Light in the lum and light below the Vaila Mae


Tuesday - Sixareen launch day. 

A sixareen (photo from Shetland Photographic Archive)

Mustering at the museum the excellent Brian Wishart assembled our fine rowing crew from various parts of Shetland – all well qualified and skippers in their own right, so how they all work as a team - who gives and takes orders to and from whom is a mystery.
(photo by J Kerr)
Sorting the sail (photo by J Kerr)
The boat made ready we spent the morning filming the beautiful Vaila Mae.
Under the oars (photo by J Kerr)
The sounds of the oars rising and dipping, and with square sail up to catch the wind she just flies along through the water...
Sail up on the Vaila May (photo J Kerr)
.... it's a wonderful boat to experience (and it will be available for trips around Lerwick Harbour during Boat Week - see website for more detail: https://www.shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk/community/boat-week/events).  
You can begin to understand how such boats were able to travel so far out to the far Haaf, although the fishermen must have had a cold, wet and cramped time living in the boat, often sleeping under the sheet for several nights until they had a full catch and could return to the fishing station
Old sail from the Boat Haven, Unst, and sections of oars from Shetland Museum (photos by J Kerr)
The sixareen was best suited for the prosecution of the white fishing. With a keel about two thirds of the overall length, flaring outwards to the gunnels, like the Viking ships, inside it was divided into compartments by gratings under the benches where the men sat to row. With working sections to hold the fish, the bottom of the boat would be filled with ballast of beach boulders until ready to be replaced by the caught fish. Sitting on top of a run of fish secured down by netting made the boat more stable and less likely to take on water. In the owse room the flooring was higher so the shovel might have a smooth sweep from one side to the other when bailing. The mid room was for shooting and hauling lines, which could be 6 miles in length. 
Rowing on the Vaila May (photo by J Kerr)

When the first fish showed 'light in the lum', then 'light below that', followed by 'white below white', hauling a line laden with struggling fish weighing 30 - 40 lbs per cod and ling, plus Halibut weighing 2 cwt and gigantic skate, all hauled from depths of 30 to 90 fathoms must have been a supreme test of strength, even with the boat being pulled by a couple of oars in the direction of the line. 
The foreroom held ballast, fire kettle and pot, plus peat fuel, the head room and bow-space were culinary areas holding a sea chest for knives and utensils and food, along with water breakers, sail, six miles of line, 5000 baited hooks, buoys, sinkers, spare rope, boat hooks, oars, oilskins etc etc.. All of which, with a mast lying somewhere in the mix, didn't leave much room for manoeuvre in a boat containing six large fishermen rowing, a skipper at the stern trying his best to avoid the breaking sea that could flood in and the bailer trying to keep the sea at bay, all at some points, hauling and gutting fish, at snatched times in between, eating and sleeping.
Action on the Vaila May, (photo by J Kerr)
Shetland fishermen were unsurpassed in their handling of these open boats, rowing the 30-40 miles to the fishing grounds. But very few fishermen would have owned their own boats, most being owned by the landowners who hired them out for the fishing season, which of course meant if the boat was lost it had to be paid for, often by a grieving widow and children, who, not being able to pay, would be evicted from the croft. In 1774 a six-oared boat complete with mast, square sail and oars cost about £6 and measured 18ft on the keel, 24-25ft overall. 
A break from rowing  (photo by J Kerr)

Thank you to Brian et al. for all your work in planing our trip, and for all the rowing we made the crew do. 
Brian Wishart, Sandwick, Gilbert Fraser, West Burrafirth, Robert Wishart, Lerwick, Jim Tait Mowbray, Walls, Andrew Cooper, Walls, Trevor Jamieson, Cunningsburgh, Ewen Balfour, Brae, Trevor Jamieson (and for blowing of Ludder Horn)
Luder Horn (photo by J Kerr)


Vaila May (photo by J Kerr)
Sixareens on Stenness beach 1890's (photo from Shetland Photographic Archive)
'.....out at the Haaf, before the compass came into general use - with the fog and tidal currents prevailing..... here the men of old had means of finding their way to land.... an underswell - the moder dye - the surge or physical protest the Ocean makes when her cosmic motion is restricted by the proximity of land. Unnoticeable in deep water, the wave-like motion or swell becomes clearly discernible to trained eyes on soundings, and can be best observed in foggy weather. ... No matter how fierce the gale, how wind-driven and uncertain the billow, the methodical undulations of the 'moder dye' could be seen across the hills of a wind-torn sea, always setting four-square towards the land'. (extracts taken from 'The Sail Fishermen of Shetland', A Halcrow, pub. The Shetland Times, 1994, 1st published T & J Manson, Lerwick, 1950).
Other information taken from 'Shetland Fishing Saga', C A Goodlad, pub. The Shetland Times Ltd. 1971, and 'Inshore Craft of Britain: In the Days of Sail and Oar' vol 1, Edgar J March, pub.david & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1970, and information gleaned in conversation with Tommy Isbister, Trondra, Shetland: http://www.shetlandheritageassociation.com/members/central-mainland/burland-croft-trail) 

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