The Sixareen, (also spelled :Sixern), (Norwegian name : Seksring, which means 'six-oared').
During the mid 1700s large numbers of boats were being imported from the Bergen area of Norway. These clinker built craft were both 4 and 6 oared, with the larger of the six oared ones being the Seksring, the model which became the Shetland Sixareen.
These boats were imported in various states of build. Some were finished ready for the water. Others were in kit form, having been assembled beforehand then taken apart for ease of shipping. And some which had been fully assembled had their internal timbers numbered and removed so that several boats could be stacked within each other to reduce space on the cargo vessel.
It is reasonable to assume from various records of this trade that, until as late as the 1830s, a very large percentage of the boats being used in Shetland were fundamentally Norwegian craft. But by about 1840 regular sailings between Shetland and Scotland made it possible to import larch as an alternative to Norwegian pine. This coupled to increased duty for imports from Norway led to the demise of the Norwegian boat imports, and from about the mid 1800s local builders started to make their own, although very minimally altered, version of the Sixareen.
As fishing links with Scotland were strengthened during the latter half of the 19th century various alternative boat designs were introduced but none of these had any marked impact on the Sixareen which was a tried and trusted design.
The Sixareen was used to fish the Far Haaf, up to 40 miles from Shetland. Because of this, and the unpredictable nature of the weather in northern waters, the loss of boats and lives was extremely high. The worst losses being on the 16th July 1832 when 17 boats and 105 men were lost in a severe gale, and again on the 21st July 1881 when a sudden and violent summer storm, claimed 10 boats and 58 men, mostly from Gloup, in the north of Yell, in what became known as The Gloup Disaster.
The size of a Sixareen varied from about 25 - 30 feet overall, with a beam of 7 - 8 feet. The boat carried a square sail which was used when the wind was favourable, but often in light winds or in a head wind the crew could row for many hours to complete their journey. Fishing trips usually were over 3 days, with the boats making 2 trips each week when the weather permitted. One can only imagine the conditions on board a 30ft open boat in the open sea, even in summer.
As with the Yoal, all the parts of a Sixareen have names, which are mostly unique to the Shetland dialect, although many of the names are derived from the old Norse language. The part names in the text of this page carries links to pictures and descriptions of these boat parts, including the English part name and, where possible, the Norwegian name.
There are six separate rooms, or sections in a Sixareen: The fore head, where sails and tackle were stored; the fore room; the mid room, where stones for ballast were placed; the owsin room which was kept clear for 'owsin' (bailing) out water, using an owsekerri; the shot room where the catch was stowed; and the kannie where the skipper sat at the helm.
The 'Rooms' of the boat were seperated by the tafts on which the crew sat, the fiskabrods under the tafts, which stopped the catch and fishing gear from shifting between rooms, and by the baands, the frames to which the boards were fixed.
The boards, named from the keel upwards, were: The boddam runner, the hassen, the 1st & 2nd swills,
the laands (4 boards), and the reebin, the upper board, inside which the wale or gunwale was fixed. At the bow and stern the boards were fixed to the stammerin before attaching to the fore and aft stems. The reebin was additionally strengthened by the breast hook, or hinny spot where it met the horn at the top of the stem.
Although it is not clear when the last Sixareens were built for fishing, it is likely to be not much later than the late 1890's, by which time it was seen that larger boats were the way forward for the local fishing industry.
Having said that, there have been 2 Sixareens built in the 20th century. In the 1980's Duncan Sandison of Unst realised that the Sixareen was very much a boat of the past, as there were none left in Unst. With the help of a group of volunteers, after 800 hours work, the "Far Haaf", a replica Sixareen was completed in 1988, but sadly she was destroyed by a hurricane which swept the isles in 1992. Not to be put off by this loss, another "Far Haaf" was built and launched in 1993. She now has pride of place in a special enclosure outside the Unst Boat Haven.
Although the Sixareen is part of the fishing past in Shetland, a new Sixareen was built by the Shetland Museum in 2008. The boat took about 3 months to build and an extensive pictorial record of the build can be found at This Link.
- The Haaf Fishing - A Scalloway Junior High School project
- Link leads to a downloadable "Resource pack for fishing and the Gloup disaster 1881".
- Shetland Museum Boats Page
- Undiscovered Scotland - Unst Boat Haven
- Unst Boat Haven