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The Scottish Islanders

  It’s been great fun, and quite emotional at times, getting feedback from people who’ve read The Scottish Islanders. Stories have come in f...

Thursday 15 February 2024

The Scottish Islanders in Classic Boat

I'm truly excited that Classic Boat Magazine has carried a nice review of my book in their March edition, following another yachting magazine, Watercraft, who were very quick of their mark. There have been reviews in a couple of newspapers, the Oban Times and the National, and also in the February edition of Scottish Field. To get a mention in the most widely read yachting publication is quite special.

For anyone who doesn't already know, writing the Scottish Islanders was a labour of love that took about a dozen years, but the research for it really went back fifty years to when I first started to explore the coastline and islands of Argyll and further afield. In May 1974 I sailed a small open boat, single handed, from Dumbarton round to Oban, where I’d rented a mooring at the Brandystone in front of Donnie Currie’s house at the south side of the bay.

Two years later I acquired Stroma, Scottish Islander number four. They were a fleet of identical basic racing yachts launched from 1929 onwards. She was just about seaworthy, and in those early days of the craze for plastic yachts very affordable, because old wooden boats could hardly be given away. She was an improvement on the open boat, with a basic cabin. She was mine for over four decades, during which she went into a serious decline, which was not entirely my own fault, followed by recovery, when I rebuilt her over eight years. She is now sailed by new owners, who like me were in their twenties when they took her over. Unlike me, they have now produced a crew, who one hopes will eventually help their parents handle the sheets and pull up the anchor.

During my custodianship I gathered a huge amount of information about the Islanders. In the years before the war they were sailed by some of Glasgow’s best known business families, who abandoned their home comforts each weekend to race against each other, regardless of the weather, sometimes the only fleet seen out on the Firth of Clyde. Their antics excited interest far beyond the yachting fraternity and were eagerly covered in the national press. It was fascinating to find that the mothers and daughters were often among the most competitive, and my researches unearthed some truly surprising stories. Here’s a quote from a Press interview in 1934:

“Do you think,” I continued, “that yachting is good sport for women?”

“The best in the world,” she laughed. “But you’ve got to take it seriously. It’s no use thinking you can only go out on nice days, and sit around the deck looking smart in trousers.”

The story of this remarkable young woman is one of the real highlights in the book. Her family allowed me access to her sailing diary, and photographs such as this one, the long skirt signalling that a woman can work a foredeck as well as any man.

The book moves on to describe the return of the survivors of those families post war, followed by a story of decline, and eventual recovery, when the Scottish Islanders survived in the hands of people who just wanted to sail and who appreciated craftsmanship, style and seaworthiness. Their survival has provided colourful tales of exploits and excursions, as new generations of sailors, very different from the original group, continue to discover the fun of exploring the west coast of Scotland.

I’ve added a photograph of Stroma racing off the Isle of Kerrera in West Highland Week in 2004, with myself and my pals the horseman John Wilson and the late Paddy Shaw aboard. The oldest yacht in the fleet, she won that race easily and we only failed to take the overall prize for the week because we’d spent a day in the Mishnish hotel in Tobermory.

The best way to acquire a copy of the book is on the direct link to the publisher's online shop. It's also on Amazon, but they make a significant deduction, which is painful, given the production cost of a high quality publication, with a small print run. Copies are already available in several marinas, Kip, Largs, Ardfern, Craobh Haven and Dunstaffnage to date, with more to come as we get around. here's the link:


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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water