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Upturned boathouse couple turn up

Yves & Solange Dussin at Skaw on Unst. Pic. Y&S Dussin

A FRENCH couple who have travelled northern Europe in search of upturned boathouses are back in Shetland after publishing a book on the subject.

Yves and Solange Dussin, from Audierne, in Brittany, became obsessed with the topic three years ago when they both retired from teaching.

The couple realised that the area they live in on the north western tip of France used to be full of such constructions, housing seaweed gatherers who provided raw materials to produce medicine 100 years ago.

They discovered many upturned boathouses when they travelled by road and sea to Iceland via Ireland, Scotland, Orkney, Shetland and Faroe, coming across even more when they journeyed to the Lofoten islands in northern Norway.

On their return they produced a book on the subject full of pictures, that include many examples from Shetland such as the Lerwick shed belonging to Dennis Coutts on Twageos Road and Tommy Isbister’s shed in Trondra.

Voyages aux pays des quilles en l'air

As well as writing a book they have erected their own upturned boathouse, known in France by the slang term “quilles en l’air”, translated as keels in the air, with somewhat saucy connotations.

“When we got home we bought a piece of land by the sea and suddenly I realised that I could put up an upturned boat, so I found an old boat in the harbour. It was magnifique and now people come and stay in it for the weekend. It really is extraordinaire,” Yves enthused.

Not only that, their son Aurélien, a marine carpenter, has helped local artist Jean Noël Duchemin to build a large house/workshop in the style of an upturned boathouse, with the distinct appearance of a whale.

Now Yves and Solange have returned to Shetland to meet the friends they made and to find new “quilles en l’air”, such as the new public toilet in Burravoe, for a second book they intend to produce.

Burravoe public toilets

Solange said: “We wanted to stay longer and we wanted to come back to see all the people who were in the book, they were all so sympathique.”

Yves also wants to encourage more people to follow his example and build an upturned boathouse of their own. “It’s easy, it doesn’t cost much money and it’s great to recycle an old boat in this way. We are already starting to see a new wave of construction in France, it’s magic.”

The couple will be giving a presentation of their discoveries at The Booth, in Hillswick, at 7.30pm on Friday 24 June.