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Oceanic lifeboat restoration almost complete

Shetland museum curator Ian Tait with the restored Oceanic lifeboat, now just in need of a lick of paint - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

A PROJECT to restore an antiquated lifeboat from the White Star liner Oceanic to its former glory is nearing completion.

The wooden boat fell into Shetland’s hands in 1914 after its ship, which was being used by the navy at the time in World War I, grounded off the east coast of Foula.

Shetland Museum and Archives curator Ian Tait has been overseeing a project to restore the lifeboat and he says it is now “95 per cent” complete.

The lifeboat being used as a ferry between Bressay and Lerwick between the wars. Photo Shetland Museum and Archives

The finished article is expected to go on show at the museum’s new boat store at Lerwick’s Staney Hill this summer.

Parent organisation Shetland Amenity Trust recently secured funding for a traditional boat building apprenticeship scheme that will include the restoration of the lifeboat, which was built in 1899 in Belfast.

After local boat builders Robbie Tait and Jack Duncan restored the woodwork, the majority of the work left just involves painting.

Tait said that the restoration should be wrapped up by July or August, and he hopes visitors to the boat shed in early summer will catch a first-hand look at the painting process.

Lying abandoned on the beach at Ulsat after being used to carry sheep across Yell Sound. Photo Shetland Museum and Archives

The boat was the final lifeboat to leave the Oceanic, once the largest ship in the world, after a “navigational blunder” saw it run aground before sinking.

“Popular Shetland mythology has attached to the fact that it was a luxury liner, but it wasn’t here as that,” Tait said.

“The navy had commandeered it to be a war ship – that’s why she was here. The navy operated a fleet of converted merchant ships based in Shetland.

Being lifted into the museum's boat store to be refurbished. Photo Shetland Museum and Archives

“That squadron was here to implement the blockade on Germany – they were intercepting neutral ships at sea to check their cargo.”

The lifeboat was later sold locally before an engine was fitted to allow it to be used to ferry cargo and passengers between Lerwick and Bressay in the 1920s and ‘30s.

In the 1960s and ‘70s the boat was then used to run sheep between islands in Yell Sound.

“She ultimately ended up abandoned on the beach at Ulsta, and she sat there for some more years,” Tait added.

“For a long time I had my eye on her. I was delighted that the owner got in contact with me and offered her to the museum.”

The curator was surprised by how well of some of the lifeboat’s woodwork survived the elements over the decades.

Robbie Tait and Jack Duncan working on the restoration. Photo Shetland Museum and Archives

“All the original wood was in excellent condition,” Tait said, “but all the later stuff was in pretty poor condition.”