Come Onboard Reaper! #SupportOurMuseums

by Simon J Hayhow in Anstruther, Scotland, United Kingdom

Come Onboard Reaper!         #SupportOurMuseums
We did it
On 19th August 2021 we successfully raised £710 ( + est. £102.50 Gift Aid ) with 22 supporters in 56 days

We need your help to tell the story of this rare survivor from the heyday of fishing. Help us to get visitors back on board!

by Simon J Hayhow in Anstruther, Scotland, United Kingdom

The Scottish Fisheries Museum (Charity No. SCO06185) is nearing completion of a major restoration of our iconic fishing boat 'Reaper'. The aim of the project is to raise vital funds for tour guides, interpretation and signage so we can reopen and welcome visitors onboard after a major refit. She is almost the last of the great Scottish Herring Luggers.

To reopen safely and share the 'Reaper's' century long story with schoolchildren, visitors, volunteers and local  communities in Anstruther Harbour we need your support. Your kind donation will enable us to put in place the interpretation and signage we need to ensure a safe and welcoming experience for everyone. It will also allow us to employ guides and safety staff to bring to life the amazing story of one of the few vessels from the Herring Boom era still in seagoing condition.

Who are we and why do we need your help?

The Scottish Fisheries Museum trustees, staff and Boats Club volunteers have spent recent years undertaking an important conservation and refit project. We are now close to completion but we need your kind donations in the last push to complete the work and open her to the public in Anstruther Harbour. Please help in donating towards the safe opening in terms of paid guides, interpretation and signage to meet the requirements of safety in relation to Covid-19. Without the funding for these we will not be able to tell the fascinating story of this iconic boat. We hope to see you on board by August! #SupportOurMuseums

 Today, she represents a unique resource for outreach and education in Scotland, representing the history of a proud and dangerous industry. She has been used in filming for many television programmes and films. She is a key attraction at many maritime events around Scotland and further afield and has attracted over 300,000 visitors from more than 130 countries during her time with the Museum. Each year she costs the Museum between £10 and £20k to keep her seaworthy but now a major refit is almost complete and you will have the chance to go onboard!

The Museum team of trustees and staff thank you for your support!

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 There will be benefits to tourism from home and abroad at this difficult time, it will help our volunteers in learning new skills and gaining new experiences; there will be a big boost to the Boats Club volunteers who are dedicated to Reaper and her maintenance and operation; there will be benefits to the local community and fishing communities across Scotland; there will be benefits to the National Historic Fleet; there will be benefits to schools, educational and life-long learning groups. T


What Role does Reaper play?

 a. Iconic National treasure and “a unique heritage asset”

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  b) Popular visitor attraction all around Scotland and beyond

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c. Community focus and support

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 d. Shipshape traditional sail training resource

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 e. Important educational and outreach resource

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f. Focus for Boats Club and volunteer activity

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g. Recognition of National Significance and political support

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 h. Inspiration for inter-generational skill-sharing

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Why is Reaper so important?


This is the Statement of Significance from National Historic Ships:



Statement of Significance                                                 REAPER

REAPER was originally built in 1901 as a two masted sailing lugger. She is 70 feet long with a dipping lug foresail and a standing lug mizzen. She is a typical Scottish sailing herring drift net fishing vessel, of which two types evolved, known locally as ‘fifies’ and ‘scaffies’. Both the scaffies and fifies were two-masted double-enders, mostly lug rigged with shallow bulwarks. REAPER is a large fifie, an example of the most popular design of fishing boat on the East Coast of Scotland for the greater part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She represents the ultimate development in sailing drifter design, with large sails and heavy gear made possible by the steam capstan first introduced in the 1880s.  

1.      What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

Evidence for designs, functions, techniques, processes, styles, customs and habits or uses and associations in relation to events and people.  How early, intact or rare these features are may impact on significance.

