The Fifie Sailing Vessel

Information about the Fifie

Isabella Fortuna in full sail © Iain Morrison 2006

The Fifie Sailing Vessel

The Fifie is a very sturdy, stable and fast sailing vessel that was used from about the 1850's and through into the 1930's. The Fifie was mainly used for fishing for the Silver Darlings, Herring, using Drift nets and called drifters, however, some were used for Line Fishing. Many were modified and were used as Trading ships. Later some were also fitted with engines.

The term Fifie covers a varied amount of design differences, but they can be distinguished by their vertical stem and stern. The other design parameters that identifies a Fifie is that of a long straight keel and wide beam. This made the Fifies very stable in the water and allowed them to carry a very large set of sails. However, according to contemporary reports from those who sailed them, the long keel made them difficult to manoeuvre in small harbours.



The Reaper © Scottish Fisheries Museum, AnstrutherSailing Fifies had two masts with the standard rig consisting of a main dipping lugsail and a mizzen standing lug sail. The masts were positioned far forward and aft on the boat to give the maximum clear working space amidships. A large fifie could be over 65 feet or 20 metres in length. Because of their large sail area they were very fast sailing boats.

Fifies built after 1860 were all decked and from 1870s onwards the bigger boats were built with carvel planking, i.e. the planks were laid edge to edge instead of the overlapping clinker style of previous boats. From about 1905 onwards sailing Fifies were gradually fitted with engines and converted to motorised vessels.


The Swan © The Swan Trust, LerwickThere are few surviving examples of this type of fishing boat still in existence. Wick heritage in recent years has restored Fifie called the Isabella Fortuna. They have made an excellent job of her. Check out the Wick Heritage Society's New Website and the following pages for more information on other restored and sailing Fifies: The Wick Heritage Website and information on the Isabella Fortuna - Click Here! This link opens a new page.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum based in Anstruther, Fife has restored and still sails a classic example of this type of vessel named the Reaper. The Reaper - Click Here! This link opens a new page.

The Swan Trust in Lerwick, Shetland have restored and maintain another Fifie called the Swan, as a sail training vessel. The Swan - Click Here! This link opens a new page.

Also worth a look is the National Historic Ships Committee web Site which has a list and some images of old ships including Fifies: National Historic Ships Committee - Click Here! This link opens a new page.


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Melness Pier Photo © Iain Morrison Welcome to the Melness Internet Site. This is a labour of love for me. It is a celebration of all that makes Melness a wonderful place. It holds so many fantastic memories for me, growing up there until going to School in Golspie. It is a celebration of the people, their culture, history, music, poetry and heritage. I hope you like the new design and find the site easy to use. There are lots of new pages and resources to enjoy and many more to come in the future. Enjoy, Iain