Sixareen and Haddock Boat Launch

The Vaila May and the Laura Kay being launched at Hays Dock - © Billy FoxOn 21st June 2008 hundreds of people descended on Hay’s Dock to watch the Shetland Museum and Archives launch the first boats to have been built in Hay’s Dock Boat Shed in over a century, a sixareen and a haddock boat. 

A sixareen is an open six oared fishing boat which was extremely important to Shetland’s haaf (deep sea) fishing industry throughout the seventeen and eighteen hundreds but had all but disappeared by 1920.  The largest of Shetland’s open boats, these clinker built, double ended craft were recognised as the ultimate development of the traditional Shetland boat, directly descended from Viking boat design.

Named the Vaila Mae through a public competition, the sixareen is the first to be built in Lerwick in over 100 years and is based on the Industry, the last surviving sixareen of the haaf fishing, originally built in 1891 and now located in the Museum and Archives Boat Hall. 

The sixareen was constructed in just over three months by local boatbuilders Jack Duncan and Robbie Tait.  Although experienced boatbuilders, they had not built an open boat of this size before and enjoyed the challenge.  They also enjoyed meeting the many visitors to the Boat Shed throughout the build, who followed the progress with great interest and talked to them about the traditional techniques they were using. 

Haddock boats were once common in Shetland, used for the winter inshore haddock fishery, and many still survive today.  Although substantially smaller than a sixareen, these boats were also rowed with up to six oars.

Malcolm Hutchison, who built the haddock boat, named the vessel Laura Kay after his grandmother.  The boat is based on a haddock boat housed in the Unst Boat Haven.  Known as the Holm Boat, it was built in the 1880s by Lowrie Bruce, Malcolm’s grandmother’s great uncle.  Commonly known as White Lowrie, he was a prolific builder known to build haddock boats in less than a fortnight and there are still at least 8 boats built by him in existence today.  Malcolm also gave the Laura Kay the same registration number, LK 36, as one of his father’s boats, the Tranquillity, which was built in Lerwick in the late 1960s.

The names of both boats were revealed at the launch, the Vaila mae by the girls who won the competition, Miriam Brett and Amy Goddard, and the Laura Kay by Malcolm’s Wife, Lesley, and daughters, Emmie and Anne. 

The sixareen and haddock boat were made along with a Fair Isle Yoal, as part of a local element of a trans-national project, Northern Coastal Experience (NORCE).  The Yoal was constructed by Ian Best and launched in October 2006.

All of the boats have become part of the Museum and Archives floating collection.  The Museum and Archives is also offering rowing trips in the sixareen, allowing visitors and schoolchildren to learn some of the skills required to handle these historic craft.

Tommy Watt, Museum Curator, said: “This is quite a unique opportunity, we don’t know of any original sixareens in a seaworthy condition and only one other replica.  Initially we are just looking to offer trips in the sixareen, but may offer trips in other boats in the future.”

more news from 2008