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Ashore and Afloat - Shetland Boat Week

by Alastair Hamilton -

The second Shetland Boat Week, held in mid-August, was blessed with generally good weather and attracted lots of interest from both locals and visitors. A great selection of events, ranging from talks to cookery sessions, meant that there was something for everyone to enjoy.

A veritable fleet of traditional craft was on display around the historic Hay’s Dock, next to Shetland Museum and Archives. There were many versions of the Shetland boat, ranging from the smaller dinghies right up to a much larger ‘yoal’. Such boats have been used for every purpose, from fishing to moving peats or sailing. Their largest cousins, the six-oared boats known as sixareens, were once the backbone of the Shetland fishing industry; one of the oldest survivors of that type is kept inside the Museum’s boat hall. Men used to row them fifty to sixty miles into the open Atlantic to engage in line-fishing.

One of the less familiar craft to be seen on the outer pier was the Brünnhilde, a fine yacht, with exquisite lines, that is said to be one of the most beautiful vessels ever constructed in Shetland.

At the other end of the finger pier was a splendid ship’s lifeboat with an interesting story to tell. It was the last to carry passengers away from the sinking liner Oceanic, which hit rocks off the western Shetland island of Foula in September 1914. She had been requisitioned and converted to an armed cruiser, and was on passage to undertake patrols around the Faroes. The lifeboat was later to provide a service between Lerwick and the adjacent island of Bressay; she ended her working life carrying sheep in the north of Shetland.

Not far away, a Faroese design, immaculately finished and looking immensely strong, also drew lots of attention. It’s owned by Dave Parham, whose day job includes producing excellent smoked salmon.

But Boat Week wasn’t just about looking at boats. There were plenty of opportunities to get afloat aboard one of the Museum’s vessels or on Shetland’s very own tall ship, the Swan. Built in 1900, in the sheds that have today been incorporated into the Museum, she was lovingly restored in Shetland after lying for many years in a Hartlepool dock.

Nor was that all. A surprise guest was another tall ship, the Belem, which tied up at Victoria Pier in the centre of Lerwick. She has an interesting history. Built to carry sugar, cocoa and coffee to France from the West Indies, Brazil and French Guiana, she subsequently saw service as a private yacht for the Duke of Westminster and Sir Arthur Guinness, then became a sail training ship based in Venice. Eventually, she returned to her original port, Nantes and was completely restored.

Davy Cooper of Shetland Amenity Trust, which organised the event, told me that one of the striking things this year had been the numbers of volunteers who came forward to lend a hand with the activities. There seems to be increasing interest in traditional boats across all generations and that bodes well for the future.

Posted in: Heritage

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