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Published: 10 September 2021

By Andy Ross

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The Swan

The Swan is a traditional Fifie sailing boat, 121 years old, and still plying the seas. 

Originally built for the herring industry when the waters around Shetland were filled with similar vessels, the Swan wasrescued after years of neglect, restored in 1990, and fitted with a few modern additions: radar, engines and radios. This has enabled The Swan Trust to take the boat to Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and all around Europe and the UK. In the summer months the vessel has been a familiar and welcome sight in Bluemull Sound between Yell and Unst.

The sails of the boat are particularly beautiful. Made from stout canvas they are brown with "tell tails" to indicate the correct trim on the canvas. Across Shetland there used to be "cutch kettles" where the cutch, a dye made from trees and used as a preservative, was boiled up in preparation for use. The Swan is due to be fitted out with new sails and, although it is not possible to find out how the sails are to be made, perhaps the same preservative will be used. Whatever the case, The Swan is a legacy of the proud seafaring traditions of the isles and will be a much-admired sight for many years to come.