Classic boats will be major tourist attraction

THE 60m boat The Shetland Trader docked in Eyemouth's deep water basin on Sunday evening, the largest vessel to visit the port

A boat is unloaded from the deck of the "Shetland Trader" at Eyemouth Harbour. Picture by Michael Reilly.

THE 60m boat The Shetland Trader docked in Eyemouth's deep water basin on Sunday evening, the largest vessel to visit the port, and on Monday her cargo was off-loaded - 59 boats of various sizes and nationalities.

They are part of the largest collection of classic boats in Britain (over 300) and were being brought to their new resident home at Eyemouth from their temporary base at Lowestoft on the Suffolk coast.

Their arrival marks the first step in what could become the biggest single tourist attraction in eastern Berwickshire - a maritime museum.

Collection owner Andrew Thornhill, a London QC specialising in national and international tax law, has a home at Cranshaws and was persuaded to relocate to Eyemouth because of the ambience of the port and the willingness of people to see the maritime museum succeed.

Eyemouth's harbour area has undergone a multi-million pound face lift in recent years, and the port's fishing industry has received a boost, making use of the new deep water harbour and new fish market and adjacent ice plant. However, strict EU quotas on fishing have not been encouraging and it became clear to the many agencies involved in the town's rejuvenation that diversification was necessary.

The proposed maritime museum looks likely to be just what is needed to keep the harbour busy and profitable, and it marries in well with the tourist orientated refurbishment of the imposing 18th century Gunsgreen House. Using its history, as 'the finest example of smuggling architecture in Scotland', the cellars of the house are being converted into a smuggling interpretation centre and the basement will house showers, toilets and washing facilities for visiting yachtsmen.

According to Ian Eaton, Eyemouth Port officer, the fishing industry are supportive of the maritime museum which will be developed upstream of the harbour area used by the 35 strong fishing fleet.

Support has also come from Scottish Borders Council, Scottish Enterprise Borders, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, SEPA, Tweed Commissioners, Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland and the Crown Commission, and initial approaches to the national lottery organisers about the possibility of grant money being available to help the museum develop have been encouraging.

"We are quite delighted to have the boats here and hope that it will be a tourist attraction," said Sydney Sinclair, chairman of Eyemouth Harbour Trustees.

"We got the opportunity to have the boats here and we accepted, we're hoping that it's going to help fill a gap."

The boat yard and the major part of Dundee House have already been bought and land that housed the former ice house has been leased so that in the future a structure to display some of the boats may be built.

"It has enormous potential and it's just what the whole Borders area needs," said Ian Eaton, who has spent months working with the International Sail Craft Association, who manage the boats, to make their relocation to Eyemouth possible.

"This will bring huge organisations and organised events to the area. We could host yacht races that used to be held between Northumberland, Eyemouth and Forth clubs, have tall ships days, the 40m warship can be used for trips and corporate training.

"Sir Francis Chichester's Gypsy Moth is part of the collection and will be used for sail training although it needs repaired first."

Phase one of the museum, learning centre and maritime training project also involves acquiring the rights to moor boats at the northern end of the middle pier, forming a gangway and pontoon to allow access to the boats and leasing sheds at Gunsgreenhill farm to house the vessels which are not being displayed.

It is expected to take at least a year for the majority of the boats in the 300+ collection to be brought to Eyemouth and the exhibition to be opened to the public. Work will then begin on excavating and remodelling the basin opposite Dundee House to form a floating basin where craft can be exhibited in the summer and visitors can go on board.

The combination of historical boats and related facilities such as offices, an integral lecture room, academic research facilities at Dundee house, practical woodwork skills at the boatyard and sail training will provide sailing enthusiasts and naval and historical architecture students with a complete nautical experience. Five universities are already committed to using the facilities and another two are in the process of being recruited and many of the students who visit the port will work on the restoration of the boats.

Plans for phase three involve constructing a covered shelter across the River Eye from the former ice plant area and building a raised pier over the river on the Coastal Marine Boatbuilders' side of the river for more craft to be exhibited.

The vessels that arrived on board the Shetland Trader, a frequent visitor to Berwick dock, are the boats that can't go back into the water and will be for viewing purposes only. They include a Bahrein pearling dhow, a Chinese sampan, Zambesi dugout, canoes from across the world, Portuguese Barco do mar, and a Malaysian Bedar.

Some, such as the Gypsy Moth will be brought to Eyemouth by road while others are due to arrive under their own steam. The Bridgewater dredger 'Bertha', the oldest operating steam craft in Britain which is included in the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom, arrived in Eyemouth harbour on Tuesday afternoon and Eyemouth residents can expect to see a steady stream of unusual vessels from around the world arriving at the harbour.