Shetland Boat Week got off to a (literally) flying start with unseasonal gales that cancelled out harbour boat trips, but Dr Ian Tait of Shetland Museum and Archives was in fine form entertaining visitors to the amenity trust’s Staney Hill boat store.
The store, he explained, is part of the trust’s plans to take on a boat building apprentice and has been fitted with a boat building workshop and sale loft, where the apprentice will learn the waning craft of wooden boat building and sail making using traditional methods.
It was a special occasion for Sutherland brothers Jim, David and Graham as they were reunited with the Shetland made Shaldur, which brought back fond childhood memories. The boat once belonged to their father Norman who along with Bertie Moad was a major figure in Shetland regattas.
Dr Tait gave a guided tour of the boat store which houses many fine and historic Shetland model boats – mainly haddock boats – that have been restored to their original state by the museum’s boatbuilders using original materials.
Most of the boats, some of which date from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, were “upgraded” with the addition of engines and other mod-cons to try and extend their life as operational fishing vessels. Others pulled double duty as racing yachts or flit-boats used for moving livestock and general merchandise between the isles. Some had reached a pathetic state before being overhauled by the museum carpenters.
While several of Monday’s visitors were local, a few had come from farther afield such as a German couple who were visiting Shetland as part of a Scottish tour and who planned to visit Unst on Tuesday.
Dr Tait demonstrated a seeming encyclopaedic knowledge of the vessels in the store, their construction methods, history and the difficulties of laying hands on authentic parts and materials, especially iron roves and sems for repairing the clinker built hulls.
Anyone with even a passing interest in Shetland boats would do well to book onto one of the Dr Tait’s tours on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
Meanwhile in the museum’s boat building shed boatbuilders Robbie Tait and Jack Duncan were on hand to explain some of the restoration work currently being undertaken.
The pair have been working on the restoration of the , believed to be one of only two surviving lifeboats from the liner Oceanic which foundered on the Foula Shaalds in 1914.
Since then she was put to use as a ferry and flit-boat to Bressay, before moving to the ownership of Magnie Anderson in Yellsound as a flitboat among other things. She was laid up at Ulsta sometime in the 1970s before making her way to Cunningsburgh where she was used ashore before being to bought by the amenity trust for restoration.
Mr Anderson’s nephew Colin was one of the visitors to the boat store today and said that seeing the vessel being restored to her original state had been a delightful thing.
One of his fondest memories of the Norna was being on a fishing trip off Luna where mist came down and the vessel ended up being at sea all night. Mr Tulloch was tasked to keep watch on the bow and was amazed when a school of pilot whales started playing around the boat. The animals were visible many feet below the surface it was such fine, calm conditions, he recalled.