Sixern utilises century old technology

Replica sixareen Vaila Mae took to the sea this past weekend with weather conditions permitting the use of a centuries old sail technology to improve stability in strong winds.

The vessel, built in 2008 by craftsmen Jack Duncan and Robbie Tait in the boat shed next to the Shetland Museum, features a traditional lug sail that rises to a peak towards the stern of the boat.

Those sails in former times sometimes had a special row of reef points placed higher up so as to remove this peak and make the sail more or less square.

This was called a “squaring reef” and is what crew used during her weekend voyage.

The Vaila Mae

Crew member Brian Wishart said: “When taken in it has the effect of making the boat better balanced; steadier and more manageable in strong winds and heavy seas, and Saturday provided a good opportunity to try it out.

“Since it is perhaps 130 years since the far haaf fishing was common, it is unlikely that this particular device has been used since then and we all felt delighted at how well the boat responded, yet I think a little awed by the significance of the vast intervening period and the changes in particular to Shetland boats, their history, and evolution over that time.”

A full report will appear in this week’s Shetland Times, out Friday.


Add Your Comment
  • Robert Wishart

    • October 5th, 2021 14:44

    Why should we all have been surprised at how well the “squaring reef” worked? After all, most old devices worked because they were simple and well-tested and lives depended on them. After about 1min35secs in the video you can clearly see how well the sail set with the squaring reef in and the tack taken well aft (the two “normal” reefs used to windward were shaken out). The balance of the sail was near perfect and there was no peak to twist off and make the rig unbalanced, no need to oversheet the sail to keep the twist under control, and you could run all most dead downwind without any tendency for the sail to induce roll. She ran so true the helm hardly needed to be touched .
    Thanks to Brian for putting this into effect. If you want to see the Vaila Mae remain in service and help see another Shetland boat festival join the Shetland Maritime Heritage Society. See

    • Ian Cooper

      • October 5th, 2021 15:22

      I am afraid the Vaila Mae link doesn’t work. I desperately want to sail on her, so much that I thought of changing my name to Maurice Henderson and learning the fiddle.


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