The Scottish Fisheries Museum

Situated in a spectacular location opposite the harbour in the fishing village of Anstruther, in the East Neuk of Fife, the Scottish Fisheries Museum is a National Museum, telling the story of the Scottish fishing industry, its boats, harbours and communities.

The Museum Fleet

The Museum has 19 boats, three of which are in the National Historic Fleet: Reaper - a restored sailing Fifie; Lively Hope - a 1930s ring-netter; and Research - a first class Zulu.  Of these three, only Reaper remains operational today.  As the flagship of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, she is berthed in Anstruther harbour outside the Museum and is now equipped as a floating museum of the herring industry.

Crewed by the volunteer members of the Museum Boats Club she visits ports around Scotland and Northern England on cultural tours and as an outreach for the Museum at Harbour Events.

In recent years Reaper has visited over 50 separate venues as far apart as Portsmouth, Glasgow, Stornoway and Lerwick and during these visits has taken aboard over 180,000 visitors from 120 countries in addition to those from the UK.

The Scottish Coastal Rowing Project

Since 2009, the Scottish Fisheries Museum has supported an initiative to re-start the inter-community rowing competition that for many years was a strong feature of life in the coastal communities of Scotland. 

When first mooted, this initiative was intended to cover the Kingdom of Fife alone.  However, as the project was discussed, and word of its existence spread, there was growing interest from outside Fife from Scotland's many coastal communities. 


The guiding principal is that fast, safe, attractive boats should be available for building at a relatively modest cost, and that interested groups should not have to purchase boats from professional boat builders.  Therefore, the boats are available as kits that can be built by the groups that will be rowing them.  Indeed, the very fact that the boats should preferably be built by their owners and operators is intended to increase the pride and cohesiveness of the communities and groups in their boats.

The Boat - The St Ayles Skiff

The internationally renowned small boat designer Iain Oughtred was commissioned by the SFM to design a suitable craft, based on the Fair Isle Skiff.  As this project is backed by the SFM, the name of the design is the St Ayles Skiff, St Ayles being the name of the old Chapel in which the SFM is partially housed.

The St Ayles Skiff provides a desired mix of tradition, seaworthiness, speed, and ease of build.  These boats take a crew of five - four rowing and a coxswain to steer and coach the crew during racing and training.

Development & Competition

It was envisaged that these boats could be built by any kind of group close to the coast with an interest in the sport.  In smaller communities, it may be that the community council will take a lead in constructing and racing the boats, with other primary candidates being fishing and sailing clubs.  The SFM have been especially keen that youth groups are involved as a constructive means of competition.

Boat Construction

The boats are designed to be built with Clinker Ply construction method.  This form of construction marries the traditional and the modern.  Hull planking is from marine plywood, with all other parts made from solid timber.  The Hull is glued using exposy resin, together with stainless steel and silicon bronze fittings where appropriate.  The boats can either be built from scratch, or from a kit which will be developed and cut by Jordan Boats of East Wemyss.

They are 22ft, with a beam of 5'8".  The concept has been a remarkable success with more than 80 kits in total sold to date. 

International attention

The project has now attracted world wide attention with many being sold to customers in Germany and the Netherlands, and several other European countries.  The building of five St Ayles Skiffs was confirmed in Maine, USA, with others expected, and the kits are also sold under licence in Australia.

The kits are supplied by Jordan Boats who have been producing kit boats since 2002, for a variety of designers.

The St Ayles Skiff Project: Report on the boat builder training scheme 2010-2011

Background: This boat builder training project is an entry-level training scheme for young persons with little or no experience of boat building or of working with wood.  The scheme is based on the form of a traditional North Isles yawl, commissioned by the Scottish Fisheries Museum (SFM) and designed by Iain Oughtred (see above). The principal techniques involved in building the skiffs are thus mostley within the competence of beginners (under supervision), with only the final stages of fitting-out dependent upon the presence of skilled craftsmen.  This is the second year of the training scheme at the SFM.

