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Of all the projects I’ve developed, An Sgoth probably gives me more satisfaction than any.
In the early 90s I asked Hebridean boat builder, John Murdo Macleod if he’d build a Sgoth Mor (Big Boat) for a documentary I wanted to make for the BBC. John Murdo was the last in a long line of builders of these amazing traditional sailing crafts.
Fishing boats grow in size depending on how plentiful the fishing stocks are. The ling fishery off the north of the Hebrides had reached its zenith around the turn of the last century and was in decline when John Murdo’s grandfather built the last ‘Sgoth Mor’ in 1918. It seemed such a tragedy to let all the cumulative knowledge held in John Murdo’s hands and head go unrecorded on film. So after years of fundraising we finally got all the pieces together.
John Murdo spent a year with apprentice Angus Smith building ‘An Sulaire‘. I filmed the pair as they cut down the trees in January and launched this amazing thirty three foot craft the following December.
The community in the Hebrides really came together around the project. After the launch, An Sulaire became the focus of a revival in traditional sailing in the Hebrides.
A year ago last Christmas I sailed out into the cold December waters of the North Minch in An Sulaire. At the helm was writer and poet, Ian Stephen, an old friend and co-collaborator. I hadn’t been on the boat for more than 10 years. We had young and enthusiastic crew and despite being a liability when it came to dipping the massive lug sail, I felt immense satisfaction at having helped to make something come alive that has had such a positive effect.
The boat is a Sgoth, a traditional wooden fishing boat that was widely used at the turn of the last century in Lewis.
The tradition of building and sailing these boats was almost lost. But recently there has been a revival in interest.
John Murdo MacLeod, builing ‘An Sulaire’ in 1994. This was the first Sgoth Mhor, (Big Boat) to be made since his Grandfather last built one in 1918.