The Shetland Museum’s very own sixareen Vaila Mae was taking visitors around Lerwick harbour on a glorious Wednesday where sun and a gentle breeze made it a real pleasure to be on the water.
The 30ft boat, a near exact replica of the sixareen Industry that can be seen in the museum, was the first of the type to be built in Shetland in over 100 years. The original was built as a mail boat with especially fine lines at the bow, which enables her to slip smoothly through the sea.
Completed eight years ago by the museum’s expert craftsmen Robert Tait, Malcolm Hutchison, and Jack Duncan, Vaila Mae was in the sound hands of Brian Wishart on the tiller, Gibbie Fraser on the bow line and Ewan Balfour who was in charge of the hard work of hoisting and lowering the boat’s dipping lugsail.
The sleek vessel showed a good turn of speed in the light wind and felt as steady as a rock in the water. According to her sailors, the boat has made nine-and-a-half knots in the right conditions and once sailed from Foula to Walls in one hour 20 minutes.
The passengers on board were given a chance at the tiller, the sheets and handling the lug sail and yard when it came time to “dip” on a tack or gybe.
Mr Wishart managed to combine most of the steering with a running commentary on all aspects of Shetland sixareens and the tricks of past mariners to squeeze every bit of speed out of them, including going barefoot to get a better feel for the sea beneath the boards.
Communication between the helm and the halyard was paramount in the old days, and this was developed to an almost telepathic level in sixareen crews, said Mr Wishart. No verbal communication was necessary, or perhaps even possible, when running before a strong wind.
Among those on board was Ullapool boat builder and writer for Classic Boat magazine, Adrian Morgan, who said that Vaila Mae “handled like a dinghy”. Mr Morgan, who specialises in clinker built dinghies said that he was very impressed with the boat festival even if the weather on Monday and Tuesday morning had been “like Ullapool, plus plus.”