Following a £1million conservation, the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, Fife, is set to welcome visitors back onboard the iconic ‘Fifie’ Reaper, the last of the great First Class Scottish Herring Luggers and a ‘Rare Survivor’ from the golden age of sail.
One of the few vessels in the UK’s prestigious National Historic Fleet* kept in seagoing condition, the two-masted, 70 foot, 50 tonne Reaper will open to the public on 4 August at her pontoon on Anstruther Harbour, once Scotland’s busiest fishing port.
The £1million project, which has been recognised by the National Historic Ships UK 2020 Excellence in Maritime Conservation Award, began in 2018 and was made possible by funding from the Scottish Government, Museums Galleries Scotland and Oor Bairns Charitable Trust. The main contractor, Babcock International Group, also made a charitable donation.
The 118 year old Reaper, which has starred on screen, most recently in the hit TV series ‘Outlander’ and film ‘Tommy’s Honour’, is of Carvel construction and built of oak and larch. She was built in Sandhaven, near Fraserburgh, in 1903, at the height of the worldwide boom for Scottish salt-cured herring.
The tight turnaround of 24 hours to catch, gut and salt the herring led to the development of these fast, powerful deep sea sailing luggers or ‘drifters’.
Inspired by Viking longship design and powered by wind alone with their huge, heavy, square lugsails stretching over 3,355sq ft and sleek hulls, ‘Fifies’ became the most popular fishing vessel on Scotland’s North Sea coast during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Reopening the Reaper, Karen Seath, Chair of the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, said: “The Reaper is a stunning and extraordinary vessel and a significant part of Scotland’s rich national maritime and fishing heritage. She’s a rare survivor of
the golden age of sail and our booming herring industry of the past.
“The Reaper is also unusual in that, through ongoing conservation and care, she remains seaworthy and has become a striking sight at Anstruther and ports across the UK, welcoming some 180,000 people onboard to date.
“We are grateful to our funders, skilled boat builders, Museum Boat Club volunteers, supporters and visitors, everyone who has made this conservation of the Reaper possible. It has been a true labour of love and craftsmanship and we look forward to welcoming visitors onboard during what is her first full summer in Anstruther Harbour.”
Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland added: “We are delighted to have supported the Scottish Fisheries Museum with the conservation and interpretation for the nationally important vessel the Reaper. This is an incredible example of conservation bringing history to life, allowing visitors and residents to once again experience life aboard the Reaper and explore the rich heritage of Scotland’s maritime industry.”
The Reaper at Work
Although ‘Fifies’ looked effortless and graceful when under sail, leaving harbour and turning with the sun in long-held tradition, managing the heavy gear and herring nets, which extended a mile long, was physically demanding and skilled work for the crew of ‘8 men and a boy’.
On shore, the Reaper, which held the Shetland record for a catch of 223 crans (almost 250,000 herring) in the 1930s, supported various industries. These included the ‘Herring Lassies’ who gutted 60 herrings a minute on the gutting tables or ‘farlans’ before packing them in salted barrels for export to Europe.
The conservation began in 2018 under the direction of the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Historic Boat Expert Leonardo Bortolami and the Reaper’s Skipper Mike Barton.
Highlights of the project include strengthening work which has given the Reaper the strongest hull of any ‘Fifie’ ever built, even during the heyday of these great First Class Scottish Herring Luggers, and a new 67 foot Fore Mast.
The new Fore Mast, which will be installed in Autumn, represents a change in manufacturing tradition for ‘Fifie’ boats from simple Douglas Fir poles to a mast laminated from Douglas Fir giving both increased strength and a longer life.
Lead shipwright on the project Ali Beedie contributed hundreds of man hours to complete the complex tasks, working alongside the main contractor Babcock International Group and expert craftsmen from A&R Way Boatbuilding, Lochgilphead, who cut and inserted each individually shaped repaired or replaced oak frame and larch plank.
Work also included installation of a new air compressor to power the original steam capstan, which has helped crew handle the Reaper’s heavy gear since it was made in the 1920s by McDonald Brothers of Portsoy.
Volunteers at the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Boat Club, which helps maintain and sail the Reaper, have also contributed over 700 hours to date to the final phase of works. This phase, which is still ongoing, includes the remaining internal refit, reinstating the crew cabins, galley, display areas and navigational aids.
The Museum received further funding from Museums Galleries Scotland for new interpretation panels; from the Scottish Fisherman’s Trust for part-time guides for tours aboard the Reaper and from FLAG (Forth Local Action Group) to improve the Reaper’s pontoon for public access.
The Museum recently launched a Crowdfunder to raise money for full-time guides and further interpretation.
The Scottish Fisheries Museum, in picturesque Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife, is home to a Nationally Recognised Collection of vessels, fishing equipment, exhibits, photographs, reminiscences and artworks.
Housed within handsome historic buildings connected with fishing since the 14th century, the Museum tells the rich story of the ‘boats, fish and folk’ of Scotland’s fishing industry, which played such an important role in the country’s economic, social and cultural life for centuries.
The Museum’s 22 vessels are listed on the UK’s National Register of Historic Vessels. The Reaper, Research (the last remaining First Class ‘Zulu’ in Scotland) and the Lively Hope (a ring-net herring boat) are part of the National Historic Fleet alongside vessels such as the Cutty Sark, RRS Discovery, MV Kyles and HMS Victory.
Tickets for a tour aboard the Reaper are available at the entrance to the pontoon and priced Adult £5, Children FREE.
To ensure visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit, there is a maximum party size of six and, as part of Covid measures, visitors receive a timeslot to board the vessel when booking.
For more information, visit www.scotfishmuseum.org
*The National Historic Ships UK National Historic Fleet