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This is a personal history of the boats and the life as I remember it of the the fishermen in Stromness from the 60s onwards.

Norskie Whalers and lost voices

by Fiona Matheson - 11:45 on 26 September 2011

In the 1960s Norskie whalers would come into Stromness for shelter. The boats were natural blond varnished wood and very few were painted. They had distinctive whale lookouts at the top of the mast and harpoons fixed at the bow. The lookouts were white with a black stripe. As a bairn I always wished that I could see somebody up in the lookout  and fantasised on what it would be like to climb all the way up the mast and stand up there. The  whalers tied up two or three deep against the black wooden piles of the old middle pier in the harbour. That pier eventually got rammed by another boat and got a huge hole in it, however in those days you didn’t get risk averse HSE officials neurotically fencing off  any smidgeon of danger and needless to say, no-one fell through the gap.   I don’t know whether political correctness extends to a ban on calling Norwegians Norskies but adding  ‘ie’ was what was done in affection to common seafaring strangers who came about the town and the same was used to describe the Shelties and the Bamffies. Strangers were identified by place in the same way as in the farming community, farmers and their workers were known by their farms or districts, Breck, Norquoy, Stanger,Isbister and of course, Sutherland and Caithness. The streets of the town often resounded with the accents from other parts of the north and east of Scotland. The ‘Weekers’ (from Wick) were viewed with some caution as they were renowned to be hard drinking men famed for their brawling. The Norskies stocked up on chocolate and had a reputation for crafting exquisite wooden boats, sometimes traded across the bars for drink. They would stride along the street, in those days empty of cars, walking three or four abreast in their coloured jumpers which were usually red with patterned yokes, braided at the neck and cuffs, then fastened up the front with metal clips. The voices and sight of these Scandinavian men were a very different sound track to those you will hear in the Stromness street now, when it is hard to hear the local accent any more. Now genuine fishing boats are reduced to a handful and tourist dive boats, former ringnetters and trawlers, park singly along what was the old wooden middle pier and which the old ‘whitefish authority’ upgraded in times of former fishing hope. A burgeoning marina glitters at the northend clattering with aluminium. The gentrification of a working fishing town is almost complete in the clean new town of gift shops and galleries demanded by the sacred cow of tourism.

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