Yoal

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Ness Yoal and crew 1900
Ness Yoal Maggie (272LK) under sail at Sandwick 1989, Skippered by Charlie Smith with Tommy Watt in the fore room. The Ivy was restored in the early 1980's by brothers Tommy and Jim Harper, Exnaboe.


The Yoal, often referred to as the 'Ness Yoal', is a clinker built craft, designed primarily for rowing, but which also handles well under her traditional square sail when running before the wind or on a broad reach.
The Yoal was the main vessel used for the Haaf Fishing, until the introduction of the Sixareen in the mid 18th century. Although there were some variations in size the Yoal was generally 21ft 5in overall with 5ft 5in beam.

Until about 1860 yoals were imported from Norway, from Hordaland, the area around Bergen, in kit form, and local boat builders followed to Shetland to put them together, but increasing customs duty meant that local builders took over the building and stayed with almost the same design.
One notable feature of a yoal construction are the gunwales which stop short at both bow and stern leaving several inches of upper board with no gunwale. This is supposed to give the craft more flexibility in heavy seas.
All the parts of a yoal have a name, perhaps to make assembly easier when they came in kit form, or to make it easier to order spare parts. These part names in many cases bear a closer relationship to Norwegian than British language. The descriptive text on this page names most of these parts, and clicking on the name will link to a better explanation of the part, and in most cases a picture of that part.

There are six boards to the construction of a yoal, they are from the keel up, the 'gabbard straik'; the 'hassen straik'; the 'lower sool'; the 'upper sool'; the 'sand straik'; and the 'upper wup'.
Ness Yoal still in regular use, but with modern propulsion. Note, tradition dictates that paint follows line of upper two boards, and doesn't follow the waterline.
The boards were fixed to three main frames,'baands' which curved across the keel between gunwales, underneath the 'tafts' (seats), and also to the 'stammerin' or 'cant frame', near both bow and stern, before fixing to the fore and aft stems. The 'upper wups' were joined by the 'hinny spot' where they met the 'horn', at the top of the stem, for added strength.
The 'baands' were not fixed to the keel, this again adding to the flexibility of the Yoal.
Spiggie Beach in the early 60's - Picture courtesy of J.A.Work Snr.

The 'baands' divided the boat into four sections: the 'fore room', for fishing tackle etc.; the 'mid room', for ballast; the 'owsin room', which was kept clear for bailing, 'owsin', any water which came aboard, using an owsekerri; and the 'shot room', which is where the catch was stored.

To save the gunwales from wear, at each 'aer', (oar), position a block of hard wood, the 'routh', was fixed in position with two wooden pegs called 'routh pins'. Sticking up from the 'routh' was the 'kabe', a hardwood peg, against which the 'aer' was rowed. The oar was held in position against the kabe by a loop of rope called the 'humlieband'.
The Yoal was rowed by three men with a pair of 'aers' each. The men were seated on 'tafts', which rested on the 'wearin' a wooden support which ran across the three main 'baands', and for purchase they could brace their feet against a 'fitlinn', a piece of wood across between the 'baands'. The floorboards of the boat were called 'tilfers'.
When wind conditions were right the Yoal carried a square sail, hoisted on a wooden mast which was stepped through the mid 'taft' and braced at its base to the mid 'baand'

Yoal - Margaret, in Unst Boat Haven.

George Johnson of Skelberry, Dunrossness, was one of the most prolific builders of Ness Yoals. Among the yoals built by Johnson, in his later years, were several larger ones up to 23ft 10in overall. One of these, which sadly has gone now, was the 'Oceans Gift', so named because all the wood for here construction came from driftwood. Unusual features of these larger yoals were that their gunwales did not stop short of the stem and stern like the normal yoals, and some of them had a full fourth 'baand'. The picture to the right shows one of these larger yoals, builder unknown. She is the Margaret, built pre-1900, on display in the Unst Boat Haven. She is 23ft 5in overall, has a beam of 5ft 8in, and a keel of 14ft 10in. The picture clearly shows that she has a full fourth baand, between the aft taft and the stern (front of picture), and the gunwales are complete all the way to the hinny spot.

Model of Yoal on display in Shetland Museum.

Throughout Shetland many traditional Yoals, built by Johnson, and others of his era, still exist. Very few are still in regular use, although in the Virkie Marina there are 2 which are used for pleasure fishing.

In recent years the advent of Yoal rowing regattas has seen an upsurge in the building of these traditional craft.
Ian Best, Fair Isle, and Tommy Isbister Trondra, are the most prolific Yoal builders today.





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