Obituary: David Tod, innovative and influential figure in the Scottish fishing industry

David Tod, engineer and fisherman. Born: 25 December, 1941 in Pittenweem. Died: 14 February, 2022 in St Andrews, aged 81

David Tod changed practices and saved lives in the fishing sector

David Tod’s loss will be felt across multiple organisations, communities and groups. A practical thinker who made significant impact on everything he put his hand to, his innovations in the fishing industry have changed practices and saved lives.

Born and brought up in Pittenweem, David decided not go into his family bakers business. After a spell at the fishing he took up an apprenticeship with Smith Brothers Engineering, Anstruther.

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When time served David returned to the fishing, he purchased a small vessel in 1966 and converted it to his plans. The Your Lynn was looked upon with scepticism by the worthies of Pittenweem, but he soon proved them wrong and became a sucessful prawn fisherman.

A few years later the ambitious young skipper placed Campbeltown shipyard’s very first order. David fought to get the significant changes to the yard’s standard design and got the boat he wanted. St Adrian was christened in May 1970 by David’s wife Margaret. It has been cited as one of the most significant vessels of its era.

He was the first to use hydraulic guiding on gear and he designed a way to take the trawl wires overhead from the winch rather than along the deck. His most important innovation was the addition of big flanges to a second winch which enabled him to haul the net aboard on a big drum. Now every modern trawler in the UK carries this equipment. His innovations have not only saved labour but will have saved many lives and prevented some of the worst accidents in Britain’s most dangerous industry.

After the success of his first vessel, GL Watson developed his next design. The St Adrian II (1980s) was an impressive working tool and sea boat. The wheelhouse was positioned in the middle of the boat but offset, with trawl wires fed through steel tubes over the shelter deck and with two net drums he pioneered the twin rig.

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David came ashore when he purchased a marine engineering and fabrication company. He converted and improved multiple fishing vessels. This facility also helped him maintain and improve his fleet.

David’s eldest son, Andrew, skippered St Adrian II for 15 years before downsizing and his younger son, Dave, currently skippers another superbly efficient small trawler, the Crusader that David had shortened and converted from a bare hull.

The last vessel to be named St Adrian fished out of Pittenweem until his crew and skipper retired.

David’s influence has spread wider than the fishing fleet. Anstruther Community Council, Fisherman’s Mutual Association Pittenweem, Fife Harbours Board and multiple clubs have paid tribute to his stewardship of their organisations.

His involvement with the Scottish Fisheries Musuem goes back to 1969. Volunteer, Trustee, Chairman and latterly Vice President, he drove expansion, development and solved innumerable practical issues in the complex of old buildings. He has overseen the technical challenges round restoring the Reaper, the museum’s 1903 sailing lugger and ensured this independant museum has a collection of national significance. His most remakable feat was installing the 78ft Research LK 62 into a gallery. He had rescued the hull from being destroyed after a storm, built a steel frame round it and almost single handedly manouevered it into the musuem.

The formation of specialist interest clubs was another of his plans to ensure the Fisheries Museum could thrive and survive.

In 1985 the Reaper had completed its first phase of restoration, but there was no crew. His Boats Club began a programme of outreach that has seen visits from Portsmouth to Lerwick. David skippered the vessel when possible, other retired fishermen skippered the vessel on the longer trips. This club has introduced fishing heritage to more than 180,000 visitors.

He was a skilled model boat builder. His second club was the SFM Model Boats Club. One of the last models he completed was the 1937 Manx Beauty, a Cellardyke-built boat. David was also technical advisor for the restoration of this historic vessel.

His project that has had the widest impact was developed through the Scottish Fisheries Museum to re-establish small scale boat building. His plan was to create a wooden vessel in kit form that could be constructed by communities.

David, Alec Jordan (Jordan Boats) and rowing enthusiast Robbie Wightman came up with the idea of a vessel suitable for competitive coastal rowing. Ian Oughtred designed the St Ayles Skiff, a 22ft open boat with sea-going capabilities.

The first regatta was held off Anstruther in 2010 and the Scottish Coastal Rowing movement was born. David chaired Anstruther’s club and sat on the National Committee.

The passion and efforts of many individuals, communities and clubs has made this sport grow at an incredible rate, guided by David and the others.

The third world championships in Stranraer, in 2019, were attended by more than 30,000 spectators and 1,500 rowers, the economic impact was over £3.5 million.

Alongside the health and community benefits, rowing has put thousands of people back in touch with the seas, learning the skills to safely take an open boat out in all kinds of weather.

David Tod was a man of vision backed up by practical knowledge and unlike many who come up with ideas he had the tools to achieve his goals.

For the past 40 years he lived in Cellardyke, with a panoramic view of the Firth of Forth, his model boats proudly displayed in the windows. His late wife Margaret would anxiously look out for the boats coming home. They were a very close couple and her loss just over three years ago had a huge impact on him and the family.

David was awared the British Empire Medal in 2017 for services to “Preserving the Heritage of the Scottish Fishing Industry”.

He is survived by two sons, Andrew and David, their wives, Lorainne and Janice and four grandchildren.

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