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Unfortunately very little information has survived about any individual McIntosh built scaffies as the last were probably built in the 1880's. One certainty however is that they built many, & the quality of their craft was highly regarded. Please contact me for comment or if you can help with extra information.


The Angus MacLeod Archives Undoubtedly the best online collection of information on the Scottish herring fishing industry.

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PLEURAL MESOTHELIOMA

The Evolution of the Scaffie

John McIntosh left Cullen after having served his apprenticeship with boatbuilder James Ross, & began building Scaffies at the fishing station of Portessie probably in the late 1820's. He had married in Cullen in 1818 & all his five children were born there, the last being Isabella in 1827.
The Scaffies of this time were open, clinker built sailboats, the demand being for an affordable fishing craft that, due to the lack of harbours in the area, could be hauled up the beach after fishing. Edgar March in 'Sailing Drifters' apparently gleaned much of his knowledge of Scaffies from this period from the report prepared by Captain Washington, following the disastrous loss of life during a storm in August 1848, and wrote - -

"Two distinct types of boats were to be found in Scottish waters. The typical herring lugger was the Buckie boat, variously called a scaffie, scaffa, or scaith. Length of keel was 32ft to 33ft, but a curved stem and a sternpost raking at 45deg increased the overall length to 41ft, beam was 13ft, and depth 4ft 9in. The clinker-built hull was lightly constucted of 1 1/2in larch planking with oak ribs, keel, stem and sternpost, and the boat was coated with a crude varnish. As the hull only weighed three tons, it could easily be hauled up a beach. Draught light was, for'ard 2ft 6in, aft 2ft 9in, but with a loaded displacement of 16 tons, the boat drew 4ft 3in for'ard, and 4ft 9in aft, a ton of ballast being carried."

These boats cost £60 fully rigged, had a crew of five, and while most carried two lugsails, some had three.

"The lines of such a boat can be seen - - (here), - - and the inset of the harbour emphasises the dangers of running for such a tiny shelter, surrounded by jagged reefs on all sides, except for the narrow entrance. Many of these scaffies were built by J. & W. McIntosh, of Portessie, a firm of high repute down to the last days of sail."

Check out this picture of a Scaffie unloading, with Scaffies as a back drop. This pic is one of a collection being shared on another site by an 'ally' from Findochty, whose father has a LARGE collection. Probably the best online pic relating to Scaffies, and the best online collection of old herring drifters.

NEW - April 2007


This amazingly clear photo of what I believe is a Buckie scaffie, has been made available by the US Library of Congress. The date is unknown. A high resolution image can be downloaded, which clearly shows the name on the stern as 'JANE ANN' and BUCKIE A. COWIE.

As a consequence of this Washington Report, recommendations were made for the introduction of decking to improve the seaworthiness of these open boats. While this was firstly opposed by the fishermen, partially decked boats began to be introduced in the form of watertight bulkheads extending around six feet from the stem and sternpost as well as around three feet inboard from the gunwhales. The remaining open hold was capable of being made watertight with the use of temporary canvas covers. The for'ard bulkhead was then expanded to provide bunks and cooking facilities for the crew. However this also considerably increased their cost to the fishermen.
Again a quote from 'Sailing Drifters' -

Mr. William McIntosh, of Buckie, read his obituary replied in February, 1949, that when he was born some seventy years ago his father, grandfather, and uncle were in company, building scaffies prior to 1880 with a length of keel of about 32ft., the stem was curved and had a 7ft. rake off plumb, and a straight sternpost was about 10ft. off plumb. Hulls were clinker-built, the timbers or frames being fitted after the planking was completed. For hauling in the bush or springrope attached to the nets a winch - the 'ironman'- fitted with handles, stood aft of the mizzen mast." (See the ironman with a handle in the photo of 'JANE ANN' above).

As these dimensions of the last of the McIntosh built scaffies differ little from those in the Washington Report some 30 years previous, it appears the main changes were in the introduction of watertight bulkheads and decking. The manual capstan had been introduced in the 1850's and most likely was the patent capstan, as the reference to handles indicates. Again from 'Sailing Drifters'.

'The conical capstan, turned by men tramping round and round, was being replaced in many drifters by a patent capstan worked by two handles acting on a rack and pinion fitted either to the top of the spindle or to an iron standard alongside.'



Click both pics for more at the official SCRAN site.
Sail & Oar Power

Normally fishing with a crew of five, Scaffies were equipped with oars as an alternative means of propulsion. It was apparently not uncommon for a crew to row all the way across the Moray Firth from Buckie to Wick.
The main means of propulsion however was the lugsail. This progression from the original square-rigged sail enabled the vessel to tack to windward, albeit not very efficiently. The head of the sail was attached to a lug or yard, being the timber which is hoisted up the mast with a halyard, the clew being attached to the bow & the tack being hauled tight with a sheet. A series of reef points along the sail allowed its size to be altered to suit the wind strength.
This simple form of sailpower suited the nature of the herring drifter as the masts were either lowered or removed once the nets had been set, to slow the drift & minimise rolling. Because of its simplicity, the lugsail was very reliable. Most Scaffies had two masts but some had three, with the fore or main mast having a dipping lugsail & the aft mast (or masts) a standing lugsail. The dipping lugsail meant that during tacking, the yard had to be lowered, and then rehauled up the opposite side of the mast, whereas the standing lug remained the same on both tacks.
A quick look at the Skaffie in the Topps Transportation series card (above left) will show that the standing lugsail will not be deformed by the mast on tacking, as the majority of the sail is behind it.
The main disadvantage of this rig was that tacking became rather a difficult and lengthy manoeuvre, especially in foul weather.