  • The Reaper is an exemplar of its type and is of national significance. The vessel is listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels (Certificate No. 172), and is a part of the National Historic Fleet making it of exceptional (5) significance.
  • The Reaper is a unique heritage asset. The remaining original fabric (see section 6.3), in particular the parts of the lower hull, are a testament to the construction, modification and repairs of first class Fifie sailing herring drifters between 1901 and the present day. Its fabric relates to a range of phases. Therefore, the original fabric is considered of exceptional (5) significance. Further it should be noted that the only other remaining first class Fifie herring drifter the Swan has been completely reconstructed leaving no or very little original fabric. This further augments the significance of the Reaper.
  • Despite this, it is considered that only 6-20% of the Reaper represents original fabric, with large proportions having been removed and refitted during the multiple repairs and refits both prior to and since acquisition into the Museum Fleet. Therefore overall the Reaper is of only moderate (3) significance for historic fabric.
  • The capstan is an original 1930s capstan (McAslan 2016; p.21) introduced to assist with the handling of fishing gear, masts and sails (although it has been converted to run on compressed air, rather than steam). Together with the gears it is a technological advancement, potentially a prototype, representative of the changes in the herring fishing industry in the east of Scotland and general changes in the evolution of seagoing sailing vessels at an international level, hence its considerable (4) or even exceptional (5) significance. 
  • Whilst in Shetland post 1908, the Reaper was converted to a smack rig.  In 1916, she was fitted with a Gardner 4KM engine. This was a four stroke engine producing 75bhp running on paraffin with lamp heated vaporisers. After her purchase by the Scottish Fisheries Museum in 1975, her original rig was reinstated over a ten year period and she was renamed REAPER FR 958.
  • An extensive refit was carried out between October 2004 and April 2005 by MacKay Boatbuilders (Arbroath) Ltd. Repairs included a new keel, new Daewoo engine and new masts of Douglas Fir.  A further substantial conservation project over 2018 – 19 undertaken by Babcock International at Rosyth Royal Dockyard, substantially strengthened the hull with a new stem, deck, beams and planking, all guided by a Conservation Management Plan devised with help from Wessex Archaeology.


2.      What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

Associations with people or places.  Off-ship research.

  • The herring fishing industry was an important constituent of the way of life in the Shetland Islands and the east coast of Scotland. As the Reaper spent a large part of its active life operational as a sailing and motor herring fishing drifter, it has a very close connection to the remnants of the herring fishing industry in those areas. These associational links are of regional importance and can be considered of considerable (4) significance.
  • During the Reaper’s phase as the Shetlander, a ‘Flit Boat’ transporting goods and people between islets and the main island (McAslan 2016; pp14-15), the vessel played a vital role bringing essential supplies to local communities and ferrying passengers. In consequence, it has a very close connection to the more remote areas and harbour towns within the Shetland Islands. These associational links are of regional importance and can be considered of moderate (3) significance. 
  • The Reaper was part of the Admiralty service of the Second World War being deployed as a barrage balloon mooring on the British coast (McAslan 2016; p.13). It was most likely deployed to protect harbours, coastal cities and industrial areas near the coastline. This link to one of the largest events of the last century can be considered of exceptional (5) significance. 
  • The Reaper was part of a BBC television documentary series ‘The Boats that Built Britain’, paying homage to the Reaper as one of the largest sailing lugger ever to fish the seas. The program highlighted the national and regional significance of this vessel and exhibited her to a large contemporary audience. The associational links created are of considerable (4) significance. 
  • The Reaper participated in the filming of Outlander giving it an exceptional (5) significance representing the heritage of Scotland internationally. 
  • The boat builders who constructed the Reaper in 1902, J. & G. Forbes Ltd closed in 1991; however the yard is still extant in the village today. The Reaper therefore has a connection to the individuals that live around the former J. & G. Forbes yard today and the local communities of Sandhaven and Fraserburgh, which were heavily dependent on the maritime industry. These strong associational links are of local importance and be considered of some (3) significance. 
  • Since the Reaper was taken over by the SFM it has been present in the Anstruther Harbour for over 40 years, it not only has become a large part of the activities around the Museum and Boats Club, but also for the local population, who see the Reaper moored within their harbour over the winter months most years. This local attachment with the Anstruther community has developed some valuable connection with the vessel and making it of considerable (4) significance. 
  • The ability to sail traditional sailing drifters is becoming rare. The use of the Reaper as a seagoing museum boat under the Boats Club teaches members of the community traditional sailing methods keeping an impalpable heritage alive, showing the importance of the Reaper for keeping local traditions and history alive, when done in a historically accurate manner. This activity is of considerable (4) significance to the communities and visitors.
  • The repair, reconstruction and modification works being done on the Reaper by the SFM and the Boats Club function as a teaching tool for boat builders on traditional boatbuilding, conservation and repair techniques, as well as facilitating the diffusion of conservation methods and approaches. Similar to the traditional sailing methods these capabilities are very rare and will disappear if not driven by the need for repairs on vessels like the Reaper. This again shows the importance of the Reaper for the community, which can be considered of considerable (4) significance. 
  • As the flagship for the SFM it represents a significant and vital link between the Museum and living heritage associated with many of the local communities. Its value as outreach tool is increasingly appreciated, bringing the public and the SFM closer together, and is therefore regarded to be of considerable (4) significance. 

