Fifie built 1900 by Hay & Co Ltd, Lerwick

Ensign House flag


National Historic Fleet

Fishing Vessel




Commercial Activity

Sail training





Web site









To be confirmed

19.74 feet (6.02 metres)

66.95 feet (20.42 metres)

7.11 feet (2.17 metres)



On 3 May 1900 the fifie SWAN (LK 243) was launched at Hay & Co Ltd’s Freefield yard in Lerwick, and was then the largest fishing vessel in Shetland. Owned by her builders, her first skipper was Thomas Isbister. Her frames were of oak, with a larch and pitch pine skin, and she was fitted with a steam capstan to handle her nets and the twin dipping lugsail rig. In her early daysSWAN was engaged in the spring longline fishing and, from May to September, in drift net fishing for herring. She was soon taken over by a Whalsay crew, and Symbister, on that island, became her home port for almost half a century.

In 1908 she was converted to a gaff ketch Shetland smack rig and continued to fish under sail until 1935. By then she was one of only five sailing herring drifters left in Shetland. After the Second World War she was used in seine net fishing. Finally in 1960 she was sold for conversion to a houseboat and towed to Grimsby. She then had several different owners and ended up in Hartlepool in 1982, where she lay neglected for some time, sinking two or three times due to lack of maintenance. A local businessman, Keith Parkes, realised her importance and bought the sunken hulk in 1989 with a view to restoration. He made the hull seaworthy again, but finding he did not have the time needed to complete the project he offered her for sale in The Shetland Times in 1990. Led by James Moncrieff, the Swan Trust was formed and brought her back to the Shetlands in April 1991 under the power of her own engine.

After a major restoration, aided by a £25,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, SWAN was re-launched on 11 May 1996. She was re-rigged as a Shetland smack by T Nielsen & Co, the new rig (designed by Tom Moncrieff) being as authentic as possible. A steam capstan was rebuilt and converted for hydraulic power. Below deck the aft cabin has been rebuilt in the style of the original and a larger cabin has been fitted out amidships, giving a total of 15 berths plus a saloon, galley, toilets and a shower. She began operating commercially in 1998 as a sail training ship, and sails not only in Shetland waters but also to the coasts of Norway and the Faroe Islands, and the near continent. Based at Lerwick, she is a regular entrant in the Tall Ships Races. Each year she takes out over 1000 students from schools and youth groups in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Source: Historic Sail, Britain's surviving working craft, Paul Brown, the History Press.

Robert Simper, Scottish Sail: Forgotten Era (1974) pub: David and Charles
Norman J Brouwer, International Register of Historic Ships (Edition 2, 1993) pub: Anthony Nelson
Classic Boat (September, 1995) Swan upped
Classic Boat (August, 1998) Swan lets children sleep as she rides out storm force 10
Classic Boat (February Edition 273, 2011) Charter UK Destinations - Wish you were here?
Classic Boat (June Edition 276, 2011) Fifie becomes National Flagship

Subsequent Developments

  1. January 2011 SWAN is currently underoing a refit in Macduff (Jan 2011) and will be returning to Shetland in March to prepare for the summer season which will include a 10 day trip to St Kilda and also participation for the Tall Ships Race 2011. SWAN will participate in all four legs of the race from Waterford (Ireland) via Greenock (Scotland), Lerwick (Shetland) and Stavanger (Norway) to Halmstad (Sweden). Source: The Swan Trust
  2. April 2010 On Monday 20 September the SWAN embarked from Aberdeen, bound for Macduff, where she is now in the Macduff Shipyard for a major refit. As part of the refit, T.Nielsen and Co. of Gloucester, who installed the SWAN’s spars and rigging originally, will replace all the wire running rigging which, hopefully, will mean that we then have a few years of sailing with only regular seasonal maintenance of the rigging required. We have already renewed some of the sails, and had others renovated, so she will be both looking and sailing better following this. Meanwhile, the Macduff Shipyard will carry out other maintenance aboard. A quarter of the main deck is to be re-caulked to try and stop minor leaks, which have a habit of dampening the spirits, not to mention spare clothes and bedding. The deck will also be completely oiled, which will leave her looking spick and span for the Tall Ships 2011 event. The masts will be dressed and oiled. Another major item is the fitting of hydraulic steering gear, which will make her easier to handle, particularly for younger trainees. Improvements to the toilet/shower floors are to be carried out to enable easier cleaning, and modifications to the location of seacocks in the toilet area is planned. The refit will include repainting and revarnishing of several areas of the SWAN, and generally freshening her up. We are also looking at the possibility of putting in a heating system aboard, but this may have to be carried out next year. All this adds up to a major refit that should reduce the need for major work for the foreseeable future, and allow us to concentrate our efforts on the regular seasonal maintenance. Source: Current owners

Key dates

  1. 1900 Built by Hay & Co., Lerwick, Shetland Isles
  2. 1960 Ceased fishing and sold to an Australian who took her south
  3. 1982 Found at Hartlepool, derelict and sunk
  4. 1989 Bought by Keith Parkes and advertised for sale
  5. 1991 Brought back to Shetlands and the Swan Trust formed
  6. 1996 Re-launched after extensive restoration
  7. 1998 Became a sail training vessel based in Lerwick, Shetland Isles
  8. 2011 Refitted at Macduff; competed in the Tall Ships Race
  9. 2011 Awarded Flagship of the Year by National Historic Ships UK and an award of £1000 from the Strategic Development Fund


  1. 1974 Scottish Sail: Forgotten Era - Simper, Robert
  2. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
  3. 1995 Classic Boat Swan upped
  4. 1998 Classic Boat Swan lets children sleep as she rides out storm force 10
  5. 2011 Classic Boat Charter UK Destinations - Wish you were here?
  6. 2011 Classic Boat Fifie becomes National Flagship


  1. 1996/7 The Heritrage Lottery Fund awarded £25,900 for restoration work
  2. April 2011 Winner of Flagship of the Year 2011 and awarded £1,000 from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

keel bar:

metal bar forming the keel of a metal vessel