Welcome to Moder Dy

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Well, sincere apologies for my neglect of this blog! Two and a half years is a long gap between posts. However it has been a very busy time. My PhD thesis titled Shetland Vernacular Boats 1500-2000 went through the viva voce process in August 2017, with minimal corrections, and I graduated from Aberdeen University in November 2017, hoorah! I am currently in the process of producing an edited version of my thesis which will be published as a book by Shetland Amenity Trust hopefully in the summer of 2020.

During this past year I have been wanting to pursue more research around Shetland’s vernacular maritime history, and I have been struggling to work out how best to achieve this goal. Happily, I am one of a select group of recent Shetland based PhD graduates who are of a similar mindset, and who have complimentary skills and expertise. As a consequence we have begun our own Shetland maritime heritage Community Interest Company (CIC) called Moder Dy. We are a not-for-profit organisation. This does not mean we do not wish, or need to make a profit, of course we do, it just means that any profit we make goes back into Moder Dy and the local community: We will just take a salary from the business. Moder Dy is a limited company by guarantee, which means that there will be no fat cat share dividends or bonuses for us!

So, the combination of not posting a word on this blog for two and a half years, plus, the creation of Moder Dy CIC now makes this blog kinda redundant! This however, I hope, does not mean goodbye. Instead I would like to encourage you to visit us at Moder Dy; have a look around our website, subscribe to our quarterly Newsletter, read our frequent blog posts, and maybe if you are local, or perhaps visiting Shetland, take part in some of our events!

I am very much looking forward to welcoming you to Moder Dy.

With very best wishes,




Ummh, its been a long time …


Well, apologies for not posting anything for several months, it is the count down until my PhD funding ends, so, I am just focusing on writing the thesis, and tying-up research loose ends. One of which is the last boat I am documenting for the PhD called “Ann” LK15 a fourareen built by Laurence Goodlad in Lerwick in 1899. I measured the boat last week and started to draw her yesterday evening. I will post the drawings once they are completed in a couple of weeks.

James Aitken, Da Houllsie, and a thought about oars

James Aitken standing in his fourern (built by Da Houllsie) at Quarff. James was Laurina Hecrculson of Houlls (East Burra Isle) great uncle. According to Laurina , James emigrated to New Zealand in 1910, so this photo must have been taken during the early 1900’s (Thank you to Laurina Herculson for this information).  Photo: ©Laurina Herculson, Houlls, East Burra Isle, Shetland.

This for me is a wonderful photograph taken in the early 1900’s. The fourern in the photo belonged to James Aitken, and was built by Da Houllsie (John Inkster of Houlls) at the dock at north Houlls. Of note in this photo is the fact that the mast is raised, Laurina says that whenever possible boats would sail from Burra to Quarff. The mast being stepped in the centre of the boat means that it was squaresail rigged. The sail can be seen rigged to the yard which is lying in the boat, forward of the mast. This along with the rudder being shipped suggests that the boat was sailed from Burra to Quarff. Obviously there is not a breath of wind in this photo, so the oars are near the kebs ready for use (perhaps the wind died on the way across and James rowed).

If you look carefully at the oars you will see the lovely long and slender blades. There is no spine on either face of the oar blades, which was normal practise in Shetland up until recent times. Having no spine on the face of the blades means that they will have been flexible, rather like the oars found in the region of Bjørnefjord, south of Bergen in Western Norway. Also of interest is the rudder stock which unlike Shetland boats of more recent times does not have a curved headstock (the curve allows easy shipping and removal of the helm).

Rudder from the halv yoal “Phar-Lapp”. Note the curved rudder headstock which allows easy shipping and un-shipping of the helm (tiller). Photo: ©Marc Chivers
One of a set of four-oars made by Johnny Bruce, Whalsay, for a fourern built on spec in 1945, now owned by Allister Rendal. Photo: ©Marc Chivers
Blade of the Bruce oar, note no spine on the oar face. Oar length = 318cm, blade length = 106cm,  blade width at tip = 9.5cm, blade thickness = 8mm at blade tip. This blade is very flexible. Photo: ©Marc Chivers


This pair of unfinished oars was begun by Robert Rendall, who used to make oars for Hay & Co (1959-1973). Note the absence of any spine on the blade face. Robert used to be paid 10 shillings (50p) for a pair of oars which would normally take a couple of nights to make, but  if a customer was in a hurry ,then Robert could make a pair, ready for finishing in five hours. (Thank you to Allister Rendall for this information). Photo: ©Marc Chivers


More about the Jimmy Smith boat

This is an email I had the other day from Brian Wishart, who came across this boat a few years back on Barra. Brian has kindly given his permission for me to use the contents of this email correspondence and the photos he took of the boat when he was on Barra.
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Photo: ©Brian Wishart
Photo: ©Brian Wishart
Photo: ©Brian Wishart
Photo: ©Brian Wishart
Photo:©Brian Wishart


