It is a rare survivor from the golden age of sail and Scotland's booming herring industry of the past which has served as a floating museum.

The iconic Reaper, is a key example of the Fifies fleet that became the most popular fishing vessel on Scotland’s North Sea coast during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Now after a £1m conservation, the two-masted, 70 foot, 50 tonne Fifie which finished its life as a cargo vessel will open again to the public tomorrow at her pontoon on Anstruther Harbour, once Scotland’s busiest fishing port.

The 118-year-old Reaper which is emblematic of the east coast herring industry and has starred on screen, most recently in the hit TV series Outlander and film Tommy’s Honour has been at centre of restoration work since 2018. Reaper, with its distinctive red sail, played a key role in Outlander as the boat used by central characters Claire and Jamie to escape to France.

Built in Sandhaven, near Fraserburgh, in 1903, at the height of the worldwide boom for Scottish salt-cured herring and inspired by Viking longship design, the conservation came under the direction of the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s historic boat expert Leonardo Bortolami and the Reaper’s skipper Mike Barton.

Highlights of the project include strengthening work which has given the Reaper the strongest hull of any Fifie ever built, even during their heyday and a new 67 foot fore mast.

Lead shipwright on the project Ali Beedie contributed hundreds of man hours to complete the complex tasks, working alongside the main contractor Babcock International Group and expert craftsmen from A&R Way Boatbuilding, Lochgilphead, who cut and inserted each individually shaped repaired or replaced oak frame and larch plank.


Work on the vessel also included installation of a new air compressor to power the original steam capstan, which has helped crew handle the Reaper’s heavy gear since it was made in the 1920s by McDonald Brothers of Portsoy.

Reopening the Reaper, Karen Seath, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust, said: “The Reaper is a stunning and extraordinary vessel and a significant part of Scotland’s rich national maritime and fishing heritage. She’s a rare survivor of the golden age of sail and our booming herring industry of the past.

“The Reaper is also unusual in that, through ongoing conservation and care, she remains seaworthy and has become a striking sight at Anstruther and ports across the UK, welcoming some 180,000 people onboard to date.

“We are grateful to our funders, skilled boat builders, Museum Boat Club volunteers, supporters and visitors, everyone who has made this conservation of the Reaper possible. It has been a true labour of love and craftsmanship and we look forward to welcoming visitors onboard during what is her first full summer in Anstruther Harbour.”

Volunteers at the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Boat Club, which helps maintain and sail the Reaper, have also contributed over 700 hours to date to the final phase of works.

This phase, which is still ongoing, includes the remaining internal refit, reinstating the crew cabins, galley, display areas and navigational aids.

Powered by wind alone with their huge, heavy, square lugsails stretching over 3,355sq ft and sleek hulls Fifies vessels like Reaper became the most popular fishing vessel on Scotland’s North Sea coast during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Keeping the vessel seaworthy has not been without its challenges.


Despite a series of repairs and refits over the years its condition in 2018 was found to be worse than anticipated.

The last time visitors could go onboard Reaper was in 2017 just before the launch of the restoration - which was made possible by funding from the Scottish Government, Museums Galleries Scotland and Oor Bairns Charitable Trust.

Built for William Buchan of Fraserburgh by J&G Forbes Boatyard in nearby Sandhaven, Reaper FR958 was registered for drift net and great line fishing and went on to spend 50 years serving the herring industry there and in Shetland.

During World War I, with fish a key part of the nation’s diet, the Reaper was fitted with an engine running on paraffin for the first time to ensure she could return to harbour before enemy action at night Requisitioned by the Admiralty in World War II, the Reaper served on the Clyde at Greenock then as a barrage balloon vessel in south east England.

In 1959, the Reaper was purchased by Zetland Council, now Shetland Islands Council, and renamed Shetlander, she was converted to a smack rig and became a flit boat for 15 years, carrying heavy, bulky cargoes and farm animals around the islands The Reaper was retired in 1974 with the arrival of roll on, roll off ferries.


The Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust purchased Reaper in 1975 and embarked on a decade long conservation to return her to her former glory.

Although much of Reaper’s hull and masts had survived from her sailing days, the Trust said it was major undertaking researching what she would have looked like in her heydey.

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland added: “We are delighted to have supported the Scottish Fisheries Museum with the conservation and interpretation for the nationally important vessel the Reaper. This is an incredible example of conservation bringing history to life, allowing visitors and residents to once again experience life aboard the Reaper and explore the rich heritage of Scotland’s maritime industry.”