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Skaffies, Fifies and Zulus

The Skaffie
From the beginning of the 19th century the favoured class of boat in the Moray Firth region was called the Skaffie. The early skaffie boats were small with rounded stems and raked sterns. They were two-masted with a tall dipping lugsail and a mizzen sail. Their short keel gave them good manoeuvrability in good weather, but they tended to be unstable in bad weather. They were usually crewed by around six people. Above all, though, they were light enough to be hauled up on to the beaches. The boats were un-decked and provided no shelter for the crew. Because of the vulnerability of the boats, they stayed only a few miles out to sea in full view of the land. These boats were gradually built bigger and could be around 42 feet (13 m) long, and partially decked. This came about because the harbours that were constructed from the mid to late19th century meant that the boats no longer needed to be beached. Skaffies were not built in any great numbers after 1900.

The Fifie
The "Fifie" then became the predominant fishing boat on the Scottish east coast. They were used from the 1850s until well into the 20th century. Fifies had a vertical stem and stern with a broad beam, which made them very stable. Their long keel was a disadvantage, especially manoeuvring in confined spaces. These boats were two masted with a main dipping lugsail and a mizzen sail. The masts were set quite far forward and aft to release a good working space. Fifies built from 1860 onwards were all decked, and from 1870s onwards the bigger boats were built with carvel planking, i.e. the planks were laid edge-to-edge instead of the overlapping clinker style of previous boats. Some boats were now being built up to about 70 feet (21 m) in length and were very fast.

The Zulu
In 1879, Lossiemouth fisherman, William "Dad" Campbell came up with a radical design for his new boat. It had the vertical stem of the Fifie and the steeply raked stern of the Skaffie, and he called this boat Nonesuch, registration number INS 2118. She was relatively small, 52 feet (16 m) overall with a 39-foot keel length (12 m). The Nonesuch had her registration closed on 12 January 1901 after having been broken up. The Zulu War raging in South Africa at the time gave the name to this new class of boat. The Zulu boats were built to the carvel method of planking, which was much stronger than the clinker system. The shape of the Zulus gave the boats a long deck but a shorter keel, which greatly improved their manoeuvrability. Zulus were two-masted boats and carried three sails - fore, mizzen and jib. The sails were very heavy and difficult to haul, and the masts had to be very long and strong. Masts could be 60 feet (18 m) tall on boats of 80 feet (24 m) in length.

Their design produced very fast boats that became invaluable to herring fishing fleets. They got to the fishing grounds quickly and returned swiftly with the catch. Because of these qualities, the Zulus rapidly became very popular along the entire east coast. As the 20th century approached, steam capstans were introduced, and this made the hauling of the sails and nets much easier for the crews. One of the best of those was the capstans patented and built by MacDonald Brothers of Portsoy, in 1908.

For more information on boats and traditional fishing methods go to the Scottish Fisheries Museum website.