable piece of local history, her own father used to sell electronics to the fleet, including a cassette player to Frank.

“As word spread that we were planning an exhibition about the klondykers, many people in the village that had worked with the ships and businesses supplying stores, personnel and ferrying came forward to share their recollections as well as pictures and memorabilia.

A local man Charlie Allen had compiled a huge collection of photographs through the time that he worked on board ferries serving the fleet.

Sadly Charlie passed away last year but his family allowed us to borrow and scan his collection which provided us with many of the images on display. Having Frank contribute his recollections from the perspective of the boats has really made the exhibition special and we hope more people will still come forward with their memories and memorabilia as the exhibition goes on.”

One surprising item that came forward was an original sealed bottle of Russian vodka that originally came ashore in the early 1980s. Set to run throughout the summer, museum staff have been given strict instructions that the vodka bottle is to remain sealed until the end of the exhibition.

Further information about Ullapool Museum is available online at: website

Story and images courtesy of Noel Hawkins