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Commissioned in 1950 by George Clark as a purpose-built lobster fishing boat, built by J & G Forbes of Sandhaven, on the north east coast of Scotland.
Ketch rig, foresail and mizzen
44 Kelvin diesel motor
3 man crew
Original owner: George Clark
Skipper: Donald Macaulay
The Mairi Dhonn was a double-ended Fifie style design, 33 feet in length and was initially powered by a 22hp Kelvin diesel engine. To satisfy George Clark’s love of sail, she was rigged as a gaff ketch and, unusually for a fishing boat of that time, she did not have a wheelhouse since that would have detracted from his pleasure of sailing. Also unusual for a lobster boat of that era, she was fitted with a vertical drum capstan which was used in conjunction with a pulley mounted at the gunwale and a supplementary turning block to assist in hauling the lobster creels. This arrangement required two crew to haul a creel, one to lift the creel from the water and remove the rope from the pulley and another to tail and control the rope at the capstan. George’s crew on the Mairi Dhonn were Calum Ruairidh Morrison, Donald Macaulay,and, on occasion, Kenneth Macdonald and Murdo Maclennan.
As a result of his initial experience with the Mairi Dhonn, George Clark realised that some major changes were necessary to make working the creels both safer and more efficient. The Mairi Dhonn had very low bulwarks which, in rough seas, often led to creels being lost overboard. In addition, working on deck was unsafe and exposed for crew particularly when shooting and lifting the creels due to the insecurity resulting from the low bulwarks. The boat was returned to the builders where the bulwarks were raised significantly, the rig was changed to a more manageable single central mast with loose-footed gaff rig, a more powerful 44hp Kelvin diesel engine fitted and, very significantly, the first dedicated lobster pot-hauling winch, to George Clark’s design, was fitted. Unusually for that time, the winch was hydraulically powered with copper piping for the hydraulic system. Instead of a vertical drum capstan, there was a v-pulley mounted horizontally and, most crucially, a jockey wheel with a v-shaped edge which was held against the v-pulley under tension by a spring to securely engage the rope being hauled. The jockey wheel had a handle attached with which it could be disengaged from the v-pully to release the rope. The block at the gunwale was retained to direct the rope to the pulley on the winch. The winch was positioned to allow the rope leader to fall straight into the hold.
In September 1952, the Mairi Dhonn became the first vessel to be chartered, with a crew of George Clark, Donald Macaulay and Murdo Maclennan, to transport the gannet harvest back from the island of Sula Sgeir, as part of the annual guga (young gannet) hunt. George was instrumental in raising the alarm for the rescue of hunters stranded on the island in severe storm conditions.
In 1953 George Clark commissioned a larger replacement lobster fishing boat; he sold the Mairi Dhonn to Donald Macaulay in 1954.
Under Donald's command, she continued to fish lobsters from Bernera. The Mairi Dhonn was sold in 1963 to Donald Macaulay's brother-in-law Donald Macleod of the Port of Ness. She was later sold on to Barra where she also fished lobsters. The Mairi Dhonn and her crew of five were subsequently lost at sea in 1968, on a passage between Mallaig and Barra, having landed a catch in Mallaig. The exact cause was never established; the Mairi Dhonn's registration was closed in 1968.
The Mairi Dhonn features in this account of her original owner, George Clark.