Among the advantages proffered by this scheme, the following are counted:

-  Trainees can evaluate their interest in and competence at wooden boat building of this simple type without the lengthy training period required to gain proficiency in traditional clinker boat building.  Upon completion of their skiff they can decide whether or not to proceed to higher levels of training.

- In addition to assessing their competence in working with wood, the scheme also encourages an interest in and understanding of maritime heritage.  The concept is barely three years old, but already there are skiffs racing at regattas throughout Scotland, fostering in numerous coastal communities a strong sense of their maritime heritage.

Management of the project: The project was based at the SFM and was overseen by a Steering Group.  Day-to-day supervision of training was in the hands of Sandy Boiling (Training Officer) assisted from time to time by experienced boat builders from the SFM Boats Club.  National Historic Ships UK and the Headley Trust have supported the project too.

Students: There were five students enrolled in the project, all on release to the SFM Boatyard from the Waid Academy, the local secondary school in the East Neuk of Fife.  All were volunteers for the programme, selected by Mr Ken Brown, SFL Teacher at the Academy.

Curriculum: Following an initial period of 'Health & Safety at Work' training, the students were given basic instruction in the care and use of wood-working tools.  Each student then embarked upon the manufacture of a layered half-model of a fifie herring boat, an exercise in simple wood-working and construction which accompanied tutoring in basic nautical terminology.  Finally, the students progressed to working on a new-built skiff, involving hand-finishing planks and frames, assembly and gluing of the structure, fitting out with metal-work and finally painting the finished hull.  Upon completion of the skiff, the second to be built at the SFM, the boat was launched in the outer basin of Anstruther Harbour.  The trainees were subsequently given opportunities to row in the skiff under the supervision of experienced members of the SFM Rowing Club.

In addition to the above curriculum, opportunities were taken to have the trainees working alongside the skilled craftsmen of the SFM Boats Club, carrying out basic maintenance and repairs on the Museum's fleet of vessels.

Outcomes of the year: The main achievement was the completion and the launch of the second St Ayles Skiff, which has gone forward to have a succesful racing record with the Scottish Coast Rowing Project.  

All five students completed the year and two have built upon their experience by progressing to further training positions (one by enrolment at Elmwood Technical College, Cupar, and one by accepting a journey apprenticeship with the Estates Department at the University of St Andrews).

NEWS - Stories, Stones and Bones: Scottish Fisheries Museum celebrates £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017.

The Museum has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant, it was announced today. Together with a grant of £3,500 from Fife Council’s Strategic Events Investment Programme, the funding will support an exciting exhibition and programme of events, “East Neuk Unearthed”.

To celebrate the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology we travel through time to discover the history that lies hidden all around us and in the earth beneath our feet. Using objects from our own collections, plus local finds borrowed from National Museums Scotland and other collections in Fife, the exhibition will provide lots of opportunities for visitors to get hands on with history.

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, a range of objects found on or near the museum site, once itself an important hub within the town, to illustrate the themes of Food and Drink, Customs and Beliefs, Trades and Occupations, and Frontiers, that shaped the lives of those who were here before us. These unique travellers from the past will be our guides through the fascinating history of this place.

The exciting events programme will involve Pewter Casting Workshops, Medieval Re-enactment Days and Minecraft Treasure Hunts, with plenty of opportunities for people to get involved in uncovering local history. The exhibition will also evolve through the summer and we are very excited to be working with ImmersiveMinds who will be revealing Anstruther and the museum site in Minecraft, with opportunities to get involved with the build and in some very special events on site.

Commenting on the award, Linda Fitzpatrick, Curator said:

“It’s great that we have been awarded this grant and we can’t wait to get started. It’s wonderful to be able to bring all these fascinating objects back “home” and to share them in such fun and innovative ways with our visitors. There’s so much more to discover about our past and we would love to hear from people who would like to get involved in sharing these stories.”

Source: Press Release, Scottish Fisheries Museum, 4th April 2017


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