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Students find their sea legs on historic Shetland ship

Swan sail training with Skipper Maggie Adamson
Sanday Community School students get a quick safety lesson before setting sail for a training day on the Swan.

Crews of young adventurers recently set sail for training days on the historic Swan, a 120-year-old fishing vessel.

The Shetland-born former herring boat was given new life in the 1990s as a sail training and charter vessel.

Over the past week, the Swan offered sail training days for students in Sanday, Westray, Ullapool and Stornoway.

Skipper Maggie Adamson said that she gets a thrill out of seeing young people band together on board.

And the students who set sail–even those who turned a bit green–revelled in the chance to learn the ropes on a living piece of Scottish sailing history.

Shetland born and bred

The Swan was built in Lerwick in 1900. At the time, it was one of hundreds of other fifies – vessels developed in the east of Scotland – that fished the coasts. The ship fell into disrepair in the 1950s, but was rediscovered in an English harbour and restored and relaunched in 1996.

Today, the Swan is one of only two fifies left of its size.

The Swan Trust restored and relaunched the Swan in 1996. Supplied by The Swan Trust

Skipper Maggie Adamson is also from Shetland. She started sailing on the Swan in 2016 and she loves sail training with kids.

She said: “It’s always great when the kids come on board. It doesn’t really matter what age, whether it’s primary school age or up to teenagers.”

She said there’s a noticeable difference between when the kids first set foot on board and when they disembark after a hard day’s work.

Sanday Community School students are excited about their day of training before setting sail on the Swan. Supplied by Stewart McPhail

“It’s great seeing them over the day as they gel into a team and try things that are new to them.

“Seeing their confidence is just great. The smiles on their faces when they achieve something that they didn’t think they could.”

Teamwork leads to success on the open sea

Maggie said that sail training on the Swan builds fast friendships.

“Teamwork’s the most important one in a lot of ways. When you come on a boat you have to work together to make it work.

“It’s a mini family in a way. You’ve got to look out for each other as well. If someone’s not feeling right or seasick, you’ll notice some of the other kids stepping up and helping out and that’s really great to see.”

Sanday students play with Skipper Maggie Adamson during Swan sail training
Maggie Adamson, right, plays a tune with students from Sanday Community School in Swan’s dining room. Supplied by Stewart McPhail.

Don’t forget your old shipmates

Now back on terra firma, a group of Westray Junior High seafarers reflected on their sail training on the Swan.

Elijah said the day started with a safety demonstration from the Skipper. At various stages in the trip, he helped raise, lower and secure the sails.

Callum explained some of the various duties he and his shipmates performed.

“We stayed about the pier and then we put up the mainsail by pulling on ropes. Then we got teas and coffees. After that, we went and put the sail up at the bow.

“Big thanks to the Swan Trust for the opportunity to sail on the boat. I really enjoyed my experience.”

Swan sail training students from Westray Junior High
Westray Junior High’s sailors-in-training take a well-deserved break on the Swan. Supplied by Rosalind Rendall

Imogen said it was fun to move about the ship.

“I spent some time downstairs, then helped take down the sails, helped with the ropes, helped moor the ship, and then disembarked. I am glad I went.”

Sailing in the face of adversity

Harry said that, after an early snack and hoisting the front sail, it wasn’t smooth sailing for everyone.

“We then got a break, and a seat, some of us felt very sick. We got pizzas and chips for lunch but not all of us ate it because we didn’t feel well enough.”

Swan sail training
Westray Junior High students take turns at the wheel of the Swan. Supplied by Rosalind Rendall

Elsie also felt the effects of the swell. But she wasn’t going to let that bring her down.

“There were some big waves which made me feel quite sick. But I did enjoy the parts where I wasn’t feeling too bad. Even though I wasn’t feeling the best I still think it was a great experience and I’m glad I went.”

How are your sea legs?

In addition to sail training days, the Swan also charters public trips. You can check availability and book a trip on the Swan online.

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