Pilot Us takes trip round harbour

The well-known ex-fishing boat Pilot Us was the first vessel to take a tour of Lerwick Harbour as part of Shetland Boat Week on a breezy and bracing Tuesday afternoon.

Pilot Us was built from wood in 1931 by Willie MacKay Forbes of Sandhaven, and spent much of her early years as a duty boat in Scapa Flow during the Second World War. She was involved in the rescue of survivors from the Royal Oak after the battleship was torpedoed by a U-boat.

She first came to Shetland in 1948 when she was bought by the Watt brothers of Scalloway, who were well known as Ninky and Dodo, for the grand sum of £1,200. It was widely believed that the Watts would never manage to pay her off, but she grossed £600 in her first year and was fully paid off within three.

The Watts tried many different kinds of fishing with Pilot Us from seine-netting, long-lining for halibut, and creeling to even fishing for sharks. The brothers operated her for nearly their entire working lives and she continued fishing till 2001.

She was originally powered by a 30hp Kelvin diesel engine before being re-engined with a 48hp Gardner engine in 1950 and then a 56hp Gardner in 1968.

Passengers on the Pilot Us on Tuesday included Barbara Ivacic and Andrej Gubina – a couple from Slovenia, which has only 46km of Mediterranean coastline – and a pair visiting from Dundee – Heather Cracknell and Lewis Nesbet (originally from Lerwick) . One of the lecturers at Boat Week, Marc Chivers, was doubling up as deckhand on the Pilot Us, which was skippered by Trevor Jamieson.

Both the Slovenes and the Dundonians seemed to enjoy their trip around the north harbour, with the blast of cold air complemented by the occasional slosh of sea-water in the face.

Pilot Us represents an essentially transitional phase of boat technology in the Shetland fleet, with her versatility belied by her simplicity of design. Low powered by today’s standards, she was nonetheless a big step up from the steam-powered vessels that preceded her. She also contained little of the electronic wizardry that modern fishing boats depend on and her open deck means she would be a very wet boat by today’s standards.

Mr Chivers, a PHD student on the Shetland Boat, said that the boat festival had been brilliant and very interesting so far.


Add Your Comment
  • Sandra Sutherland

    • August 10th, 2016 9:19

    Just a slight correction to your article. The Pilot Us was originally brought to Shetland by fishermen from South Whiteness, Smiths I think, but they didn’t have her for long before she was sold to my grandfather, Jimmy Alex Watt and his three sons Ian (Pinder), Magnus (Ninkie) and my father, Joseph (Dodo), on the 24th May 1948, my father’s18th birthday.

  • Allan Wishart

    • August 10th, 2016 19:00

    Yes, the Smiths in South Whiteness were my uncles Harry and Johnnie.


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