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Features / Well respected boat builder’s retirement project for sale

  • Lerwick man Wilfie Bruce looks back at almost 50 years of boat building
  • 21’6’’ classic clinker-built Shetland model now for sale

The Shetland model boat for sale.

BUILDING a traditional Shetland model boat from scratch is a bit like hand knitting a Fair Isle gansey; it’s a labour of love, requires exceptional craftsmanship and the hours that go in will never be adequately recompensed.

Yet people continue to be drawn to these traditional skills as it defines who they are, and Lerwick boatbuilder Wilfie Bruce is no exception to that rule.

When he started building his first clinker boat at the age of 30, back in 1978, he did not know where this passion would take him. He named her Myrtle, a symbol for love and beauty, as well as happy marriage.

The Myrtle was the first boat Wilfred Bruce built.

A joiner by trade he spent most of his working life self-employed building and repairing houses, but always with an interest in boats. He also worked briefly as a workboat skipper in the salmon industry.

Always good with his hands, he knew how to work with wood and learned the skills required by watching others. He then put these skills to practice in the privacy of his own workshop at Westerloch.

Between 1980 and 1982 Wilfie built the Shetlender for Reider Vetvik. Photo: Courtesy of Charlie Umphray

“I was interested in this kind of work,” he says as he describes the process in his gentle manner, admitting that there is a lot of trial and error involved in the process. “You watch other master boatbuilders, and you make a start – it will just come.

“If I had learned this craft from the start, it would have been easier,” he concedes. But this caveat, of course, did not stop him.

Wilfie at the helm of the Tjaldr he built for Norwegian owners in Lochcarron.

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Then, in 1980, Wilfie was asked by naval architect Reider Vetvik to build a 33-feet boat in a Norwegian style – the Shetlender – before, in the early 1990s, he was one of the first to be recruited – today one would say headhunted – to help rebuild the Swan after she was salvaged lying half submerged at Hartlepool dock and brought north for restoration.

This was followed by various other boats he had been asked to work on, as well two orders in the early 2000s for new 20-feet Shetland model boats – one going to Lochcarron and the other to Stromness, where Wilfie was born back in 1948 to an Orcadian mother and father from Trondra.

With retirement next for Wilfie, he felt there was another new build in him, and in 2017 in laid the keel for his latest, and final, Shetland model boat, a 21’6’’ varnished beauty now looking for a new owner.

“I said to my wife Ruth that I want to build another boat to have something to do because I was retired,” he recalls.

His wish was granted but there was one condition: not to work after tea.

And so an Iroko keel was ordered locally and a Lochcarron grown larch was cut to the required thickness before it was left to air dry.

He took it easy; progress was slow, but as they say, good things take time. “Building this boat was a pleasure,” he recalls, “because there was no pressure, no stress, half an hour here, three hours there”.

The 21’6” boat for sale.

And in his unassuming way, he adds: “I would be better still if I was doing it all the time. It all takes me a long time, I enjoy doing it, but I am just a joiner by trade, that’s all.

“You need patience, quite a lot…and a patient wife.”

This 21’6’’ traditional Shetland model is now for sale. She is fitted with a new Beta marine 14hp engine with all ancillaries driving a 2:1 box and 12’’ x 9’’ propellor and a 30-litre stainless tank.

Wilfie spent approximately £12,500 on materials and equipment and, knowing that he is unlikely to get the real value for it, would like to sell for £20,000 or, if possible, above that asking price.

He and his wife can be contacted by e-mail ruthmbruce@icloud.com or telephone 01595 695141 or mobile 07579 022954.

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