The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Orkney Yole Association

Orkney yoles

The Orkney yole used to be the workhorse of the sea for all crofter-fishermen in the islands. It has several design and construction features that suggest a Nordic ancestry. She is a true workboat, built for seaworthiness and cargo carrying capacity.

North Isles boats carried lugsails whilst South Isles men preferred the spritsails shown in the picture above. Both configurations are simple, with minimum rigging.

Yoles were still in common use as motor boats until the 1960s. Thirty-five years later they were on the verge of extinction and Willie Tulloch’s gunter-rigged Emma was probably the last sailing yole in regular active service, albeit as a pleasure boat.

The first restoration was Dennis Davidson’s small spritsail yole in 1995.  Len Wilson and Maurice Davidson launched their new yole Gremsa in 1999 and a year later the refurbished 90-year-old Family Pride took to the water once more in Longhope.

Since then the new boats Halle, Frances and Lily have emerged from Ian Richardson's yard in Stromness. Richard Wilson launched his new North Isles yole Lizzie II in Kirkwall and more have been restored throughout the islands, notably boats from Flotta, Kirkwall and Westray.

A couple of elliptic stern derivatives have also been built. The debate continues whether they qualify to be called yoles. Altogether there are now more than a dozen on the water.

In December 2000 a group of enthusiasts formed the Orkney Yole Association, with the aim of reviving the craft and promoting its use.

The association works in partnership with Orkney Education Authority to provide annual yole experience events for pupils at Stromness Primary School. There are regular sailing activities in and around Scapa Flow and members try to attend as many regattas as possible.

Members plan to establish a traditional sail-house, pier and slipway in Stromness. Those with an interest in boats and heritage can support the association's activities by becoming a member

© Len Wilson