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12,000 miles in a Shetland foureen: Introduction

Part 1 - The Idea - by Nick Grainger

"Anything for the exciting life" I thought as we skidded across the white flecked rollers beneath Dunnet Head on the edge of the Pentland Firth. The 20ft Shetland foureen was going like a train and Andy Bryce her owner, looking more like an Orkney fisherman than the scientist I believed him to be, sat at the helm of the little double ender obviously at home and enjoying the wild weather.
"How much will you take for her?" I yelled above the wind.
"Three hundred pounds, that's what I paid to have her built, you can have her for that"
Three hundred! It was 1972, I was 22, and it was all the money we had, yet she was just what we wanted. I thought we would never find a more suitable boat for less.
So Julie and I bought The Aegre, 21ft (6.4m) long overall with a beam of 7ft (2.1m) built of mahogany planks fastened clinker fashion with copper nails.
Of classical Scandinavian design, there could be no doubts about her seaworthiness. In the seven years since she was built, Andy had been using her for daysailing and racing with an annual trip across the Firth to the Orkneys. She had obviously been well looked after and seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.
In '70s Britain, in the vanguard of the sailing boom, Shetland boats were not a well known design, but teaching sailing at an Adventure School in NW Scotland, where I had spent much of my time aboard a 16ft (4.8m) version, had taught me their extraordinary seakindliness. I had always thought that if I could get a bigger one and deck it in, I could take it almost anywhere.
A summer of looking and talking to people in Scotland had finally led to The Aegre. With the help of an empty fish lorry returning to the West Coast, it wasn't long before she was bobbing at a mooring in Loch a'Chadfi, just off Loch Laxford, where the John Ridgway School of Adventure was situated.
Teaching sailing on this wild and remote stretch of the Scottish coast had given me a thirst for adventure. I dreamt of ocean cruising with my wife Julie, but for now I just wanted a small sailing boat for coastal cruising, perhaps to sail down to the South of England at the end of the summer
When we bought her, The Aegre was decked in forward of the mast, aft she was open apart from narrow sidedecks. She had a long deadwood keel and all the ballast was internal, comprising about 10cwt (508kg) of Caithness slate cut to fit the bilges. She was sloop rigged with the main set as a standing lugsail.
For the cruising we had in mind we decided to continue the decking aft so we would have somewhere protected to sleep while underway, and also to build in buoyancy chambers to float the boat if she should be holed or capsize.
But overall we wanted to keep things very simple. No motor, no fancy rig, no flushing toilet, no shower, no freezer, no electrics, no holes in the hull.... But unsinkable, able to survive a complete capsize and rollover, inexpensive, realistic and yes, probably uncomfortable too. My thinking was strongly influenced by English Rose 2, the dory in which John Ridgway and Chay Blyth had rowed across the Atlantic in 1966, which I was very familiar with.
But before we knew it the summer was over and we hadn't even started any work on the boat. John Ridgway suggested we ask an elderly, highly respected local boat builder, Bob Maciness, to do the decking during the winter while we went south to more lucrative jobs.
As John said, "He could make a proper job of it and then next winter when you sail south, you wouldn't need to stop in the south of England, but could carry straight on for Madeira, even go on across the Atlantic to the West Indies!"
Madeira? The West Indies? Who said anything about them? Julie and I were stunned by the idea. John knew the size of our boat, he knew us, and he certainly knew the sea. Spending 92 days in an open boat rowing across the North Atlantic must have given him more than a suntan! But perhaps he was right. After all it had been done in smaller boats. And so we decided, if all went well we would sail for Madeira and then, perhaps, across the Atlantic.
Bob Maciness in 1972Bob Macinness was a big man in ancient blue overalls, with enormous hardened hands and a weather beaten face. He hardly raised an eyebrow as John leant on the gunwale of The Aegre outside his battered old nissen hut boatshed high on the hill above Scourie, and sketched the ideas for the decking on the back of an envelope.
"The West Indies eh ...heh heh heh...." Bob chuckled to himself, his eyes sparkling. He looked up at me over his scratched old glasses, "I wouldn't mind coming with you" he said nodding agreement to take on the work, "Heh heh, that would fix my arthritis".
Bob would finish current work he had and then build the decking whilst we returned to London for the winter and work to make money to pay Bob and to fund the trip the next year. We would return to Scotland in the spring. But there were so many uncertainties. Could we earn enough money, could we complete the modifications, fit out and the sea trials before the end of August the next year? Were we and the boat really up to it all?
 
Now go to Part 2 - Preparation, about the evolution of the interior design, voyage planning, self steering, and the trial voyages around the north west coast of Sutherland.
The Aegre was built by Shetlander Tammy Edwardson in Wick in 1965 for Andy Bryce, his brother-in law
Note - Hold the cursor over a picture to see the caption. Most of the pictures can also be enlarged by clicking on them.
The Aegre is apparently a Norse word meaning  a bore in a river, or big wave
The Aegre under construction 3
 

 

The Aegre under construction 4
The Aegre under construction 5
The Aegre under construction
First launch of the unmodified Aegre, Julie (right) and Nick (2nd from left)
Our friend Brian King tows The Aegre, floating high with no ballast, out of the kelp - 27 August 1972

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