An innovative business which developed a revolutionary new sailing mast system designed to help fishermen curb fuel costs has moved a step closer to entering full-scale production.
A research and development grant of £6,501 has been handed to Sullom-based Sail Line Fish Ltd from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
The money will help cover the £20,000 development costs of the revolutionary new Balpha Mast system for small commercial and leisure craft. It will also help the business secure international property rights to the new product.
The man behind the venture is businessman Stuart Balfour, who gave a Balpha Mast prototype a public unveiling back in 2011.
He initially began work on the project from his Sullom workshop after becoming frustrated by crippling fuel bills which had proved to be a major headache in the fishing industry.
Now Mr Balfour hopes to develop a sail-assisted fishing vessel which will provide a working platform to test and trial the special mast.
His company currently sells its own line-caught fish and uses the proceeds to invest in the development of sail-assisted fishing.
Mr Balfour said: “We have been working on the development of the Balpha Mast for a number of years now and we’re really pleased that this support from HIE will enable us to take it from a proof of concept through to an investable proposition.
“This design work is progressing well, with involvement from naval architects Dick Koopmans in the Netherlands and Eric Sponberg, based in the USA.
“This international collaboration also includes local engineer Alan Jamieson and Ocean Kinetics Ltd.
“We’ve had a significant amount of market interest from across the world including Malaysia, Dubai, Maldives and Nova Scotia in addition to fishermen and sailors nearer to home.
“We are now looking to design and build a purpose-built sail-assisted fishing vessel which will provide a working platform to test and trial the Balpha Mast system.
“The aim of this project will be to take our products of high quality line caught fish and the Balpha Mast system from prototype to production.”
HIE development manager David Priest said: “We’re delighted to be able to support Stuart and the team at Sail Line Fish towards further development of the Balpha Mast.
“This ambitious and far sighted project may provide a low carbon alternative to commercial for fishing vessels and hopefully lead to a significant business opportunity for the company.”
Meanwhile, HIE also confirmed it was investing £16,000 in Scalloway company QA Fish Ltd to help it diversify into crab processing.
The company announced its expansion plans, aimed at securing nine new jobs, last year.