Last surviving Viking-inspired boat that served a now- abandoned island goes up for auction

It was modelled on the great Viking boats once found in the seas around Scotland but it lay broken on a beach for years after an enormous bull, who was being transported to the mainland, got a fright and put its hoof through the bottom.

The Bee was build specifically for the islanders of Stroma, which sits between Caithness on the mainland and Orkney, so they could navigate the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth. PIC: Sotheby's.

Now, one of the last surviving examples of the Original Stroma Yoles is being sold at Sotheby's auction house next month after its remains were collected from the shore and painstakingly restored over a 20-year period.

The boat, called Bee, is expected to fetch up to £15,000 when it goes under the hammer with it being sold by The Berwickshire Maritime Trust, who have used it to teach traditional sailing skills to young people.

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The eerie photographs of the abandoned island of Stroma
Bee was modelled on the Yole boats, the design which was first favoured by Vikings, with the vessel made bigger and heavier than usual. It served as Stroma's livestock boat for more than 50 years. PIC: Contributed.

Built in 1904, the Bee is Nordic in design and closely related in shape to the Shetland Yoal and Sgoth Niseach of the Outer Hebrides, which were commonly used in the Orkney Islands and around the north of Scotland from the 8th and 9th centuries until well into the 20th century.

The people of Stroma, a tiny now-abandoned island which sits between Caithness and Orkney, took the Yole design and made it larger, fuller and heavier to cope with the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth with the Bee serving as the island's only livestock boat for more than 50 years.

Lucy Brown, Head of Sotheby’s Edinburgh Office, said: “The hull of Bee is one of the last remaining examples of the original Stroma Yoles.

The Bee will be sold at auction to raise funds for the Berwickshire Maritime Trust, who have used the boat to teach traditional sailing skills to young people. PIC: Sotheby's.

"Sadly, so many wooden boats simply rot away but Bee was built to survive. Her design was purpose built for her environment; today, the tradition of building boats to suit local conditions has almost vanished, making Bee’s survival even more significant.

"That proceeds from the sale will benefit a maritime trust dedicated to the promotion of seafaring is a fitting follow-on chapter to Bee’s 100-year history.”

Bee was built at Harrow near Mey in 1904 and registered to the Port of Wick in 1912 to owners 'David Sinclair and other residents of Stroma'.

The main occupations of islanders, which was abandoned in 1962, were long line fishing for cod and crofting.

The boat has been beautifully restored with the job taking 20 years. PIC: Sotheby's.

In Anne Houston’s book “Lest We Forget Canisbay”, there is a description of Bee being used to transport a horse to the island. The charge for transporting a beast was one shilling and it took 12 strong men to load horses or cattle onto the boat.

In 1941, a bull belonging to the Department of Agriculture was being transported back to the mainland aboard Bee

when the animal took fright and put its hoof through the bottom of the boat.

The crofters had to return to the island in a hurry and Sutherland Mason, who was a young boy living on the island at that time, remembers all the local families were given a joint of beef.

He also remembers Bee lying damaged on the beach at Stroma for many years.

When the island was abandoned, so was Bee but the boat was later rescued and bought in 1968 from descendants of the original owners for £1 and towed to the mainland for repair.

Bee was restored and cared for by John William Laird, Stan Anderson and Colin Heape with the boat now moored in Eyemouth Harbour.

She has sailed to the Summer Isles, through the Caledonian Canal, to Cromarty and Nairn on the Moray Firth and to the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival.

Bee will be sold at the Sotheby's Art of Travel online auction, which from December 2 to December 12.