c.1886, 19′ Stroma Yole

Tern is a Stroma yole built in Stroma in 1886, possibly by either Donald Banks or George Simpson. She is a typical small Stroma yole with keel of 12.6ft, length just over 18ft, and beam slightly over 7ft. Originally she was rigged with two sprit sails, as was the normal arrangement for Stroma yoles of this length, and would have been an undecked open boat. She also displays the classic Stroma stern bracket to prevent lines fouling the rudder, and later the propeller.

Stroma yoles are characterised by being very beamy all along their length compared to their ‘close cousins’, the Orkney South Isles yole. Commonly Stroma yoles have 12 to 13 strokes, whereas the South Isles yoles commonly have 10 to 11 strokes. Stroma yoles are heavier built in order to cope with the savage weather and ferociously strong tides of the Pentland Firth. Most of the islanders were fishermen and crofters, and some also worked as maritime pilots to guide vessels through the challenging tides and whirlpools of the Pentland Firth.

Fishing Registrations

Tern was not registered to be used in fishing for profit until 1912, when she was registered for fishing using ‘lines’ by David Manson of West Side, Stroma. The registration, however, confirms her build date as 1886. It is believed that the boat may originally have been built for the school teacher, or possibly for the local Rosie family. It is interesting to note that small petrol/paraffin Kelvin Poppet engines were first introduced into Stroma yoles in 1912. Retired Stromness ex-boatbuilder James Mason believes that Tern may have had one installed soon after this. Whether or not she had an additional stroke, or any decking, added about this time, as was common when the weight of an engine was added to a boat, is unknown. Her registration continued with regular updates until 1938 and closed in 1941 with the note “no longer used in fishing for profit”. This was shortly before David’s death in 1943, at the age of 84.

At about this time, it is believed that the boat underwent a major re-build before being re-registered in 1944 for fishing using ‘lines’ and creels by David’s son, George Manson of Garrishow, Stroma. The registration shows that she now had an auxiliary motor and was rigged for lug sails. As was typical of yoles with fitted engines, and used for creeling, she would probably have been at least partially decked at this time, and would probably have had an additional stroke added, if this hadn’t been done earlier. She was used regularly for fishing, with her registration being updated annually until 1956. At this time, following George’s death in 1955, aged 67, ownership then passed to George’s son-in-law, Joseph McCaughey, a fisherman of East Side, Stroma. By the late 1950s, however, the population of Stroma had declined to the extent that life could no longer be sustained on the island. In 1957 only three families, numbering 16 people in total, remained. Many of the former islanders continued a life of fishing from the shores of Caithness on the Scottish mainland, often using their same traditional fishing grounds. The McCaughey family moved to live in Wick and continued in the fishing industry.

Tern was sold in 1956 to John McPhail Sinclair, originally from Caithness, having been born in Thurso in 1902, who was now the harbourmaster in Kirkwall, Orkney, and her registration was transferred from Wick. She then changed owners several times, being based in Stromness under the ownership of Colin J Marwick (1958), Robert Greig (1959) and Norman S Mowat (1968 -1978), before her registration was again cancelled.

In 1979, Mike Holgate of Stronsay purchased Tern, and Shapinsay boatbuilder, Ivan Hourston, undertook some major repairs including replacing the deck, moving the engine forward, and fitting a creel hauler, as well as repairs to some boards and the stem/stern posts. In 1984, Mike registered her once again for fishing. Some 15 years later, after a ‘bump’ with some rocks on Auskerry, she was back to Shapinsay for a replacement garboard. In the mid-1990s, when Mike and his wife moved to Kirkwall, the Tern was sold to a Nelson Rorie who didn’t do a lot with the boat which then passed to his nephew Stuart Dunnet. She then lay for many years, suffering significant deterioration before being gifted to OHBS in 2016.