Historic 'Fifie' fishing boat Reaper restored in £1 million project

A major £1million conservation project has restored the iconic ‘Fifie’ Reaper - the last of the great first-class Scottish Herring Luggers - a ‘rare survivor’ from the golden age of sail.

Scottish Fisheries Museum’s iconic ‘Fifie’ the Reaper 95 year old Coull Deas MBE, former long-time skipper, and Boat Club volunteer Jim Wilson, take a break after working on the £1million conservation of the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s iconic ‘Fifie’ Reaper, © Martin Shields

One of the few vessels in the UK’s prestigious National Historic Fleet kept in seagoing condition, the two-masted, 70 foot, 50 tonne Reaper will open to the public on Wednesday at her pontoon on Anstruther Harbour, once Scotland’s busiest fishing port.

The project at the town’s Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, began in 2018 and was made possible by funding from the Scottish Government, Museums Galleries Scotland and Oor Bairns Charitable Trust.

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The 118-year-old Reaper, which has starred on screen, most recently in the hit TV series ‘Outlander’ and film ‘Tommy’s Honour’, is of Carvel construction and built of oak and larch. She was built in Sandhaven, near Fraserburgh, in 1903, at the height of the worldwide boom for Scottish salt-cured herring.

Well, would you look at that!

The tight turnaround of 24 hours to catch, gut and salt the herring led to the development of these fast, powerful deep sea sailing luggers or ‘drifters’.

Inspired by Viking longship design and powered by wind alone with their huge, heavy, square lugsails stretching over 3,355sq ft and sleek hulls, ‘Fifies’ became the most popular fishing vessel on Scotland’s North Sea coast during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Karen Seath, Chair of the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, said: “The Reaper is a stunning and extraordinary vessel and a significant part of Scotland’s rich national maritime and fishing heritage. She’s a rare survivor of the golden age of sail and our booming herring industry of the past.

“The Reaper is also unusual in that, through ongoing conservation and care, she remains seaworthy and has become a striking sight at Anstruther and ports across the UK, welcoming some 180,000 people onboard to date.

Scottish Fisheries Museum Boat Club volunteer Wince Stewart works on the internal refit of Reaper as part of the £1million conservation project. © Martin Shields

“We are grateful to our funders, skilled boat builders, volunteers, supporters and visitors, everyone who made this conservation of the Reaper possible. It has been a true labour of love and we look forward to welcoming visitors onboard during what is her first full summer in Anstruther Harbour.”

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland added: “We are delighted to have supported the Scottish Fisheries Museum with the conservation for the nationally important vessel the Reaper. This is an incredible example of conservation bringing history to life, allowing visitors and residents to once again experience life aboard the Reaper and explore the rich heritage of Scotland’s maritime industry.”

Although ‘Fifies’ looked effortless and graceful when under sail, leaving harbour and managing the heavy gear and herring nets, which extended a mile long, was physically demanding and skilled work for the crew of eight men and a boy.

On shore, the Reaper, which held the Shetland record for a catch of 223 crans (almost 250,000 herring) in the 1930s, supported various industries. These included the ‘Herring Lassies’ who gutted 60 herring a minute on the gutting tables or ‘farlans’ before packing them in salted barrels for export to Europe.

Scottish Fisheries Museum’s iconic ‘Fifie’ the Reaper. Scottish Fisheries Boat Club. Top to bottom, left to right: The Reaper Skipper Mike Barton, Nick Chalmers, Tony Davis, Winston Stewart, Coull Deas MBE, Bob Flan, Donald McDonald, Dave Crowther, Rodger McAslan, Andrew Gould, Sadie Crowther, Jim Wilson, Lesley McConnell Volunteers at the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Boat Club, which help maintain and sail Reaper, have so far contributed over 700 hours to the final phase of the £1million conservation, working on the internal refit, reinstating the cabins, galley, display areas and navigational aids. Photograph by Martin Shields

Volunteers at the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Boat Club, which helps maintain and sail the Reaper, have also contributed over 700 hours to date to the final phase of works.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum, in the East Neuk of Fife, is home to a Nationally Recognised Collection of vessels, fishing equipment, exhibits, photographs, and artworks.

The Museum’s 22 vessels are listed on the UK’s National Register of Historic Vessels.

Tickets for tours aboard the Reaper are available at the the pontoon priced at £5.