Scottish sail-making course one of only two in Europe

The ancient skill of sail-making is to be taught in the only course of its kind in Scotland.

The tradition, which dates back to prehistoric times, is being offered by Orkney College’s ‘Nav School’ in Stromness.

The course, one of only two in Europe, will be led by local sail maker Margaret Crawford and maritime studies lecturer Mark Shiner, who came up with the idea.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mark said: “Although we will look at the theory of how sails work, this is primarily a hands-on course covering sail making and sail repairs, together with traditional rope and canvas work.

“The attic at the Nav School is like a traditional sail loft with a floor big enough to spread out a sail or boat cover while it’s being made.

“The course is aimed at leisure sailors, especially those who build and maintain their own boats, and at the end students will have the skills they need to create their own sails for small to medium sized sailing craft.”

He added: “Sail-making goes back to prehistoric times but what is really fascinating is that for all the modern carbon fibre and Teflon fittings of racing sails, any sail can trace its ancestry back to those first rags that took on an aerodynamic shape as they were stretched by the wind.

“We want to keep some of the olkd traditional methods alive but with a nod to the future.

Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme is supporting the project and has provided funding for two robust sewing machines and the materials needed to get the course up and running.

The scheme’s manager Julian Branscombe, said “It is fantastic to see traditional maritime crafts being carried on – and amazing to find that Orkney’s course is one of only two available in the whole of Europe.”

The maritime studies department will be running the course at the Nav School over five days in November.

Two free places on offer to groups that maintain and sail traditional boats have been taken up by the Orkney Yole Association and Westray Sailing Club.

The sail-making project has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Orkney Islands Council and the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2007-2013 Programme.

The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme is a £2 million three year programme celebrating the heritage – wildlife, landscape, cultural heritage, history and archaeology – in and around Scapa Flow and the South Isles of Orkney.

The scheme has received £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with further support from Orkney Islands Council, the European Union, Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the RSPB and charitable trusts.