Swan under full sail. Photo courtesy of The Swan Trust.
Shetland’s maritime past holds a big place within my heart. I come from generations of fishermen and, being a woman with no desire to go to the fishing, was probably a disappointment to my father who, although he never said it, would probably have loved to see one of his offspring join the generations who went before him at sea.
That’s why when Swan, Shetland’s traditional sail-training vessel, asked me to collaborate with them and offer tours, I jumped at the chance.
Swan was built and launched in Shetland in 1900 and was one of the finest boats in the Scottish herring fleet. Fishing for many years in the waters around Shetland for the ‘silver darlings’ (herring) she eventually fell into a state of disrepair as more modern steam vessels took over the fishery, able to cover greater distances and transport their catch to markets more efficiently compared to the sail vessels, like Swan, who came before.
Swan lying desolate at Hartlepool harbour. Photo courtesy of The Swan Trust.
Yet, Swan’s days were not over and, after surviving two world wars, and a downturn in the industry she was brought back to life and lovingly restored to her former glory by The Swan Trust, a team of dedicated volunteers. Swan is a 67ft Fifie, popular at the start of the 20th century for going to the herring fishery. In 1935 she was one of only five herring sail boats left in Shetland. Described as one of the finest boats in the Scottish fishing fleet when launched, Swan had a long career in Shetland, before being retired in the 1950s, and left the isles in 1960 for conversion to a houseboat. Several owners later, she came up for sale in 1990, in a very dilapidated state. Recognising her importance, a community initiative (which later became the Swan Trust) purchased and fully restored her. She was relaunched as a sail training and charter vessel in 1996.
Restoration of Swan in progress. Photos courtesy of The Swan Trust.
The Swan Trust believe that there are only two of these boats remaining, and Swan is the only one that offers sail training experiences.
Swan now offers voyages around Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, St Kilda, Mainland Scotland, Faroe, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
In fact, when I was a teenager with a thirst for adventure I sailed on Swan numerous times. My first trip, aged 15, was to the Haugesund Jazz Festival in Norway where I had the opportunity to swim in fjords, dance on foreign piers and come home with a sun-kissed tan and a henna tattoo bearing my boyfriend’s name.
Watching dolphins play around the bow of Swan during the 2004 Tall Ships Race (I'm pictured in the bow). Photo courtesy of The Swan Trust.
My second trip was much longer and I boarded Swan for a month-long adventure on the 2004 Tall Ships race, taking in three countries and countless ports as we made our way from Shetland to the Belgian city of Antwerp and then on to Denmark before a cruise-in-company to Norway. Disembarking in Bergen we took the Norrona back to Lerwick ‒ in the days before Smyril Line decided to knock Shetland from its Scandinavian routes. This was truly an unforgettable experience as we were expected to muck in and sail the boat as well as take our watch several times a day. We managed to keep ourselves amused on deck on the long, night-shift by playing space-hopper deck games with the buoys, learning the constellations in the sky and pouring buckets of glittering mareel down the deck of the boat, watching as the shimmering lights cascaded back into the ocean below. It really was the most magical experience. Nights in port were often too hot for us Shetlanders to sleep below decks so we made make-shift beds on deck and slept beneath the stars and the sights and sounds of the city.
Taking part in the Tall Ship's crew parade in Antwerp. I wear the pink dress (bought on a charity shop mission to find the most outrageous outfit). Photos courtesy of The Swan Trust.
So… after that mammoth digression, it brings me great pleasure to announce that this summer I am teaming up with Swan to bring a few half-day tours a little closer to home. It would be fantastic if you could join us for a guided tour of Lerwick Harbour to discover more about the growth of Lerwick from a small collection of trading booths and huts to the bustling commercial capital we see today. This tour will allow you to see Lerwick as you have never seen it before!
Lerwick grew with the arrival of Dutch fishermen from the 1600s. Their arrival every June meant that locals flocked to Bressay Sound to trade with these foreign visitors. Laurie will introduce you to Lerwick at this time, and describe its continued growth, which saw it overtake Scalloway, Shetland's ancient capital, in size and influence by 1838. She will detail the second herring boom of the 19th century, which saw boats like Swan take to the water in their hundreds to execute the summer fishery, and bring you up to date with our current fishing industry, which is still the mainstay industry here in the islands. You can read more about the growth of Lerwick here.
The tour will tell tales of ‘smugglers’ who built the town’s foundations and point out Jimmy Perez’s house from the sea on this leisurely tour of the picturesque Lerwick Harbour.
There are two tours available to book on 19th & 22nd May: 9.00am – 12.30pm and 5.30 – 9.00pm.
To book please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your trip will begin with a safety briefing including how to work the lines on deck and set the sails. We will then put this into practice, while we delve into Shetland’s past and explore the Lerwick waterfront.
Included in voyage
Please ensure you wear sensible footwear, with good grips, and warm clothing, and don't forget your camera!
Please note, you may need to board and/or disembark the boat via a vertical pier ladder.
Hope to see you there!
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