The beautiful fishing town of Eyemouth with its listed quayside would be a tourist magnet if it were uplifted and transplanted to Cornwall. Yet it is virtually on the A1 only 50 miles from Edinburgh and 60 miles from Newcastle and in the Borders. It is close to the entry of the Firth of Forth which now gives access via the Forth Clyde canal to the West Coast, a natural port of call with its deepwater harbour for craft coming from Scandinavia and the Low Countries.
Eyemouth presents a remarkable opportunity to found, at a fraction of the cost normally associated with such projects, a working boat museum of world-class stature. Where are the boats? The answer is simple. In Exeter in Devon, there was until 1996 a splendid boat museum which was forced to depart. It was run as a charity, the International Sailing Craft Association. It is often referred to as ISCA, the Roman name for Exeter.
Since that time I have been ISCA’s chairman, have settled its debts and arranged the cost of transporting the boats to towns and cities where help with establishing a new museum was always promised but has failed for a variety of reasons to materialise. This has been a very worthwhile occupation, although it has had many dispiriting moments. The collection is irreplaceable.
There is an ethnic collection from all over the world, the oldest boat being 4000 years of age. Many of them are the only surviving examples. Then there is a collection of British working boats from all around our coasts, many from Scotland with its strong Viking influences. Finally, there is a superb collection of British racing dinghies stretching from about 1915 to 1975. To give you an idea of relative size, the ICSA collection runs to nigh on 400 boats. The new National Maritime Museum in Falmouth (erected at a cost of tens of millions) will house 97.
Having lived in the Borders as a second home for 30 years and has acquired three businesses there, I have been absolutely delighted by the enthusiastic welcome for our museum from Eyemouth and the Borders.
We either have acquired or are about to acquire leases on four large sheds, an old windmill (as archive centre and library), part of the old fish market, one or two prominent sites in the town, and the use of pontoons (to which we contribute half of the cost) in the historic harbour. An enthusiastic team of volunteers has emerged. We have a man on the ground, Ian Eaton. Also a local trustee George Menzies from Edinburgh and finally the services of Stephen Walters who is a maritime expert with experience of museums, films and sea festivals.
This can all be done (with volunteer help and some generous help from Eyemouth and the Borders region) including all start-up costs for £250,000, a fraction of the cost of putting up new buildings, a fraction of the huge costs devoted to starting some museums. We will end up with:
- An attractive tourist destination, a museum with rotating exhibits (Fishmarket and pontoons).
- A first-class specialist restoration facility with archive and visiting facilities for experts and researchers worldwide.
- A sail training centre where, for example, we hope to have Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth from Greenwich (presently sitting in concrete alongside the Cutty Sark whose owner hailed from Eyemouth).
I am looking to raise money through a new Scottish charity, Eyemouth International Sailing Craft Association – EISCA from donors with Scottish roots. If I succeed, my co-trustees and I would want to see the new charity take over the ownership and operation of the museum in Eyemouth. The town deserves nothing less.
The generosity of major donors will be rewarded not only by having important parts of the new museum named after them, but by having their name featured in the planned biennial sea festival, associated with sail training for the young, and in our co-operative ventures such as the International Festival of the Sea at Leith in May 2003.
Please help to get this imaginative venture off the ground. I am already some way of achieving the total. If we can reach it, you will know that you have helped Scotland to give a home to a world-class collection. Many boat museums would have wanted this collection.
You will need to ask questions and have presentations. We await your contact. Many thanks.