May / June 2024

Iain Oughtred

Ness Yawl

The Ness Yawl is Iain’s interpretation of the classic Shetland Ness yoles, which have buoyant ends and a shallow, rounded bilge. Iain’s boat has lower topsides than the originals, for better rowing. Here, Iain is sailing the Ness Yawl ALBANNAGH in the Irish Raid on the River Shannon.

It’s more than 100 miles from Inverness to the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. That’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive through some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe: along the shores of gloomy Loch Ness, through Glenmoriston and Glen Shiel, with their roaring rivers, crashing waterfalls, rustic cottages and, to top it all, elegantly poised stags gazing disdainfully at the road. It’s as if you’re driving through a tourist brochure for the Scottish Highlands, except that it’s for real. And then at the end of it all, the sea—vast, constant, and omniscient.

For the past 20 years or so, this was the route most people wanting to visit the small-boat designer Iain Oughtred had to take. It’s long, it’s laborious, it’s stunning—and somehow it seemed a very appropriate home for such a shy, modest man, dragged into the limelight almost despite himself. For Iain never made things easy for himself, so why should he have made it easy for his visitors? If you want an easy life, get someone else to build a boat for you. If you want to build a wooden boat yourself, particularly an Oughtred design, then it’s going to take a long time, it’s going to be laborious, and it’s going to be stunning. That’s a choice you make.

I first met Iain on the lawns of the National Maritime Museum (NMM) in Greenwich, England, in the early 1990s. The occasion was the annual Greenwich Wooden Boat Show, which ran for 12 years before being moved to Beale Park, farther upriver on the River Thames. He was already well established in the wooden boat world, having designed a range of traditional dinghies, including several skiffs, dories, and canoes for glued-lapstrake construction. Even then, he had a slightly mysterious aura, an inscrutable manner that often left me fumbling for words. Still waters run deep, they say, and Iain could certainly be quiet when he wanted to be.

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