Muirneag SY486

Zulu-type Herring Drifter of Stornoway
in the Western Isles of Scotland

An Exhibition-Quality Scale Model of Muirneag SY486,
Sandy MacLeod's 'Darling Girl'

Muirneag SY486 Scale Model
Built by Gordon Williams

Monmouth, UK +44(0)7791 087 525 email:

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Muirneag was a herring drifter, belonging to one of the most successful classes of sailing vessels, the Zulus. The type originated at Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth (on the east coast of Scotland) in 1879, and was named after the then recently concluded Zulu Wars in Africa; the design was a coming-together of the best features of the other two dominant Scottish types, Scaffies and Fifies. The very first Zulu, Nonesuch, combined the almost vertical bow of the Fifie with the raking stern of the Scaffie, and produced a boat with excellent sea-going qualities. The dipping-lug sail (one of the most powerful rigs) was easy to manage with enough crew, and allowed a relatively uncluttered deck and safe 'parking' in a crowded harbour, all of the canvas and gear being within board. The early boats were clench-built (ie, with overlapping planks) which limited their keel length to around 40 feet, but in 1885 carvel-built hulls (with butted planking, giving a smooth surface) were introduced and this stronger construction allowed the keel to reach its maximum of 62 feet, or 75 feet overall. These hulls were enormously strong, supporting a foremast 64 feet long, of anything from 20 to 26 inches in diameter and a mizzen mast of 18 inches diameter.

Muirneag was ordered in 1903 from the yard of William McIntosh of Portessie, Buckie, by Alexander 'Sandy' MacLeod, who lived at Knock Point, Stornoway, in the Western Isles. Muirneag means Darling Girl, Pretty Girl, or Beloved in the Gaelic language and is also the name of the highest hill in the peaty wastes of North Harris, being some 11 miles north-west of Stornoway, and visible from far out at sea.

Muirneag herself was enormously strongly built (as were all the McIntosh boats), with many of the crucial deck-beams (carlings, half-beams) dovetail jointed into the cross-beams. This ensured that these joints would stay tight, and never pull out under stress.

MacLeod was very happy with his boat, and worked her continuously until 1939. In 1945, at the age of eighty, he took her to sea for a night before finally laying her up; he had skippered her for forty-two years. In 1947 she was sold at public auction at Stornoway for fifty pounds and was towed to Loch Erisort, to be broken up on Balallan beach. These were the days before fencing grants, and her fate was to become fencing posts in the fields around her home port, in view of the waters she was so familiar with. Muirneag was not the last of her type to be built, but she was certainly the last herring drifter in Britain to be worked by her sails alone, her skipper steadfastly refusing to give her an engine. While she was being broken up a local man, George MacLeod, surveyed her and the measurements and observations he made were drawn out by Harold A Underhill, of Glasgow, and these drawings were the basis for the present model.

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Building the model

Scratch-built using only the best materials, she took 2,294 hours of extremely demanding work. There were many hours of research, prior to building. The drawings were scaled down from 1:24 to 1:32, to give a more reasonable size (and also to allow the model to stand on my workbench with clearance to the low ceiling!)

European Walnut & American Black Walnut :
Hull frames, keel, keelson, stem, sternpost, rudder, skegs, thwarts, various deck beams and carlings, stringers, rails, ladders
Lime :
Hull planking, fish-hold divisions and floorboards, various framing, various deck beams
Cherry :
Main and poop deck planking, cabin floor boards, bulkhead planking
Pear :
Small section stringers, deck beam shelf, forecastle shelves
Ebony :
All blocks except main and mizzen halyard, many other small parts
Lemonwood (Degame) :
Masts and spars

No plastics, plywood or other 'non-traditional' materials were used, and all timbers were from certifiable, sustainable sources where possible.

All 58 hull frame shapes were developed from the lines drawing to give the correct profiles, widths and scarf joint positions, and transferred to the walnut sheet. These 58 frames follow the original layout of alternate full and floating frames in the midship section. Full frames (numbers 8 to 44) being made up of from five to seven sections each, a typical midships full frame consisting of floor, two first futtocks and two second futtocks (or top timbers). Separate timberheads each side, simple-scarfed for easy replacement in the event of damage, complete the frame. Floating frames are similar, but stop short of the keelson, and have no floors. Frames 1 to 7, and 45 to 58 are fixed directly through the stem and stern aprons respectively. Stepped scarfs are used on all floors and futtocks, except in the fish-hold, where butt-straps are used between the first and second futtocks.
All scarfs are through-dowelled. All floors follow the full-size design, having drainage and limber holes where applicable. All joints in frames, keel, keelson, stem and sternpost, deck beams, and all constructional design, are as in full-size practice. Carlings and half-beams are dovetailed, and the masts are properly fitted into built-up steps.

