Peter Matheson and Clydeside Traditional Boatbuilders

A traditional Scottish yohl, inspired by The Aegre, is the latest building project at a boatyard near Glasgow.

Clydeside Traditional Boatbuilders is one of the few remaining yards in Scotland to create wooden boats in the time-honoured fashion.
The company, a non-profit organisation headed by expert boat builder Peter Matheson, offers local men and women an opportunity to learn one of the world’s oldest crafts.

Clydeside Traditional Boatbuilders

It all started with Peter Matheson.

Peter Matheson grew up in a ‘croft’ house in the small village of Bettyhill on the north coast of Scotland. They had no electricity or running water, but he says this didn’t bother them as they had never had such luxuries. They had a good well and a warm peat fire. At 15, he went to sea school in North Wales and then joined the Merchant Navy. 

Man with boat
Peter Matheson working on Norsemans Bride a typical Stroma yohl based on a Danish Eel Drifter of about 1900

Peter then travelled all over the world, to the Far East, China (which, he says, was scary under the Red Guards at that time), Japan, Australia, Indonesia, India, and also to South and North America. He mainly sailed on British ships and also worked on a deep sea trawler around the Faroe Islands and on Norwegian and Danish ships, ending up on a Norwegian cruise liner in the Caribbean, which docked in Miami, where he met his American wife, forty-six years ago.

When they returned to Scotland, they started a small furniture-making business but then branched into repairing small vessels and then building new vessels for the local fishermen, eventually building trawlers and pleasure boats.

Norsemans Bride

One of these was the schooner ‘Flower of Caithness’ built in Caithness, which they then chartered. She has sailed across the Atlantic more than once.

Sailing boat
Flower of Caithness

There was an earlier Flower of Caithness it seems …

Wanted for Piracy
The earlier Flower of Caithness

Following two decades of boat making, during which they made over 150 boats, the Matheson family left their home in Scarfskerry and moved to retire in Glasgow in 1999. Peter’s love affair with the industry, however, was destined to continue. “I’d hardly even arrived here when the guys at Gal Gael asked me if I would help them out and teach boat building for them. It’s in my blood so how could I refuse,” said Peter.

Thanks to his connections with the firm and help with funding from a variety of sources, including some Awards, Peter went on to set up Clydeside Traditional Boat Builders to pass on the trade to young, unemployed people.

Norsemans Bride

Peter oversaw the building of a 26-foot ‘Birlin’ for the GalGael Trust. This type of boat would have sailed on the west coast of Scotland just after the Viking times. This was followed by an order for a 30ft ‘Birlin’ for the same organisation. They still sail her today.

Now based at a small shipyard in Govan in Glasgow, Peter and his team of volunteers are among the last few craftsmen in Scotland who are keeping the skills and spirit of this wonderful trade alive. He said: “It’s very satisfying for me to be creating things to my own design and passing the skills on to the younger generation. It’s also great to know that some of my volunteers will move on and continue in the boat trade.”

Girl Pat
‘Girl Pat’, built in 2019. She is based on the Beer Luggers of Devon. Clinker built, the planking is 3/4 inch thick well seasoned larch. The deck is 1 inch thick top grade Oregon pine. Girl Pat is 18ft long excluding the bow sprit. She is fitted with an Oregon pine mast, yard and bowsprit and American oak rudder. She has a standing lugsail and jib. The sails, which are unused, are heavy duty canvas and are believed to have come from a WW2 convoy ship’s lifeboat. And Pat? Peter Matheson’s American wife of 46 years.

Unfortunately, in the summer of 2023, a disastrous fire destroyed Peter’s workshop, all his tools, and six boats. He was not insured. However, seven people from France, whom he had never met, came over and designed and built a new workshop for him. They didn’t charge for their labour, and he was able to pay for materials from a ‘crowdfunding’ set up by a friend. All sorts of carpentry tools, both new and old, were donated to him enabling him to carry on.

The French volunteer building team

It was a case of what goes around, comes around. Peter had been teaching French people boat building each summer at no charge…

One of the vessels lost in the boatshed fire

For more information and many more pictures, see the Clydeside Traditional Boatbuilders website and Facebook page.

Follow Clydeside’s progress on the building of the yohl inspired by The Aegre

Learn about the GalGael Trust here.

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