Hi Marc
Just noticed your correspondence with the new owner of this boat, and thought to send you the pictures I took of her a few years ago when in Barra for a day. She is also known to Robert Tait and possibly Jack too. I think Robert has been there and seen her, so will be best placed to comment on the details of when and by whom built at Allcrafts. 
Some interesting features I noticed – she was unusually high in freeboard c/f others of her size in Shetland of that era. She also has sidedecks and small foredeck in deteriorating ply which may or may not have been an original feature. I thought they looked original. The after deck/cuddy would be a distinct jimmy Smith feature, certainly original,  This all seems to point at a one-off boat built as an extra-safe daysailer to a spec specified by the owner. Her condition was remarkably good beneath the cosmetics. Removing the ply and maybe not replacing it would nearly be enough to get her going again. I happened to meet the owner’s son at the time who spoke about a sailing rig, possibly gunter main and jib, stored inside.

An Allcraft boat built by Jimmy Smith



A chap called Tom Edwards contacted me about a boat he has recently acquired, and he wanted to know some more about it. I am pretty certain this is a Jimmy Smith boat, may have even been built by one of his apprentices: Jack Duncan, Robbie Tait or Alan Moncrieff.

So, this is Tom’s story about this boat. 

“My brother and I bought a skiff from a man on the Isle of Barra which is marked with a plate ‘Allcraft Lerwick’. The boat is about 16ft long stem to stern and came with a gunter rig and two oars, it’s in pretty poor condition. The boat is now in Edinburgh.

I have been told that the boat, which has no name, was bought in the 60s from Lerwick by an artist couple from London who visited Barra every summer. They used to sail with the local Doctor (Dr Hill) who also had the same type of boat, also bought directly from Lerwick, and were sufficiently impressed that they bought their own. I understand that the doctor’s boat has been restored and is owned by his family on the Isle of Seil. Our boat went through three hands on the Isle of Barra before it came to us. Most of this information came from the widow of Dr Hill who I believe is in her eighties.

We have discovered that it might have been made by Jimmy Smith and would be interested to know more about this boat.”

Tom Edwards, Edinburgh

“Kelpie” Another halv yoal, Sandwick

“Kelpie” minus her keel and boddamrunner (garboard) missing


“Kelpie” is a four-oared boat, but, is the same size as the “Phar-Lapp” and so could be easily converted to a six-oared boat.


The outboard bracket to take a seagull outboard which was added by John Irvine. The folk in the background are: Dr Ian Tait, Davy Johnson & Brian Wishart.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to be shown a lovely halv yoal called “Kelpie”. The boat belongs to Davy Johnson. “Kelpie” originally was the Laird’s boat and the boat was given by Mrs Valmai Bruce to Malcolm Smith. Davy acquired “Kelpie” when it seemed the boat was about to be burned. Continue reading ““Kelpie” Another halv yoal, Sandwick”

Documenting the “Phar-Lapp”, a peerie yoal.

The “Phar-Lapp” amongst the other museum boats.
The boat ready for documenting.
The strange aft stem. I have no idea why there is a chunk missing from the aft stem!
The fore-stem, I am assuming with the original wooden keel band, there is an iron band on top of this one (the end of the metal band can be seen at the bottom of the photo).
One of the kabes with a modern stainless steel thole pin.
Rudder and tiller.
The oars, these are of different length to take into account the different widths of boat at each rowing position.


This week I documented a rare kind of Dunrossness boat, termed a “peerie yoal”, which along with the rest of the collection not on display has recently moved to their new home (the new boat store, Staney Hill).  The information in this blog post has been kindly provided by Laurie Goodlad, Collections Assistant, Shetland Museum & Archives. 

Boat “Phar Lap”, white hull, blue gunwales, cream inside, blue tafts with circular cream sectrion in the middle and red tilfers.  She has 6 oars, 3 tafts, 6 tilfers, 2 nameplates and 6 metal kabes.  She is in need of a paint up. This boat was built by Geordie Eunson, Punds, Eastshore around 1890s.  Was laterly LK 203.

Bought for £8 by Harry Young (Braeview, Virkie) c.1940.  Left to donor (Harry’s son) in 1944.  Sold to G. Eunson (Exnaboe) 1952 for £15; thought that he put LK 203 on her.  Sold to B. Smith (Bressay) c.1972, sold to Young in 1974 for £30. 

Won every longship race and Lerwick regatta rowing race that she was in 1979/80. (Sometimes against two dozen boats). 

Named by Harry Young after famous Australian racehourse Phar Lap. 

Original colour = dark green topsides, white below. fir ran inside.  Briefly had iron mast step in 1940s.  Iron tholes original since 1940s at least – thought kebs originally (Steel tholes recent, c.1990). 1940s at least – thought kebs originally (Steel tholes recent, c.1990)

 LOA 19ft 10 inches.

I am really looking forward to drawing the boat during the next week or two.