Jim Mason

There are few people in Orkney who know more about local boats than Jim Mason. He served his time as a boatbuilder in the heyday of Orkney boatbuilding when many hundreds of boats of all sizes were built for the local fleet as well as being exported all over the UK.

Although Jim Mason wanted to be a fisherman when he left school, he was persuaded to take on an apprenticeship in boatbuilding by, his then woodwork teacher, Pia Anderson.  At that time the main boatbuilder in Stromness was James W Mackay based in the Transit Shed in Stromness. Jim completed his apprenticeship when the firm were building mahogany on oak dinghies and went on to be part of the team building nearly two boats per week making this a very lucrative business for the owner

Dinghies being built in James W Mackay’s boat yard

By the early seventies, market saturation and the Beeching Cuts to the National Railways made the export of dinghies from Orkney to the rest of the UK less and less profitable. This, along with the introduction of glass fibre production made the building of wooden boats less viable. Before that, however, Mackay’s had expanded into the popular business of building larger creel boats.

Creel boat built by James W Mackay

Although the building larger creel boats enabled the firm to remain viable for longer Jim was able to see the writing on the wall as far as the future of wooden boatbuilding was concerned. This happened to coincide with the construction phase of the new Oil Terminal on Flotta when oil was discovered in the North Sea.  Jim joined many other Orcadians by getting work on the construction of the Flotta terminal earning vastly more relative to other jobs in Orkney.  When the construction phase was completed, he got work with the marine company which ferried goods and workers back and forth to the now completed Oil Terminal on the island of Flotta.

Jim continues to have a great love of boats and a vast knowledge of many of the fishing boats built in Orkney. Whilst working at Flotta he built a couple of creel boats in his spare time, the Excelsior and the Fear Not and often gave a helping hand to other builders such as Ian Richardson.


Listen to Jim talk about boatbuilding