Councillor saves traditional boat

GLORY: The Orlik gets the newest coat of paint in its 60-year life.
GLORY: The Orlik gets the newest coat of paint in its 60-year life.

FRASERBURGHH councillor Michael Watt has been working on a project to save one of the few remaining wooden, traditional fishing vessels in Scotland.

After a year of hard work, the project is nearing completion and Mr Watt has revealed that his boat, Orlik, will be donating week-long cruises to several Fraserburgh charities.

WHO?: Michael Watt got hands-on with the project and found himself in a right mess after cleaning out one of Orlik's tanks. Belle, his dog, is unsure who it is.

WHO?: Michael Watt got hands-on with the project and found himself in a right mess after cleaning out one of Orlik's tanks. Belle, his dog, is unsure who it is.

The Fraserburgh Herald caught up with Mr Watt last week to discuss how he thought the project was progressing, and what interested him in taking on such a large task.

“I have been looking into starting a project like this for the past five years,” he said.

“You don’t get boats like these in Fraserburgh any more. At least half of them in the country have been scrapped. It’s a real shame, because these old boats are renowned for their sea-faring abilities.

“We bought the boat in September, 2010, and had it moved to Macduff Shipyard for the work to begin. The boat needed to be totally renovated, and that started in February, 2011.”

The Orlik, an 18-metre, 100 tonne vessel was in work as a diving boat from the 1990s until 2006 following a long career as a fishing vessel.

The 60-year-old boat was, when Mr Watt bought it, in a state of disrepair with the councillor saying that the entire boat had to be gutted for work to begin.

“It’s a solid boat, though,” he added.

“It’s double framed with oak and has three-inch planking. Anything that we weren’t happy with we replaced.

“There’s not an old nail in that boat now. In truth, the boat has basically been rebuilt.

“Macduff Shipbuilding and Downie’s electricians of Fraserburgh have been fantastic.

“There have been no corners cut in getting this boat fixed.

“There is a double cabin behind the wheel house, and two double cabins with en-suite facilities below the deck.

“There’s even a sauna,” added Mr Watt.

To build a new boat with these facilities, Mr Watt said that he would be upwards of £1m, so the opportunity to save a boat like the Orlik was a fantastic opportunity to give a now rare vessel a new lease on life.

Mr Watt hopes that the Orlik, which will be chartered out to customers as a cruise and sight-seeing vessel for week-long breaks, will be joined by a sister vessel in the future, stating:

“I’m in talks to secure a second skipper and mate for the Orlik which will allow it to be run all year round, but I have made movements into buying another one of these boats.

“There are several of these boats just waiting to be scrapped in Macduff, probably £2m worth of boats that are as good as they day they were put in the water.”

Scottish Marine Safari, the company name which the Orlik will operate under, has already received booking enquires from as far afield as London at a price of £4,000 per trip, something that Mr Watt says supports his claim that there is a leisure market worth capitalising on in Fraserburgh.

“£65 million is spent on wildlife tourism in this country,” he said.

“I see a huge market for this type of thing here, but it’s just something that hasn’t been done before.”

Councillor Watt has also awarded cruises to local charities Macmillan Cancer Support, FISSH and the Fraserburgh Fitness Centre at James Ramsay park to do with as they please.

The Orlik will, initially, operate from Macduff when complete, but Mr Watt is keen to register the vessel at Fraserburgh as soon as a berth is available.