John Macauley-built lugger Freyja needs a good new home in Scotland

Freyja John Macauley 16ft lugger

Freyja John Macauley 16ft lugger

My friend Ian Duffill is looking for a new home in Scotland for Freyja, the John Macaulay-built 16ft clinker dinghy seen at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show.

Here’s the story of Freyja, as Ian tells it:

‘In 2000 iconic traditional boatbuilder John MacAulay, who has his workshop at Flodabay on Harris was asked to build a boat suitable to sail across the Minch to the Shiant Islands.

‘The owner of the Shiants is Adam Nicolson, author and television presenter, grandson of Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson of Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.

‘After one epic voyage to the Shiants, described in Adam’s book Sea Room (see below), the boat Freyja was stored and not used again. She is an open16ft transom dinghy, clinker built in larch on oak with sea-kindly and dramatically tight turns to the bilge to make a good deep keel. With a single dipping lug she travels swiftly from A to B.

‘Through sheer serendipity, Adam came to give Freyja to me. We both hoped I would be able to get her sailing again and use her in her element – the sea. Although I cleaned her up and got her in the water, matters conspired so I never managed to sail her on the sea.

‘Now we have moved to North Norfolk, where I find that short tacking into Blakeney Harbour’s narrow, shallow channel with many sandbanks is asking too much of her. She now sits forlornly in a cavernous barn on a nearby farm and needs a new home where the local sailing conditions are more suitable for her.

‘I have spoken with Adam and we have agreed that a return to Scottish waters would be ideal. Most of all she wants an owner who can give her the chance to roam in open water. If she could be made available for youngsters to experience handling this traditional style of boat, so much the better. A youth organisation, club or private individual – it doesn’t matter. She just needs a chance to come alive again.

‘She was given to me and neither Adam nor I expect any payment – just to see her in action once more.

‘She comes complete – mast, oars, rudder, tiller, sail, floorboards and custom built road trailer but has been out of the water for too long and needs to be immersed for some time to take up again. I might be able to deliver – we can talk about it.’

Sea Room is published by Harper Collins, London and is available from Amazon.

For more on Freyja at, see our earlier post.

If you’re interested in Freyja, email me at and I’ll pass your message on to Ian.

PSFreyja’s future has been decided she is to return to Harris where she will be sailed by local groups. She will also be under the care of her original builder, John Macauley.

Keble Chatterton analyses the astonishing Portuguese muleta

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muleta, muletta, moletta, portugal, fishing boat, trawler, lateener, tagus, keble chatterton, water-sails, lugger, st paul, artemon,

Portuguese muleta illustration from The Story of Sail by GS Laird Clowes and Cecil Trew. Click on the image to see some of the amazing details, including the weird sails at the stern

E Keble Chatterton’s book Fore and aft craft – the story of the fore and aft rig turns out to be a fascinating document, despite my instinctive distrust of any writer with such an extravagantly salty writing style.

Much of this book is drawn from personal observations of old paintings over the centuries, and there are some real gems here in among the old-fashioned hyperbolic rambling.

As I was reading the other day I particularly liked his analysis of the wonderful Portuguese muleta illustrated above. Here’s what he has to say – as you read it, you may like to consider that Keble Chatterton didn’t manage to include a picture of a muleta in his own book and also that this is a fairly restrained example of his writing!

‘Another characteristic to be noted is that whereas the lateen of the Orient tends to become practically a rectangular shape, the Spanish fishing craft retain their strictly triangular form. But it is the Portuguese moletta or muletta which, though a lateener by descent and nationality, does her very best to disguise herself from any other vessel afloat in any part of the world. Looked at for the first time, it seems impossible to place her in any category of sailing craft. Her sail plan seems less like that of any rational vessel than a terrible nightmare of a geometrician. Everywhere it seems all angles and squares; the number of straight lines is bewildering and apparently utterly meaningless. You would put her down at the best as a freak of an exceptional type and past the wit of any sailing man to comprehend, let alone the average layman accustomed only to pleasure craft or the picture of full-rigged ships. But it is when we begin to examine the muletta that we find out her true nature. In the main she is still a lateener, as her biggest sail shows.  Forward she carries those square “water-sails” which belonged to the first full-rigged ships of the Middle Ages, and handed down to us through the Tudor and Elizabethan periods even to the early part of the  nineteenth century, when our sailor-men used to call them “Jimmy Green’s”. Right aft a jigger projects something over the stern something after the manner of a West of England lugger, and thus additional after-canvas can be set. Forward of the lateen a staysail is set, which reaches from the top of the mast to the bowsprit or sometimes to the stemhead. Forward of that, again, comes the jib, and besides the lower water-sail there is also an upper square-sail which extends from a small foremast with considerable rake forward, after the manner, and a survival of, of the classical artemon which existed even in St Paul’s time.

‘What is the meaning of all this complication, do you ask? The answer is very simple. These mulettas are employed in the trawling industry, and the intention is to balance the sail of the bows against that of the stern so that they may easily regulate the speed of the ship when the trawl is down. These beamy black-hulled craft are about fifty feet in length and carry a crew of ten men, their home being the Tagus. The muletta is evidently very proud of her ancestry, for she still paints eyes on her bows, still fits those curious spikes forward above the waterline, features which are curious but interesting survivals from the time when Roman galleys used to ram each other on the waters of the Mediterranean.’

If you’re having trouble relating all this to the drawing above, you aren’t alone – but I still contend that the muleta is nevertheless a wonderful thing to contemplate.

For an earlier post on this topic, click here.

A traditional Hebridean lugger built by Harris boatbuilder John Macaulay

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Macaulay 6

Macaulay 2 Macaulay 5 Macaulay 1

Macaulay 3 Macaulay 4

One of the treats of the Beale Park Thames Boat Show was seeing one of John Macaulay’s traditional Hebridean skiffs full of old-fashioned boatbuilding features.

Note the short floors and ribs, for example – they’re very much what one sees in a Viking ship or Viking canoe. What’s more, the oarlocks and oars obviously belong to a time before the fashion for adopting rowing racing practice brought in round oars in round oarlocks capable of being rotated.

For an earlier post on Macaulay, click here.

This interesting article sheds light on the man himself: John Mcaulay Boatbuilder. Of the virtues of wooden boats he says: ‘There is only one boat worth having and that is a wooden boat. They are unique; one off and beautiful. How anyone with any sensitivity could choose a plastic hull over a wooden one made by hand, I will never know.’

Here’s another newspaper piece in the Stornaway Gazette describing the restoration of a Western Isles boat.

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