The Jubilee sailing out of Port of Ness in the late 1970s or early '80s following restoration
  The boat 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 vessels 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 its beam.

The boom was fastened to the sternpost, which meant that the procedure of tacking (changing the sails 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 g tha cuimhn agam air suinn is mar a bha

Air daoine bha nan iasgairean, b e sin a-riamh an cerd

Bha sgothan fosgailt lonmhor ac s bu bhragha iad feadh a bhigh

Ln-mhra n t-inneal iasgaich ac, bha ceudan dhiubh san it

Gaelic 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.

The 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.  They are: Norman Macdonald (Tormod Dhmhnaill Bhig), Angus Morrison (Aonghas Bn), Murdo Morrison (Jellicoe), Calum Maclean(Calum a' Bhodaich).

Article: 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: pl. of Niseach]