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History Alive: The Swan


A familiar sight in Shetland waters is the restored sail-fishing vessel, Swan, which, during the 1990s, was rescued and restored by a group of concerned enthusiasts.

The Swan first took to the water in May 1900 at Hay's Dock in Lerwick, where boat-building – albeit on a smaller scale – is still carried out today in the original boat-sheds attached to the new Shetland Museum and Archives. At the time she was launched, sail-fishing vessels had reached the peak of their development and were beginning to be replaced by the new steam drifters. However, the Swan remained a sailing vessel until 1935, when she was fitted with an engine and began a new chapter in her career. She wasn't finally retired from service until the 1950s and in 1960 she was taken initially to Grimsby, the intention being to convert her into a houseboat.

Unfortunately, years of neglect followed; but, in 1989, with the Swan decaying in a Hartlepool dock, a businessman decided to restore her. He made a start, but was unable to devote enough time to the project. He advertised the Swan for sale and there was immediate interest from a number of people in Shetland, who formed a charitable trust to buy the vessel, bring her back to Shetland and restore her. Once back in Shetland, it became clear that the work required was more extensive than had been expected. However, the Swan Trust persevered and the Swan was re-launched in May 1996.

Since then, the vessel has carried thousands of people keen to experience the thrill of sailing on a substantial commercial sailing ship. Many of these people have been children and young people but the Swan also operates a number of trips each year for adults. Those who sail on her learn don't just learn the practical skills required, they also gain valuable team-working experience. She has taken part in the Tall Ships Races and has made voyages all around the North Sea and west to the Hebrides, St Kilda and the Faroe Islands.

A sail (or more) on the Swan is one of the essential Shetland experiences. There's more information on the Swan Trust's website.

Related Links

  • Swan Trust - Teaching and keeping alive the techniques of sailing and working a traditional sail Fifie
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