The Jubilee sailing out of
Port of Ness in the late 1970s or early '80s following restoration
Jubilee and its larger cousin, An Sulaire, are known as Sgoth Nisich
(pl, pronounced "sgo nees-eech"),
which in Gaelic means “Ness-type skiff”. Although Sgoth type boats of about 20 or 21 foot keel were being built
as early as the 1850s, it was in the latter half of the 19th century
that the classic sgoth Niseach design was finally arrived at.
The size of sgoth
most favoured by the fishermen of Ness during the latter half of the 19th
century were boats with a keel length of approximately 21 feet. However,
due to the vessel’s pointed stem and stern profile, the overall length
of these boats were typically over 30 feet, with about an 11 foot beam. This
characteristic is borne out by
the fact that of 237 boats registered in Ness between 1868 and 1901, all
but 32 followed this standard.
During the 19th century, the clinker-built sgoth were
usually assembled outdoors and within easy access of the shore. The 'planks'
(shell) of the boats were traditionally constructed from imported larch, which
was relatively pliable and offered the desired combination of strength and
lightness. The keel, stem and outside gunwale were fashioned from ash. The
floor of the boat was typically oak, with the internal gunwale and oars formed from white pine.
These boats were single
masted, sporting large though uncomplicated rigging.
During the latter half of the 19th century, a local
fisherman reputedly developed the form of rigging which is now traditionally
associated with the sgoth Niseach, incorporating a large single dipping lug sail
that ran along the length of the boat; rather than across it’s beam.
The boom was fastened to the
sternpost, which meant that the procedure of “tacking” (changing the sail’s
attitude to accommodate the wind) was carried out from the bows, rather than the
stern. This unusual arrangement resulted in the sgoth being able to sail very
close to the wind, which greatly reduced sailing times and further added to the
vessels all-round capability.
Sail makers in Stornoway
usually made the sgoth sails with the fastenings (bolts, nails etc.) being
imported from Birmingham, where they were hand-made by craftsmen working in
small industrial workshops within that city.
Lacking the advantages of
modern day galvanising or electro-plating techniques, these fastenings were
highly susceptible to corrosion. This meant that the boats had to be brought
back into the builders yard every two or three years in order to be repaired,
re-fitted and to have their planks 're-sewn'. When the vessels were no longer
considered able to cope with the rigours of the long-line ling fisheries, they
would be used for inshore, small-line fishing for domestic consumption. The scarcity of available building materials
in the Hebrides meant that some of these vessels
ended their days upturned and acting as roofs for the curing houses that they had formerly
supplied with fish.
An t-Iasgach bha ’m Port Nis
Nuair bha mi òg
tha cuimhn’ agam air suinn is mar a bha
Air daoine bha nan
iasgairean, b’ e sin a-riamh an ceàrd
fosgailt lìonmhor ac’ ’s bu bhrèagha iad feadh a’ bhàigh
’n t-inneal iasgaich ac’, bha ceudan dhiubh san àit’
poem by Donald
Macleod, Port of Ness (An Greusaiche)
Although the onset of WWI had
a major impact on exports, the local whitefish industry had already begun to go
into serious decline. Consequently, the size and numbers of boats built locally
fell dramatically as the local fleet contracted and the emphasis increasingly
shifted to short-line, inshore haddock fishing for household use. In response
to these changes, smaller second generation craft were developed. Of the 34
boats registered in Ness between 1903 and 1910 (inclusive), all but seven
measured 16 – 20 foot keel length.
However, the key change that
effectively signalled the end of the sgoth as a working vessel in Hebridean
waters was the development of more efficient and relatively reliable steam
powered boats. These modern motor vessels were more powerful, quicker and less
vulnerable to the whims of the sea than traditional sailing boats.
By 1939, unable to compete
with the levels of investment required to modernise the fishing fleet, Lewis and
Harris had 34.5% of the entire Scottish sail-fishing fleet but only 9.6% of its
motor fleet. By 1941, nearly all of the larger Scottish fishing vessels were
steam driven, and the majority of those operating from Stornoway were owned by
operators from the East Coast of Scotland.
crew of the Mayflower (SY 796) at her home port of Skigersta
around 1950. The vessel was lost in 1952 during a
guga (gannet) hunting expedition to Sula Sgeir, 40 miles
north of Lewis.
Some of her crew are photographed here circa 1950.
Norman Macdonald (Tormod Dhòmhnaill Bhig), Angus Morrison (Aonghas Bàn), Murdo
Morrison (Jellicoe), Calum Maclean(Calum a' Bhodaich).
The Mayflower Story
Although widely considered to
be an outstanding sailing craft, the sgoth Niseach could not easily be converted
to accommodate engine power. This effectively heralded the end of the
indigenous fishing and boatbuilding industries of Ness.
The Jubilee is the last
surviving example of the second generation sgoth that actively participated in the
once-bustling 19th and early 20th century Hebridean long-line fishing industry.
[NB. Sgoth Nisich: