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Learn About Fishing Boats of Viking Origin.

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Photograph of a two-masted Hastings beach lugger on display outside the Hastings Fishermen's Museum, Old Town, Hastings
Hastings Punt 'Rebecca May of Lade' on display outside the Hastings Fishermen's Museum, note the deep forefoot and the lute transom. Photograph: ©Marc Chivers, 2016. Note also the boat shed in the background and to the right of this the net drying sheds.

As most of you know I've been in Eastbourne for a few weeks supporting my unwell, 91 year old, mum. Whilst in Eastbourne I became interested in the comparison between vernacular fishing boats from nearby Hastings with those from Shetland. The common denominator between Hastings and Shetland is that boats were launched and recovered from the beach. Beach based fishing boats were in common use around much of the coast of the United Kingdom until the early part of the twentieth century; and it is quite remarkable how hull-form and construction varied between one county and another (March 1970, McKee 1983). The fascinating thing is that boatbuilding localities always claimed their boats to be the best and, as boat ethnographer, Eric McKee pointed out "... It is hard to recall a single boatbuilder praising another’s work, unless it was the master that taught him or, more rarely an outstanding apprentice. This is not through any lack of generosity of spirit on the part of the boatbuilder, but it seems to grow out of a need to believe that the way that he builds a boat is the ideal way, with the rider that any other way is not” (McKee 1983: 45).

Shetland Boat imports

The Norse began to colonise Shetland during the middle part of the ninth century. Shetland was treeless by this period, and so the colonisers had to import timber, and wooden goods they needed, which included boats, from their west Norwegian homeland. This import trade lasted until the mid-nineteenth century, with boats being imported either ready built or in rough-cut component form (Batey 2016: 39-40, Chivers, Stratigos, and Tait 2019: 442-446, Christensen 1968: 30-32, Davis 2011: 34, Fenton 1978: 552, Osler 1983: 15, Sunde 2010: 19, Thowsen 1969: 147). Originally Norse these boats overtime developed, and by the nineteenth century these boats had become a uniquely Shetland product (Chivers 2017: 287-377).