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 days, SWAN 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.
In July 2020 it was reported that The Swan Trust was among 16 charitable organisations which collectively received over half a million pounds from the Shetland Charitable Trust, with the Swan Trust receiving £14,000. This funding will be used to ready SWAN to offer life changing sail training opportunities in 2021.
In June 2023, SWAN was awarded the title of NHS-UK's Operational Flagship of the Year, in recognition of her participation in the Tall Ships Race which was to be hosted in Shetland that year, the projected visitor numbers resulting from this and the strength of her links with local groups and communities.
Built by Hay & Co., Lerwick, Shetland Isles
Ceased fishing and sold to an Australian who took her south
Found at Hartlepool, derelict and sunk
Bought by Keith Parkes and advertised for sale
Brought back to Shetlands and the Swan Trust formed
Re-launched after extensive restoration
Became a sail training vessel based in Lerwick, Shetland Isles
Refitted at Macduff; competed in the Tall Ships Race
Awarded Flagship of the Year by National Historic Ships UK and an award of £1000 from the Strategic Development Fund
Received the 2023 Operational Flagship of the Year Award from National Historic Ships UK
A Sustainability Grant of £700 for survey was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships with the support of Winter & Co (Marine) Ltd
Awarded £5,000 to support the sail replacement from Historic Environment Scotland
The Swan Trust has been awarded £17,800 through the Historic Environment Recovery Fund, which was launched last year to support the recovery of Scotland’s historic environment sector from the impacts of COVID-19.
A Sustainability Grant of £750 towards the cost of remedial work was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships UK
Winner of Flagship of the Year 2011 and awarded £1,000 from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £25,900 for restoration work
Simper, Robert, Scottish Sail: Forgotten Era, David and Charles, 1974
Brouwer, Norman J, International Register of Historic Ships, Anthony Nelson, Edition 2, 1993
Classic Boat: Swan upped, September 1995
Classic Boat: Swan lets children sleep as she rides out storm force 10, August 1998
Classic Boat: Charter UK Destinations - Wish you were here?, February 2011
Classic Boat: Fifie becomes National Flagship, June 2011
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