Four generations of the Stewart family built boats at Kenary in Scotvein since Charles Stewart came to the Uists (probably from Argyll) and moved to Grimsay in the 1840s. They developed a distinctive style that responded to Uist conditions: small enough to be beached in rocky inlets off the Minch, but fast, strong and stable for the lobster fishing in the Atlantic. The Stewarts were creative in their approach, surviving the transition from sail to power through flexibility and adaptation. They built both double-enders (eathar) and transom-stern (geola), in sizes from dinghy to 28′, responding to needs in beam and buoyancy from both crofters and fishermen. We estimate that up to 1,000 boats may have been built by the Stewarts between the 1840s and 2000; we have direct knowledge or records of some 200.
The mid-20th century was the hey-day of Stewart boatbuilding: after the war, engines were more powerful, gear was improving, markets were developing, and the boats got bigger. During this period, three of the Stewart family Teàrlach Uilleim (Charles) and his sons Uilleam Theàrlaich (William) and Aonghas Theàrlaich (Angus) were working together, and built most of the Grimsay boats we know today.
After Charles’ death in 1964, Angus carried on until he died in 1994; William, who was also fishing, often worked with him. William passed on the Stewart tradition to the ‘heirs’: his young cousin John Alec who built Ceallina in 2000, and to Ronald John MacLean who is now Craftsman/Manager at the Grimsay Boatshed, and in turn teaches Stewart methods to his apprentices and to secondary pupils. The Stewart boatbuilding methods and Gaelic technical vocabulary are still in use at the Grimsay Boatshed.