3.      How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

Overall aesthetic impact of the vessel, her lines, material she was built from and her setting.  Does she remain in her working environment?

  • The Reaper’s design is exemplary on features that were introduced specifically for the herring fishing on the Scottish coast with the construction of Fifies. The large Fifie with a closed deck, higher peaked sails, straight stem and stern and a carvel built hull resembles very closely what a first class sailing drifter would have looked like in 1902. Being the most authentically fitted remaining operational Fifie sailing drifter of its kind, it is unique. The representative aesthetic qualities can therefore be deemed of exceptional (5) significance. 
  • During the sailing season, the Reaper allows members of the Boats Club to visit numerous ports and harbours, giving the public the opportunity to set foot on an original 1902 first class Fifie herring drifter. This gives them the rare insight what it would have been like to work on such a large vessel, which without the maintenance of the vessel would not have been possible. Therefore, the representative qualities of the Reaper in regards to an authentic feeling can be deemed of considerable (4) significance. 
  • The Reaper represents an integral part of the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s boat collection, as it is a physical sample of the evolution of fishing vessels from the Scaffies to the Zulu until and alongside the introduction of Steam Drifters. The comparison of appearance makes it possible to observe the changes in boat construction that were apparent in vessels such as the Maggie (Scaffie), White Wing (Baldie) and Research (Zulu) and compare them to the Reaper. Its representative qualities can therefore be deemed of considerable (4) significance. 


4.         Sources

English Heritage, 2008, Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance for the Sustainable Management of the Historic Environment, English Heritage.

McAslan, A.D.R, 2016, Reaper FR.958 Fifie Lugsail Herring Drifter, St Ayles Press, Anstruther.

National Historic Ships, 2010, Conserving Historic Vessels: Understanding Historic Vessels. Volume 3, National Historic Ships

Semple Kerr, J, 2013, The Conservation Plan

Smylie, M, 1999, Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland: Design, History and Evolution. Thomas Reid Publications, London

 Source: NHS-UK team, 15 February 2017; updated 9 November 2019



This project offers rewards in return for your donation

£100 or more

1 of 10 claimed

£100 Reward

A special guided behind-the-scenes tour with a curator, including storage areas

£20 or more

£20 Reward

Attractive glossy booklet with the full history of Reaper with many photographs

£1,000 or more

0 of 5 claimed

£1000 Reward

Be a special guest on board Reaper when she goes back to sea in 2022!

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