The later decades of the 20th Century saw the return of a lucrative fishing industry to Lochbroom and Ullapool, after years of barely sustaining itself. This time it was an influx of fishing vessels from the eastern soviet bloc that initiated a fishing boom that would last until the mid-1990s.
Donnie MacLeod remembers,
The first ones to arrive at this port were Bulgarian …from then on others arrived from various countries within the communist regime. There were East German, Romanian, Russian, Polish, and others like Italian, Egyptian….they all arrived in sequence after that.
Their main trade was herring and mackerel, which they bought off of the local trawlers and then processed in huge factory ships in the loch before it was shipped back to soviet soil.
The presence of the factory ships in Lochbroom brought opportunities for the communities as well as the new arrivals. John MacLeod describes how his business boomed as a result of supplying the large ships.
Some of our orders were actually colossal, tons and tons of fruit and vegetables went out to those ships. Russian ships, transport ships were calling in from Murmansk on their way down to Morocco, Namibia or the Falkland Isles….they would call in at Ullapool and we would fill up those ships for those ships with provisions for those foreign ports.
Some of the orders were huge. One time the Russians celebrated [Unity Day] on the 12th of November. At that time we had 5 mother Russian ships out there. One captain asked me could he have had 200 kg of grapes with his order.
Other accounts tell us of TVs, Radios and even cars being sold to the ship to export back home to their families. All in all the local retailers did well out of the trade with the fishing boats and that is not where the interaction stopped.
It was inevitable that the two communities would engage with each other. Tina MacDonald tells us of her own experience, partying with the Klondykers.
We were very often invited on board if there was any celebrations and we’d go out on my husband’s Sea Rider, go on board. They made a fine spread of the food they had, fish, caviar [and] very often well-cooked baking goods. They were great bakers on board. We were entertained because there was a lot of singing, they loved their music and burst into song at a drop of a hat. There was a lot of vodka…many good evenings on board.
However, things were not always as clear cut. With the arrival of the communists in Ullapool, there was a general worry from the rest of the country that KGB spies were using Ullapool to enter the country without detection. This is a rumour that has persisted today yet there is no evidence at all that any of this was true, but that did not stop newspapers commenting on the ‘Ullapool Spy Probe’ in the 1980s.