In August 2013 we set sail from Stromness on our second Sea Change expedition, aboard Lerwick community boat The Swan, with a crew of 27 artists, scientists and informers. More ›

The Crew

The expedition crew of 27 includes a wide range of scientific and creative folk.
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Video highlights

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Westray skiffs

Westray skiff Ben Duffin1

Arriving in Westray one of the first things that I notice in the fishing harbour is a small wooden boat. Only fifteen feet long, it sits on the water at a mooring looking perfectly at home. Sheltered behind the pier, moored in the bay are three more boats, almost, but not quite identical.

‘These boats’ I ask of the harbour master, ‘would they be Orkney Yoles?’

‘Oh no’ he says,, looking at me as if I’m mad ‘that there is a skiff’.

Skiff is perhaps the most flexible of boat descriptions in the western world. It applies to small clinker dingies, flat bottomed tenders and ultra modern racing machines.

‘Aye, we’ve quite a few here, yes. There’s mine out that way and more behind the processing plant’. Asked about his own boat he explains, ‘We bought it twenty year ago, it was a bit, you know. So we rebuilt it, my son and me. Launched it in ‘96 and we’re still using it, yes.’

Westray skiff Ben Duffin2

This boat, the Westray Skiff, is a rare and valuable thing, a local boat type unique to only this small island, with a heritage reaching back over a hundred years. I found ten boats near the harbour, though I’m told there are far more in barns, sheds and gardens around the island. To have this many traditional local boats in a community of four hundred with limited income is remarkable. Some of these boats are a hundred years old, others are built as recently as five years ago. There is no professional boatbuilder here, these boats are built and maintained by their owners. It’s true that some of the repairs make the professional boatbuilder in me weep, fiberglass patched over rot; plywood fastened with screws more suited to kitchen cabinets; paint thrown roughly over it all. These boats are not so much a testament to craftsmanship as to a desire to remain connected to heritage, a testament to our cultural need to understand our own history.

While it is a cliché that heritage without people is dead heritage, I believe it is broadly true. These boats are maritime heritage at its most alive, raced twice a week and loved by their owners. This is local people valuing their own culture without funding or as a tourist exhibit, but because it is an essential part of who they are.

I work with the GalGael Trust in the heart of Glasgow teaching boatbuilding and other maritime heritage skills. We work with long term unemployed and those suffering from addiction and other social issues. I’m always trying to make maritime heritage seem meaningful and useful for our participants, here on Westray is an example of how valuable it can be.



Author: Ben Duffin


Joins the expedition for week Ben works with the GalGael Trust in Govan, Glasgow as a traditional boatbuilder and teacher.
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  1. avatar iain oughtred says:

    Westray Skiff – wonderful wee boats! I had one, the AUK, from Ian Richardson in Stromness. She messed up some of my favourite theories; to sail really well a boat needs to be long, lean, light, centreboard. Exact opposite: short, fat, heavy, long keel. 15′ x 6′. But she was remarkably close-winded, quick and handy. My crew would back the jib on tacking, thinking she’d need it – not at all. Quite a generous gunter sloop rig. We sailed her from Skye to Grimsay. Seemed like she would sail through anything! She did well in the Glen Raid: 5th overall in a fleet with many faster boats; still does the Raid regularly.

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James Brady’s expedition blog for ecoartscotland

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See James Brady’s blog here:   http://ecoartscotland.net/    

Leaving Fair Isle

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Andy Crabb’s Sea Changes Part 1 now on vimeo

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Sea Changes, part 1 featuring Karine Polwart from Andy Crabb on Vimeo. Part 1 of a film about Cape Farewell’s Northern Isles expedition, on board the Swan LK243. The Swan is a traditional Shetland fishing sail boat, restored and operated by a community based trust in Shetland swantrust.com/. She is a truly beautiful boat. The film... Read more ›

Carbon Cycle

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Wind, stone: by Teresa Elwes

Fish For The Table

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FishForTheTable 03 vimeo from Tam Treanor.

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bunk and deck
quota n 1. the proportional or part of a whole that is due from, due to, or allocated to a person or group 2. a prescribed number or quantity, as of items to be manufactured, imported, or exported, immigrants admitted to a country [from Latin quota pars how big a share?, from quotus of what... Read more ›

Freedom Come All Ye” performed by Karine Polwart in The Italian Chapel, Orkney August 2013.

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“Freedom Come All Ye” performed by Karine Polwart in The Italian Chapel, Orkney August 2013. from Andy Crabb on Vimeo. In August 2013 members of Cape Farewell’s “Sea Change” project explored the landscapes, history and future of the Orkneys whilst sailing on board The Swan, a beautifully restored Shetland Fifie. The group consisting of artists,... Read more ›

Pelagic Gannets

When the seas calmed and I was no longer confined to my sick bunk, it was wonderful to be on deck and to observe my new watery surroundings, I saw gannets flap and glide past the Swan and was amazed to see their large wingspan for the first time. They truly are a majestic bird!... Read more ›

Sea change See change

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Poet. Climate change.  Environmentalist.  Scientist. Carbon economy. (Ex-)soldier. Renewables. Conservationist.  Fishing quota.  Artist. Sustainability. Writer.  Everyday words susceptible to our own interpretation, predisposition and characterisation.   Words that can be polarising and divisive.  So what happens when you mix them with a few associated ingredients?  On the one hand there is the potential for an explosive... Read more ›

Big words + Lumpy times

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