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Wick Society boat section praised over regional flagship accolade


By Alan Hendry

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THE volunteers who look after Wick’s historic fishing vessel Isabella Fortuna have been praised after landing a flagship honour.

Ian Leith, chairman of the Wick Society, paid tribute to the group’s boat section after the 129-year-old traditional Fifie was named as one of three regional flagships appointed by National Historic Ships UK.

He was speaking after being re-elected as chairman at the society’s annual general meeting in Wick Heritage Museum on Wednesday night.

Each of three regional flagships – the Isabella, along with a Devon paddle steamer and a sailing barge in the Thames Estuary – will receive a grant of £250 to be spent on the vessel, along with a special pennant to fly at the masthead.

From left: Malcolm Bremner (vice-chairman), Tony Sinclair (board member), Ian Leith (chairman), Donald Henderson (board member) and Lynsey Bremner (board member) after this week’s AGM of the Wick Society. Picture: Alan Hendry
From left: Malcolm Bremner (vice-chairman), Tony Sinclair (board member), Ian Leith (chairman), Donald Henderson (board member) and Lynsey Bremner (board member) after this week’s AGM of the Wick Society. Picture: Alan Hendry

“The boat section volunteers do a lot of unseen work, because they’re away in their old lifeboat shed all winter making the boat seaworthy and safe, and that is absolutely critical,” Mr Leith said. “But then when it comes out it is literally the flagship of the Wick Society as well.”

The Isabella’s pennant will be handed over at a presentation in Wick on Tuesday, June 11, recognising the boat’s importance to the community and the dedication of the volunteers. This will be followed by refreshments in Mackays Hotel.

The boat section volunteers do a lot of unseen work, making the boat seaworthy and safe, and that is absolutely critical.

After thanking members for re-electing him, and reminding them of the constant need to recruit new volunteers, Mr Leith explained that this will be his last year as chairman.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “By the time I’m finished next year it’ll be near enough four years. I just think it’s time for a change.”

It had been another “good and positive year” for the Wick Society, Mr Leith said, with more than 5000 visitors – the highest total ever. The challenge now, he added, was to maintain or even surpass that figure.

The museum attracts many holidaymakers from overseas, and in recent years there has been a notable rise in the number of Australians.

“It seems to be starting again this year,” Mr Leith said. “In fact I was talking to two Australians this morning in here, and they seem to be particularly interested in their ancestry. There seem to be a lot of them coming here looking into their Wick or Caithness ancestors.”

Mr Leith and fellow board members value the support they receive from within the community and are keen to welcome as many visitors as possible from the local area. Open days at New Year, and to mark national Doors Open Day in September, have helped get people through the door to discover the wealth of exhibits and displays.

“It has only been possible with the support and commitment of our volunteers and the local community,” he said. “We are a community organisation and we need the support and encouragement of the local community – which we get, both from local businesses and local community groups.

“Our open days have been a great success in getting local people to come in because, as I keep saying, it’s their museum and we are the custodians of it.”

Mr Leith also noted that the society’s photographic section continues to work on making the unique Johnston collection accessible. Prints and copies have gone to TV companies, books, CDs and corporate offices over the past year. “The diligent scanning, researching and production of this collection ensures that it remains a jewel in the Wick Society’s crown.”

He also highlighted the work of the Wick Voices project, saying it had gone from strength to strength over the year with 191 recordings now freely available online.

Wick Voices has been invited to attend the 2019 national oral history conference in Wales as well as being asked to run workshops and talks in Shetland and at Timespan in Helmsdale.

“None of the work of any of the sections would have been possible without the commitment, skills and dedication of our volunteers,” Mr Leith added.

Related story:

The Isabella Fortuna pictured from the Geo Explorer. Picture: Fergus Mather
The Isabella Fortuna pictured from the Geo Explorer. Picture: Fergus Mather

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