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What Is a Yole?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A yole is a small boat of Nordic design. Commonly used as a work boat due to the cargo carrying ability of the vessel, a yole can be outfitted with sails or rowed and is of wooden construction. Available in two main categories, the north isles and the south isles type, the yole is a clinker-type boat found in North Scotland with the Orkney Island yole being one of the best-known models. Construction cues in a clinker-type boat are wooden planks that are overlapped slightly to create the boat's hull. The hull of this type of vessel is very wide, making the boat stable and capable of transporting a large cargo.

It is commonly thought that the Vikings were some of the world's earliest explorers. The capable design of the Viking longboat made this exploration possible. A yole is built using the same clinker boat building design as the longboats. The overlapping planks are used to create the hull of the boat, creating a very strong, stable and fast boat. Used for fishing and a host of other tasks, the yole is a commonly seen boat style in the waters of Scotland and the Orkney Island chain.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In the 1930s, the yole served the residents of the north Scotland and Orkney Islands in the same capacity as the automobile served other areas, carrying food, fuel and building supplies between the islands. Shortly following the second World War, the yole became completely motorized with not a single sailing or rowing version left anywhere in the Scottish area. In the early 1960s, a group of people interested in preserving the rich tradition of the tiny boat began to purchase and restore every single example of this boat that was left. Eventually, every single surviving vessel was found, refurbished and restored to sailing status.

The group hosts an annual regatta where the small boat is featured in sailing, rowing and even racing exhibitions. Visitors to the area are treated to a rich historical lesson and often leave the islands with a new-found respect and appreciation for the sailing vessel. Many of the youthful natives of the islands actually learn to sail in the restored boats so that, one day, they might carry on the tradition. New yoles are also being built in the tradition of the earliest boat makers, in the clinker style, to maintain this piece of sailing history in the land that depended on the yole for so many years.

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