Gilly B - What Swan Means to Me

11 December 2020

This month we are featuring one of Swan’s volunteers, and a very talented artist, Gilly B. She moved to Shetland in 2016, where she lives on her boat and draws inspiration for her art from Shetland life and landscapes. She has volunteered for the Trust since she came to Shetland, being involved in crewing, maintenance and marketing/promotions.

The Swan sitting alongside the pier in Lerwick is an irresistible draw to anyone with any interest in boats, sailing or maritime history. On my arrival to live in Shetland I found out how I could get involved, which soon led to a delivery trip between Scalloway and Waas. On that trip I met two people who have become good friends, and that is the way with Swan, there is always a friendly welcoming atmosphere.

I volunteered not only to sail but, also to help at winter maintenance sessions, where I have enjoyed some lovely Saturday mornings in the Swan shed at Hays Dock, varnishing blocks, folding sails, oiling spars and listening to Shetland chat between experienced hands.

I have sailed with Shetland primary school children on half day sessions, delivery trips between Scalloway and Lerwick, and with American knitters on a charter for Shetland Wool Week. I have also been a female chaperone for a Sail Training Shetland youth trip between Shetland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and back to Shetland, where the Swan crew were definitely the most hardy of those taking part in Nordic Sail – as they had to spend 3 days crossing The North Sea to get to the start line, whereas all the other young participants were already in their home waters.

The most memorable trip for me however, was a pre-season volunteers training weekend. It started with a night at anchor behind Bressay, before holding man over board drills in the morning followed by a glorious sunny sail to The Out Skerries, where fish and chips had been laid on for us at the island hall, followed by a hot tub in a shed! Which was a very unexpected experience. The following day we sailed back to Lerwick in rain and rough seas, watching the Skerries light disappear and reappear astern as the swell revealed and concealed the islands.

As a designer and illustrator, Swan has often featured in my work. Her red sails are very distinctive and just look so great against the Shetland landscape and stormy seas, she is also very much 'about' Shetland, so many young people have had their first sailing experience with her and so many people have worked hard to get her restored and to keep her sailing. I like my work to be about the life of a place and Swan represents this in both past, present and, hopefully, future.

Swan is a solid boat that feels secure in big seas, where everyone has to play their part in raising her sails, keeping watch and sharing food, her bunks are snug and exactly as they should be for sleeping at sea. It is such a pleasure to see her sailing along the Shetland coastline knowing that she is making memorable experiences for those on board. I very much hope she continues to do this for many more generations to come, and am proud to be part of her story as a volunteer.

Follow these links to donate or volunteer with the Trust.

Anyone can sail on Swan, for details of trips available to book check out our upcoming trips

Links to other personal stories of Swan:

Andrew Manson

Heather Gray

Maggie Adamson

Ewan Hutcheson & Liam Slater

Andrew Halcrow

Joseph Kay

Laurie Goodlad

Find out more about Gilly B, and her designs, on her website


Want to get involved in maintaining and operating a traditional wooden sailing vessel? There are a number of different ways you can volunteer to safeguard, care for and sail this unique heritage asset.

Learn more

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