When Ivan was 10 years old his father bought a 12ft dinghy and took Ivan with him to the creels. This ignited his interest in boats. After he left school aged 16 Ivan thought the dinghy was rather ‘low widded’ (i.e. the gunwales were too low) so he set about fixing another stroke (plank) to heighten the gunwale.
During the war Ivan stayed at home and worked on the farm and in 1953 the ‘big gale’ caused extensive damage to the dinghy. Ivan, against advice from those who thought the dinghy beyond repair, fitted a new stem and new planking on most of one side and proved them wrong.
After his father died Ivan took over the home farm, later decided he would like to go to the creels full time so bought a Yole. His first attempt at building a dinghy didn’t please him as he realised he had made a few mistakes. Nevertheless, he was able to sell it to get enough money to buy wood for second one. He advertised his second boat in the Orcadian and it was sold the same day. At that time, George Kirkpatrick from Longhope, who happened to be in Shapinsay with the MV Watchful, requested that Ivan build a dinghy for him. It so happened that George Kirkpatrick’s brother in law was Jimmy Mackay who had once owned Mackay’s Boatyard in Stromness but was now trading from his boatyard in Ayr.
Jimmy Mackay was snowed under with orders, so he asked Ivan if he would help him out and build boats for him. He gave Ivan important information as to the best places to purchase nails, fittings, etc, and this break really set Ivan up as a boat builder and from then on, he received numerous orders from all over Scotland.
Ivan is unique as a boat builder in that he is largely self-taught and does things his own way.
Listen to an interview with Ivan Hourston: