Survey reveals sailing secrets

August 4, 2000

Scotland's ship graveyards are set to yield their secrets to researchers from St Andrews University.

The university's Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies will investigate six fragile sites around the coast that feature collections of abandoned sailing ships.

Project manager Deanna Groom said: "The sites have a wonderfully eerie, magical quality. Seeing the skeletal frames of the vessels rising out of the water can make site visits quite spooky at times, especially when the sea mist rolls in."

Ms Groom said the hulks were of vessels that had been abandoned at the edge of estuarine marshes at the end of their working life. Waterlogged wood could be well preserved in these areas, and the researchers were likely to find examples of local boats, such as the "Fifie herring drifters", that are no longer used.

"Their builders rarely made plans, but constructed by eye and from a lifetime of experience, so ship graveyard hulks can represent the most pure form of evidence for some types of traditional Scottish craft," she said. "The reason for the graveyards' existence can also shed light on aspects of local community history. There is evidence to suggest that craft may have been stockpiled for periods of more favourable trading conditions that never came."

The St Andrews team will make a record of the ships, most of which are nameless. The researchers plan to involve local communities in the project, offering them simple survey work and archaeological and local library research.

Funding for Scotland's ship graveyard survey has come from the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.

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