Drift Netting for Herring

For a most basic description, the Scaffie left the harbour, hythe or beach in the late afternoon, sailed or rowed to the fishing ground & cast out a mile or so of nets which it moored too overnight. The nets were pulled at dawn & 'redded' of the fish as they were pulled aboard, then all haste was made for home to deliver them as fresh as possible to the buyer. This may have required rowing if there was little or an unfavourable wind to sail home.

Excerpt from Chapter 9 - Harvest of the Sea 1873

'A drift-net is an instrument made of fine twine worked into a series of squares, each of which is an inch, so as to allow plenty of room for the escape of young herrings. Nets for herring are measured by the barrel-bulk, and each barrel will hold two nets, each net being fifty yards long and thirty-two feet deep. The larger fishing-boats carry something like a mile of these nets; some, at any rate, carry a drift which will extend two thousand yards in length. These drifts are composed of many separate nets, fastened together by means of what is called a back-rope, and each separate net of the series is marked off by a buoy or bladder which is attached to it, the whole being sunk in the sea by means of a leaden or other weight, and fastened to the boat by a longer or shorter trail-rope, according to the depth in the water at which it is expected to find the herrings. This formidable apparatus, which forms a great perforated wall, being let into the sea immediately after sunset, floats or drifts with the tide, so as to afford the herring an opportunity of striking against it, and so becoming captured - in fact they are drowned in the nets.'

Click the pic for Chapter 9.

The whole book can be read online here

Many more Scottish books online here

Another slightly differing account from 'Sailing Drifters' by Edgar March.

'Mr. Addison, of Portessie, replied that he would be pleased to be of any assistance; he does not speak English, only broad Scots, but his daughter, Mrs Garden, and her husband very kindly put my questions to him and noted the answers.
This interesting old fisherman went to sea in a boat called Mowats as a 'scummer' in 1875 at the age of ten, his job to catch the fish which escaped from the nets as they were being hauled, using an iron-hooped net rather like a gigantic butterfly net. He had no pay, but received 'scum money', the worth of the herring which he scummed out of the water. - - - -
A few open boats were still in use at the time, but the majority were decked scaffies, some with three masts, which went to sea every evening, returning next morning. The boats were hired by the curers for a complement of 200 cran, and when this mark was reached they had to stop fishing. His shortest time to reach this complement was nine trips.
They fished with nets kept upright in the water by a cork rope and stones tied to the footrope, the 'gales' or sides being laced together to form a 'fleet' of 40 to 45 nets, the 'trail end' marked with a small coloured buoy. Each net was 60 yards long, mounted on a rope several yards shorter, with lines called 'ozels', costing fully mounted, 25s. The 'heid back' or warp, by which the nets were connected, was supported by buoys made from sheepskins. Nets were barked before and once during season, using about one hundredweight of bark at a time.
The nets were shot on the starboard side, about half a mile from the nearest boat, when all were out the foremast was lowered back into the crutch, the mizzen removed altogether, and laid up on the foredeck, the rudder was brought inboard, and the boat lay to her nets. The fleet was hauled by hand over the stern, on both sides as tide permitted, and the nets were cleared at sea, a process known locally as 'reddin the nets'.'
'Home with the tide' 1880
James Clarke Hook (Tate Gallery)

(click the pic for more info on James Clarke Hook)
More info from the Tate Gallery

This painting shows Scaffies returning from fishing to 'Crooked Hythe', Findochty. The harbour was constructed in 1882 - 1883 nearby, off to the left of the painting.

More images of Findochty

More info on Findochty

The Importance of the Fishwife

The role of a wife was essential in the life of a fisherman. In situations such as in the painting above, the wife would carry her husband out to the boat after it was launched, so he could start off his fishing trip dry. If the fisherman was line fishing, his wife would have already gathered the bait, baited the hooks and coiled the complete line in a large scoop shaped basket called a 'scull'. If drift net fishing for herring, his wife would mend his nets. She was also the fish seller, sometimes carrying a heavy creel inland to her customers. Housework had to be done, meals prepared, clothes made & repaired - not an easy life!
Sources & acknowledgements
Mr. Ron Stewart "Sail & Steam"
Moray District Library
Banffshire Advertiser
'Sailing Drifters' Edgar March
Mike & Eileen McKeag
US Library of Congress
Scran online resource