Heriot Toun in summer


Kirsty: a gaff-rigged Lochfyne Skiff, built in 1921 by John Fyfe at the Ardmaleish Boatyard on the Isle of Bute, Scotland

A simple and accurate description of a traditional yacht but one which masks an Aladdin’s cave of maritime and historical gems that belies her cultural significance. 




Artists involved:

Pat Law, Mhairi Law, Kirsty Law


Our story begins in the late 19th C in the SW of Scotland when drift-net fishing was declining and the new method of ring-netting was in the ascendancy. The Lochfyne Skiff was designed specifically for this technique, which for the first time involved boats working together in pairs. The distinctive shape of the skiff’s hull was designed for easy manoeuvrability to work the nets, producing a catch that far exceeded the haul of two independent boats. The longer length of 25 - 30 feet included a half deck which allowed the crew to shelter and fish for longer periods of time in relative comfort. This progressive development was widely recognised and led to fishermen in other regions adapting the design for their own use. 


The seaworthiness and success of the new design extended beyond the fishing industry. David Mowat, manager of Summerlee foundry, Coatbridge, approached a boatyard on the Isle of Bute where he commissioned a yacht based on the same graceful lines. The Fyfes of Ardmaleish were one part of the legendary family of boatbuilders; while here they concentrated on working boats, the more famous Fairlie branch built sophisticated leisure yachts in their yard over the water. In 1921 a 37ft craft of pitch pine on oak was was constructed and Kirsty was launched from the slip at Ardmaleish in August of that year. 


In 1997 after a dozen owners, our family became the new custodians of Kirsty and the story continued. We inherited an old stained filing box containing a treasure trove of information: logbooks, photographs, newspaper cuttings and documents - a peek into the Aladdin’s cave. From this trove we explored and researched extensively, contacting past owners, individuals and organisations with any connection to the boat, striving to expand the existing body of knowledge. Visits to the site of the original boatyard at Ardmaleish revealed remnants of now half buried methods giving hints into old ways of working.


After caring and sailing Kirsty for nearly twenty-five years, we felt in a strong position to tell the story in our various creative ways, collating and connecting the many fragments, facts and memories that were gleaned along the way. Real and imagined narratives are given expression through various media, perceptions of past times  explored and reinterpreted. The works in GAFFER draws on an archive of collected material, using old and new photographs, moving image, drawings, sound recordings and now-unused objects.  


The caretakers of traditional boats are by necessity both romantic and pragmatic with elbow grease and aspiration needed in equal quantities. Adventures and sea-tales consequently abound but many stories lie untold in the timbers. Like invisible sea roads, a boat’s history is shrouded by time and perception, revealing only fleeting glimpses, like traces in her wake. We need our dreams and imaginings to complete the picture and bring the stories to life.




GAFFER is a work in progress and we are now looking for expressions of interest from suitable venues.

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