The hull was planked in Lime, plank widths and thicknesses conforming to the original vessel. The planks are pinned with 0.6mm diameter Walnut dowels, two per plank in each frame - a total of around 2,800 in the complete hull. All dowels were made in the workshop, by sawing to square and pulling through diminishing-sized holes in a drawplate. Main deck / poop deck planks are Cherry, fixed with around 1,100 handmade Walnut dowels.

All fittings were handmade. The capstan is fabricated in Walnut, Ebony, Brass, Aluminium and Stainless Steel. All blocks have working brass sheaves; cordage is made from natural hemp, and the warp (or bush rope, the heavy cable that supports the nets) is left-hand laid. Only a representative amount of the warp is placed in the model, feeding into the warp-room from the capstan; in practice, the warp would be made up of ten or eleven coils of 120 fathoms (720 feet) each, a total of one and a half miles or so, and the warp-room would be full to the top.

The 'steam band' which runs from the stemhead, around the keel and over the stern post (as protection, should the vessel 'take the ground') is from sheet aluminium, shaped and pinned to the woodwork.

The characteristic horizontal wheel is cut from a sheet of brass, with turned handles attached. The three hull rubbing strakes are Aluminium and Walnut, hand-radiused and formed. Mast bands, rudder hinges and pintles, hooks, eyes, rings and straps are Brass or Copper, silver-soldered and permanently coloured.

The sails are cotton cambric, shrunk, dyed and hand-stitched, with stiffened cotton strips laid on to represent the cloth hems. Cringles and D-rings are sewn on, and the hoist (the wire rope stitched to the front edge of the foresail) is served with yarn throughout its length.

Powdered-resin or PVA for timber, epoxy resin for some small parts. Cyanoacrylate glues were used strictly for 'tacking' purposes, to hold parts while the more permanent slower-setting glues dried. Cyano was not used anywhere in the rigging, where it may become brittle with age.

The paint finish is airbrushed 'Liquitex' non-fade acrylic, and all natural wood is finished with two coats of tung-based oil.

The Scale is 1:32, or 3/8" = 1 foot
Hull length 30" (762mm)Overall length 47.75" (1213mm)
Height 29.5" (750mm)Height including baseboard 30.75" (781mm)
Beam 8.125" (206mm)Width over baseboard 9.25" (235mm)

The model is mounted on a composite baseboard, hand-veneered with quarter sawn oak, and edged with solid European Oak. The three keel supports are steel in polished brass liners, the centre one being a long machine screw, which allows the model to be easily dismounted.


Mr Alex John Murray, Stornoway (Grandson of owner Alexander MacLeod)
Mr Glenn McIntosh, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia (Descendant of the McIntosh boatbuilders, Portessie)
Mr Allan A Frazer and Mr David Mair, both of the Buckie District Fishing Heritage Museum
Ms Linda McGowan, Curator of the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, Anstruther, Fife
Mr Bernard Bryant, Curator of the Reserve Model Collection, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
The Picture Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Drawings by Harold A Underhill from 1948 survey (Brown, Son & Ferguson, Nautical Publishers, Glasgow)
Roger Finch, 'Sailing Craft of the British Isles' 1976
Edgar J March, 'Sailing Drifters' 1952
Peter F Anson, 'Scots Fisherfolk' The Banffshire Journal, 1950
Capt H Paasch, 'Illustrated Marine Encyclopedia' 1890
John Dyson, 'Business in Great Waters' 1977
Various articles, The Stornoway Gazette

Five excellent black & white photographs of 'Muirneag' at Stornoway in the 1930s were purchased from the Picture Library at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and used as references during construction of the model. Sadly, I am unable to show any of them on this site because of the very high charges required by the Museum, who hold the copyright.

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Scale models, and other stuff...

Glenn is a descendant of the McIntosh boatbuilders of Portessie,
and his excellent site covers all the boats (including Muirneag) built at Portessie & Ianstown.

The Museum of the Western Isles, in Stornoway;
the Museum has the bell and compass from the original Muirneag, and is the owner of this model.

Kathy Bray's fine collection of Colour Profiles of Classic Wooden Boats, including Muirneag.

The history of herring fishing on the East Coast of Scotland.

A photograph and description of George MacLeod's 1955 model of Muirneag in The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. George MacLeod carried out the 1947 survey of Muirneag as she was being broken up, and his model was used as a research reference for this model.

Web site of the Scottish Fisheries Museum, at Anstruther.
On display here is the Zulu Research LK62, built at Banff in 1903.

The Buckie & District Fishing Heritage Centre, a short distance from where the original Muirneag was built.
The Museum has a large database of boats from the Buckie and Banff areas.

MY OTHER MODELS: Le Coureur, USS Lexington, HM Bark Endeavour

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