The week in Shetland: Hilly runs / sailing in a foureen / rowing in a yoal race

What a busy week … up to Shetland to do a spot of filming and decided to leave the bikes at home as was only going to be up for the week. I packed my running kit figuring i would get at least one run in during the week.

We arrived on the Ferry Saturday morning and was surprised to see pennants up over Hamnavoe … was told it was a Yoal Race by a runner i stopped to chat to and then was asked – ‘can you row?’

One of the islands boats was a bit short of crew so before i knew it I was sat in the boat ready to take part in the veteran race. Jolene came out to the pier to watch and asked who I was rowing for, I replied Tondra which is the neighbouring island and got a ‘traitor’ in reply.

The format is simple – there is a start line about 1km out to sea then you get assigned a lane and row as quick as you can … simple. Had a quick instruction and was told to relax as they were normally last in these races …

launching the YOAL

Yoal History

The Yoal was the main vessel used for the Haaf Fishing, until the introduction of the Sixareen in the mid 18th century. Although there were some variations in size the yoal was generally 21ft 5in overall with 5ft 5in beam.

George Johnson of Skelberry, Dunrossness, was one of the most prolific builders of Ness Yoals. Among the yoals built by Johnson, in his later years, were several larger ones up to 23ft 10in overall. One of these, which sadly has gone now, was theOceans Gift, so named because all the wood for her construction came from driftwood. Unusual features of these larger yoals were that their gunwales did not stop short of the stem and stern like the normal yoals, and some of them had a full fourth ‘baand’.

old fishing shot

Yoal Rowing

Rowing races have been held in Shetland for a long time, with the Inter-club trophies for Men and Women being competed for since the 1950’s. During the 1990’s rowing gained more popularity, with many communities within Shetland, from Unst to the Ness, raising money to purchase their own yoals. This resulted in a new body, the Shetland Yoal Rowing Association (SYRA), being formed to agree building and racing rules.

Victorian Ladies Race Yoal and Sixareen
getting ready to go out

The boys in the boat had me practise the start before we raced – no great technique just 10 short hard pulls then a steady tempo.


Somehow we did alright and the old boys pulled through. We were gaining on second place but lost out by a couple of metres … but it was knackering and the palm of my hand had a blister after one race (more to do with my soft city life). Had the Heart Rate Monitor on and you can see the effort it takes

row out and race in

So a 3rd in my first race. It was good fun and so great to be roped in to a traditional event. My soft hands would require some work in the future but I am sure a few practice sessions would fix me up ….

…. after two races I was feeling quite tight in the shoulders ..


After the racing we did a spot of work and i discovered a nice run down to Minn sands at the south side of Barra – was a 12km round trip but lots of wee hills so a good climbing course with around 500m of climbing over the distance … here it is on Strava.


Lastly also paid a visit to Tommy and Mary who run the croft on Trondra – did a film on them last year which is here

What the video doesn’t show is that Tommy is a great traditional boat builder – he had actually renovated the boat I was rowing on the Saturday. I was out with him last year on a traditional sixteen and this year he had just finished a small foureen that he had built to either take a traditional square rig or his old fireball mast and Merlin Rocket sail …. we had a blast and although the wind was only 8-10knots we were flying along at 5 knots. This wee boat is effortless through the water. If I lived up in Shetland or had the shed space i would definitely get one.

Danny MacAskill in Cape Town – showing the city how to ride


As a result of three video votings, we love to present the complete video. Enjoy the video and see Cape Town with the eyes of a street trials pro rider. For Danny, the city is one enormous playground.

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