17th November 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

DVD tells boatbuilding story as it was, with no airs and graces

Vaila Mae – The Making of a Sixareen. DVD published by Northern Coastal Ex­pe­ri­ence in conjunction with Shetland Amenity Trust.

Anyone coming across the Vaila Mae pulled up at Hay’s Dock at the moment, in front of the Shetland Museum, can’t deny she’s a “lump o a boat”.

Back in 2004 Shetland Amenity Trust secured funding for Shetland’s participation in a northern periph­eries project, Northern Coastal Ex­per­ience (NorCE) – doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue does it? But this brought an opportunity to invest in an aspect of our heritage which was under threat of disappearing altogether.

Sixareens were built to go to the deep-water line fishing (da far haaf). From 1700-1880 they fished for ling and other whitefish. They were also used as flit boats.

It is difficult for us to conceive today how vital and how much movement was made around the isles by sea, as roads were mere tracks and very much the underdog of communication.

By the beginning of the last century sixareens were obsolete in the commercial fishing effort. Many rotted where they were dragged up for the last time, or despondently ended up as hen house roofs.

In 1960 the owners of the Industry gave her to the Shetland Folk Society, and in turn she was passed to the museum. It was 40 years before her display and time had taken her toll. It was decided that a new craft, the Vaila Mae, would be based on this vessel.

This DVD tells the story of her building and launch. The stars of the show are Jack Duncan, Robbie Tait and of course the “build” herself. As two men who served their time as boat builders, and having been taken out of retirement, we follow the building process from the laying of the keel to the hoisting of the sail.

The main feature lasts 45 minutes and is mainly a pedestrian deliber­ation by Robbie who, without airs and graces, tells it like it is. Very much like he is away from the camera, as is Jack.

The extra features on this DVD run to 65 minutes! They range from Peter Johnson demonstrating had­dock lines to Malcom Hutchison talking about a unique tool invented by the late Davie Bruce that allows you to operate, like an octopus, while at work. All intriguing stuff, thoroughly suited to salty boaty types. You can pick up a copy at the museum shop.

Stephen Gordon