Good news for the New Year: Miller-built Spindrift has new owners

Jo and John Furley write:

‘Responding to William Miller’s appeal for information, here are some recent photos of Spindrift.

‘We bought her in Guernsey in August, had her repainted and re-caulked, and we are trying to get her to Liverpool, where we’ll keep her in the Albert Dock once we’ve done some improvement work. We got as far as Penzance before the weather turned against us – the latest pictures are in the harbour in Penzance, waiting for a weather window (which is firmly closed at the moment!).

‘We’d be very happy to get in contact with the Millers to learn more about her history, and to update them.

‘Best regards,

‘Jo and John Furley’

This is great news. An earlier post mentioning this iconic vessel can be seen here. Spindrift is considered to be a rare surviving example of a zulu.

The Stephen family and the stories of the Fraserborough zulus Violet and Vesper

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Violet Stephen, the girl after whom the zulu Violet was named; Alexander Grieve Stephen, and the zulu Violet

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Violet; William and George Stephen on board Violet, and William Stephen aboard Violet

David Stephen Rennie, great grandson of the first owners of the Violet has sent me some old photos and family history surrounding the old zulu, which is now maintained and sailed by Gary Maynard, and also of Vesper.

To read more about Violet as she is now, click here, and see the comments to this post.

The stories of old boats and of the families involved add a great deal to our apprection and understanding, so many thanks David!

Violet FR451 was built in 1911 at James Nobles for my great-grandfather Alexander Grieve Stephen (1873-1935) for about £90; the boat was named after his youngest daughter Violet (1910-94).

He had been skipper of the George Noble FR6, and during World War I he served in the Royal Navy.

When Violet was launched they went small line fishing with mussel-baited hooks and worked the herring during the season.

Originally Violet had a mast and sail, but was later converted to motor power first with a 15hp Kelvin engine and later a 30hp Kelvin, and in 1936 was fitted with a 48hp Gardner.

Alexander Grieve Stephen returned from the sea about 1931 owing to ill health and took a job as berthing master, and his brother in law James Duthie took over as skipper until about 1935. In 1934 Violet was rescued by Fraserburgh’s lifeboat.

On the 13th November 1935 Alexander Grieve Stephen died aged 61, and in that year his son John took over as skipper and was joined by his brothers George and William.

In March 1975 Violet was put up for sale owing to the failing health of both John, who was now 73, and William, who had suffered a severe heart attack. Violet was sold to the Sprague brothers and left Fraserburgh for the last time on th 12th May 1975.

The generation of the Stephen family who had known and fished aboard Violet lived for some time more, but were all gone within a few years of each other. David again:

On the 21st June 1983 John Stephen died aged 81 after a series of strokes. On the 6th of September 1983 my grandfather George Stephen died aged 74 from lung cancer, and on the 7th November 1986 William Stephen died aged 73 years and was buried on the 11th November, his 74th birthday.

Vesper FR453 was built in 1911 at Fraserburgh and was owned by George Noble and John Buchan. She was sold on the 8th April 1935 to my grandfather’s oldest brother, Alexander Duthie Stephen (Sandy) (1898-1982); by that time he had been Vesper’s skipper since October 1918.

Owing to ill health, Vesper was sold to Edwin Wiseman in 1957. It was then sold to Alexander Ross in 1958 and then in November 1970 to David and Isaac Newlands of Pittenween. In 1972 it was registered as Vesper II KY36, and then from January 1982 as Vesper II AA36 until February 1988, when it ceased fishing. (KY stands for Kirkcaldy and AA stands for Alloa – see a list of fiishing port codes here.) By the autumn of 1989 it was a ruin at Buckie, and only a few years ago it was broken up.

Alexander Duthie Stephen died on the 3rd December 1982 aged 84.

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Alexander Duthie Stephen; Alexander Duthie Stephen aboard Vesper; Vesper

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Still more on the iconic zulu

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Scaffie and zulus by Frank Mason, click on the picture for a large image

The recent post showing photos of Spindrift the surviving zulu reminded me that Frank Carr’s book Vanishing Craft includes some nice reading about scaffies, fifies and zulus, and the conditions in which they developed.

Carr reckoned that the three classes had canoe sterns because this enabled to boats to run well particularly when entering the narrow entrance of a harbour, because a sharp-stern boat type enables larger numbers of boats to crowd into the tiny Scottish harbours, and because the strength of the stem construction is particularly valuable in a tidal harbour where the boat will inevitably receive some hard thumps from the bottom of the harbour with every rising and falling tide.

As he says: ‘A sharp-sterned lugger can carry all sail until she enters the harbour, and on letting go the single halyard the sail falls into the boat  by its own weight, and is down in a moment. The boat then surges on with her own impetus and wedges her bows between the projecting sterns of two craft already berthed. There is no bowsprit or other projection outboard to carry away, and a good hard squeeze does not matter when the boats are strongly built.’

There’s a long and interesting exchange of comments following an earlier post in which fishing boat expert, journalist, author and kipper king Mike Smylie argues that the zulu was the pinnacle in British fishing boat design during the sailing era, discusses the correct nomenclature for a 50ft zulu-type, and calls into question the often-repeated story that the first zulu was a boat called Nonesuch – he says he has seen evidence that the first zulu was an 80-footer, herself called Zulu. I see from Mike’s book 2002 Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland that he lists a number of small surviving zulus, if you can get hold of a copy.

I’d like to add one more quotation from Carr: ‘Big zulus up to 84ft in overall length and of 61ft keel have been built, and in such a craft the enormous fore-lug, rising to a height of some 70ft, is truly a wonderful sail. The zulu skippers were as particular about the cut and set of their sails as any racing yacht skipper, and these fine craft could easily sail 10 knots in a hard breeze. Six big zulus are still working out of Stornaway under sail, and Colonel C L Spencer, the rear-commodore of the Clyde Cruising Club, has told me that he has seen these craft come romping in from sea, passing the steam drifters and leaving them standing. A splendid sight indeed, to see sail beating steam in these days of mechanical efficiency. May they long continue to uphold the tradition of sail in such a magnificent manner!’

And, finally,  I have one more recent photo (below) of Spindrift to share, this time kindly sent to me by Adrian Perquage of Perquage Publishing, Beacette, Guernsey. Thanks Adrian! I think it’s useful to have this side-one view, not least because it shows clearly the striking stern of the zulu type.

Adrian is looking for information and history relating to RN45 MFV called Makalu, which I think is the boat discussed in this news story. If you have anything to share, please let us know using the comment link below of email me at, and I will pass the message on.

Spindrift, clearly showing her sharply raked stern – my thanks to Perquage Publishing