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Stop the Rot!

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

A rotting Shetland fourareen in its noost at Peerie Spiggie, Dunrossness. Photograph ©Moder Dy, 2019.
A disintegrating fourareen in its noost at Peerie Spiggie. Photograph ©Moder Dy, 2019.

In my opinion there is nothing sadder than seeing a traditional Shetland boat lying in its noost, slowly rotting away. Sadly many of these boats finally end their days on a bonfire; either on November 5th, Guy Fawkes night, or during Shetland's Up Helly Aa fire festival season. Indeed friends of mine (Malcolm Hutchison and Angus McNeil) last November rescued a boat from a bonfire pyre on Yell. This boat turned out to be 19th century and is an important artefact which is now being restored by Gibby Fraser, in Walls. More to come on this restoration soon!

I have been on the look out for a fourareen for a while as well, and when I saw the boat in the above photo I hot footed it to Peerie Spiggie in a full on gale to have a look. From the photo this fourareen looks in a salvable condition. Sadly in reality this boat is beyond saving in its current form. The best thing that could be done would be to take off the lines from the original boat and then build a replica. Boats rotting in their noosts are far too common in Shetland! Having said that of course their numbers are diminishing each year, and it won't be long before none are left. The end of Shetland's maritime cultural heritage is upon us, and it is up to each of us to act NOW to Stop the Rot!

This brings me on to someone I met recently, Chris Gadsby, a fellow sooth-moother from Kent in England. Chris moved to Shetland last year with his family, and he too has been taken with the beauty of Shetland's traditional small boats.

Recently Chris made an inquiry to Dr Ian Tait, Curator of Shetland Museum & Archives, about obtaining a boat to restore: Chris is now the proud owner of Aurora who was built by the illustrious Lerwick boat builder Jimmy Smith. Aurora I am sure you will agree is lovely, and being just 9ft (2.7m) of keel, 16ft (4.8m) over the stems is an easily manageable boat for one or two people. Aurora's history is missing currently, but from the looks of this pretty boat she was probably built in the 1960's for recreation, most likely regatta sailing. She requires new stems and keel, some of the planking needs attention; a lick of paint, a new set of oars, and ideally a sailing rig, and she will be ready to take to the water again!

Chris is really keen to learn all about Shetland's small boat history and culture and has signed-up for our workshop which is being run in partnership with Shetland Museum & Archives on Saturday 27th April. Ian, Esther and I are super excited as this is going to be a great day, tickets are selling well and numbers are limited so don’t leave it too late if you want to come and join us!

Ian Tait put Chris in touch with me and at the beginning of March I drove out west to meet Chris and take a look at his gorgeous boat. I have to say I was just a tad envious, and this spurred me on to look for my own boat to save. After my mad, disappointing dash to Peerie Spiggie last Sunday I put a shout out on the Traditional Wooden Boats Built in Shetland Facebook page. I was amazed that within an hour a friend, and extremely knowledgeable Shetland boat devotee, Malcolm Hutchison had messaged me with a possible boat!

Malcolm and Angus you will recall rescued a boat from a bonfire on Yell. Well that same day they also rescued another fourareen from Yell. This boat is called Girl Christie. She was built at Skaw on Whalsay by boatbuilder Davie Bruce in the early 1960's and is 10 ft of keel (3m), 17ft (5.2m) over the stems, and 5ft (1.5m) in the beam. As Malcolm pointed out the boat is very traditional in shape and is rather pretty. I went and saw Girl Christie in Malcolm's shed last week, and I am delighted be taking this boat on for restoration. Like Chris' boat there is not huge amounts to do. Both the fore and aft top stem sections need replacing, and there are some splits in some of the strakes. Generally the condition of the planking is very good. Oars need to be made and a few other bits of woodwork need to be attended to, but nothing major.

I spoke with my son Matt last night and he is also very pleased to have at last a fourareen in the family. Matt (14) who lives with his mum in Nottingham enjoys sailing traditional Shetland boats, and for the last three summers during Shetland Boat Week he has crewed with me on the gorgeous sixareen, Vaila Mae. Matt was slightly disappointed that I wont have the time to rig the boat for sailing this summer, however I pointed out that this year we can really get to know the boat simply by rowing, indeed, we are already planning a coastal rowing camping trip, lets hope we get another fine summer!

Matt taking a turn at the helm of Vaila Mae during Boat Week. Photograph ©Moder Dy 2019

Written by Marc Chivers, Friday 22 March 2019

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