Troubled teenagers learn skills of traditional boat-building

They were skills held by generations before them in the coastal communities which made their lives from the sea.

A new generation of boat-builder is emerging for events like the Portsoy Boat Festival. Photograph: Kathy Mansfield
A new generation of boat-builder is emerging for events like the Portsoy Boat Festival. Photograph: Kathy Mansfield

Now traditional building of boats is to be taught to troubled teens on a stretch of Scottish coastline to create a new generation of craftspeople equipped with new skills and a fresh sense of self.

Lorna Summers, director of the Portsoy Community Enterprise, has helped to revive interest in old boat-building ways in Aberdeenshire on a considerable scale.

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A former primary school headteacher, she wanted to give young people in Portsoy and neighbouring towns and villages an appreciation of the area’s seafaring ways and the skills of those who built the boats on which livelihoods were made.

A project, run in conjunction with the Royal Yachting Association Scotland, saw 67 Optimist dinghies built by around 700 children in the area.

A number of Irish curraghs and a Tammie Norrie – both types of sailboats – were also constructed by pupils at Banff Academy in a similar project led by a local boatman.

Now Summers and fellow boat-building volunteers have devised a programme for those disaffected by the usual school environment – with hopes it will help build confidence, satisfaction and abilities among the trainees.

Summers said: “It’s a traditional way of life on our coast and the fishing and the associated boat-building would have been prevalent in all the villages around there.

“The skills in the traditional boat-building were fast disappearing, but now we have a situation where nearly all of the primary kids who are feeding up to Banff Academy will have some sort of experience with these skills.

“We now have this special project where we are being funded to support kids who perhaps find school more challenging. We know from the young people we have worked with already that they get such a lot out of the boat-building, a lot of personal satisfaction that they have actually created something that actually works and you can take out to sea.

“It will develop inter-personal skills a great deal. You find that quite often these young people don’t have a particularly high image of themselves, so we hope that our project will be very supportive to them.

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“At the end of it they will have something to put on their CV – and something to be really proud of.”

Young people will typically work with larch or oak and hand tools to make the boats, with more modern materials also used. They will be involved in all stages of the boat-building – from planning to the finishing touches – with hopes they will sail at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy.

The two-day event in June, which this year attracted around 20,000 people to the tiny village, has helped to revive an interest in the area’s nautical past, as well as the village itself, Summers said.