Building The Aegre

Andy Bryce, having found the Nelly Bly not really suitable for the blustery conditions of Thurso Bay near where he was living, tells how he commissioned the building of The Aegre.

I found there was a Shetland boat builder in Wick called Tom Edwardson. He hailed originally from Unst, so when I decided I wanted a more able boat than the Nelly Bly, I went to him, and he agreed to build me a Shetland Model boat 21’6” ‘over the stems’. The usual way had always been to refer to the keel length, scarf to scarf, but as I did not know just what that would be to give the size of boat I had in mind, I had to resort to giving the overall length. (A rough guide is that the length of the keel is 5/7 of the L.O.A.)

In the spring of 1966, I went over to Wick quite often to see her grow from when the keel and stems were set up on the blocks until she was fully built. No moulds were used, her shape developing purely from Tom Edwardson’s eye and, as I once heard someone say, “He laid a good plank”. I remember Tom saying that one of his rules of thumb was that it should be possible to stand a bottle upright on the third strake from the keel. He did not say it should be full or not. Although a true Shetland model, she differed from the traditional ones in several ways:

  1. The usual fourareen or crofter’s eela boat was about 17’6” over the stems, the larger sizareens being 25’ or more.
  2. They were typically built entirely of larch (or perhaps even pine or fir, at one time, they came over from Norway in kit form). The Aegre was mahogany planked except for the larch top strake, and her bands (frames) were Parana pine.
  3. Traditionally they had six or seven strakes a side, The Aegre has twelve.
  4. They were usually open boats, but The Aegre was three-quarters decked. She accordingly did not have stamerons, the canted part bands fore and aft.

In one respect, The Aegre was entirely traditional in that the frames (bands) were there purely to support and hold the strakes together; they were not through fastened to the keel. Basically, the Shetland Model boats were built for lightness, and I have always seen them as rowing boats with a sail. If they were caught in a difficult situation like a lee shore, they would be rowed out of trouble rather than shortened down and sailed.

As usually happens, the completion of the building ran late, and it was past mid-summer by the time The Aegre was completed. She was handed over in the bare wood state, and I varnished her, painting the top strake black. (Perhaps I should have given her a good linseed oiling inside first).

I also tried to partition off space for a bunk under each side deck. This did not prove to be successful.

I had intended to have a standing lug rig similar to the Nelly Bly’s. Tom Edwardson’s son had insisted on drawing out the sails and ordering them from Jeykell’s, but by the time of the Orkney Regattas, they had still not been delivered. I still had the Nelly Bly’s sails, but they were well ‘oversize’, and to use them, I had to add an extension to the inboard end of The Aegre’s boom, but even so, they would only fit with one reef tied down.

Next: The Aegre sails the Orkney Isles

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