September 26, 2016

traditional boat building of the outer hebrides

meeting john mcaulay

The sun rises, just visible through the autumnal misty morning.  Ahead is a two hour drive with Dave, a volunteer with the film festival, to the Isle of Harris, Flodabay. We are meeting the legendary John McAulay, one of the last traditional wooden boat builders of the Western Isles.

The day before we had a great conversation on the phone.  John told me he had lent a book about Caribbean boat building to a friend of his on South Uist.

“Yes a fine book”, he said. “Have you heard of it? It’s Clean Sweet Wind!”

I arrive in Flodabay and describe the story of Alwyn Enoe and the journey of Vanishing Sail that lead me to his door.  “Well, you better come in, now that you’ve come all this way!”

He points to a photo above the hearth of Flodabay in 1837.  Hundreds of small herring fishing boats with women in the foreground scraping and cleaning the fish ready for market.  “The boats so densely packed you could walk across the bay without getting your feet wet.  This is how it used to be here”, says John.

John’s boat building workshop

We walk to his boat shed and as the doors unlock — there in station frames lay his latest creation: an 18′ motor craft, but with the unmistakable lines of a fife fishing skiff. I notice that there were not many power tools at which point he walks towards his work bench.  The sun appears from behind the clouds and light streams in through the window bathing the workshop in a sawdust, orange glow.

John turns to me — “this is the only tool you really need” and grabs an adze gently swinging it as if preparing to chip away at an invisible ship’s knee.  The same tool that Alwyn used several thousand miles away in Carriacou.

Read more about the UK Premiere of Vanishing Sail and be sure to check our Upcoming Screenings:

UK Premiere — Reconnecting with Scotland

Hebridean festival to premiere film Vanishing Sail
BBC News
Traditional boatbuilding skills a wonder to behold
Roger Cox, The Scotsman