Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

On Monday 14th February the family of David Tod R.I.P announced his passing peacefully in St Andrews Hospital.

Davie never hit the headlines as one of the high profile, high grossing whitefish skippers of the 70’s and 80’s, but through his work he significantly changed the fishing industry.

Davie was born and brought up in Pittenweem. When he left school he decided not go into his family bakery but spent a year at the prawns out of Pittenweem aboard the Ocean Queen. From there he took up an apprenticeship at Smith Brothers Engineering Co. of Anstruther.

He found himself in a very forward, practical thinking company. Smith Bros had developed a potato harvester in the 50’s that is still the basis of modern harvesting machines,  and for the fishing industry, they specialised in the  “down drive” gearing mechanism that connected winches and coilers to the engine. Smith’s also built winches and wheelhouses for James N Millers of St Monans and other yards. Working out the best way of doing things and using technology to make it easier was the perfect environment for Davies practical mind.

When his time was served Davie decided to go back to the fishing, and whilst on holiday in Essex he came across a small transom sterned vessel in a creek that was up for sale. Having located the owner he was ferried out to the boat across the mud on the owner’s back! The deal was done and David purchased the Your Lynn and brought it back to Pittenweem (navigating part of the way with a road map!). The boat was different from the traditional East Neuk fishing boat of the time and had been somewhat neglected. Some of the old worthies believed that nothing would be made of it. Davie set about completely re-rigging it, changing the layout to make it into an efficient stern trawler and very soon proved the naysayers wrong and this smart blue and white boat became the first of several remarkable vessels in the “Toddy” fleet.

When he came to replace the Your Lynn grant aid was available from the White Fish Authority and as an ambitious young skipper he decided to take a risk on a new build. Due to his engineering background there was no question, this boat had to be made of steel. There were several yards that could have built the boat he wanted. Davie eventually placed the very first order with the new Campbeltown shipyard, for a 49ft vessel. The design was Campbeltown’s but there were many heated arguments and discussions about the significant changes to the standard design Davie insisted on to get the boat he wanted.

The St Adrian was launched in May 1970, christened by Margaret Tod, Davie’s wife. It was the second vessel launched by the shipyard, David always insisted his should have been the first but the Crimson Arrow which had been launched a few weeks before was part funded by the Highlands and Islands Development Board.  It was a political decision to focus on the investment in the rural areas of Scotland by the HIDB.

David had designed the St Adrian so that it could be worked single handed (although he never did). His innovations included the wires being brought overhead from the winch leading back to the gantry of which the aft gallows were a part. He was also the first to use hydraulic guiding on gear with an early hydraulic winch. These innovations were developed in conjunction with Dr. Norman Kerr of the Sea Fish Authority. However the most significant piece of equipment introduced on this boat would revolutionise fishing practice in the UK.

David initially thought of having two winches, the second one to bring the sweeps in, but then with more consideration he realised by adding in bigger flanges that would enable him to bring the net in as well.  He commissioned Smith Bros to build the altered winch to his plans. The St Adrian was the first UK vessel to have a net drum. Now every modern trawler and seiner in the UK carries a net drum, this saved labour and created more deck space.  Innovations like this and the overhead wires no doubt have saved many lives and prevented some horrible accidents that happened all too frequently in the UK’s most dangerous Industry.

The St Adrian was very successful vessel fishing prawns mainly on the East coast, and over the next few years Davie also invested in other vessels and skippers, often boats that were seen ahead of their time, sometimes these partnerships worked out, other times they didn’t.

When he came to build another new vessel he commissioned GL Watson to develop his design. He enquired with Campbeltown and other shipyards about building it for him, but as it was a one off and these yards were now focussing on the classic 80 and 90 footer standard designs he found no takers. He eventually came across a small yard in Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde and construction began. Things he learned and adapted from the first St Adrian were built into the second vessel of that name. The wheelhouse was positioned in the middle of the boat but offset. With two net drums he pioneered the twin rig, working with the Sea Fish Authority at their tanks in Hull, and then some trials in the Firth of Forth.

This vessel was a small ¾ shelterdecked vessel totally unique in design and could not be described as traditionally a good looking vessel. However as a working boat it was rigged up as the perfect tool and a good sea boat.  After trials with the Sea Fish were over Davie lost a net on a wreck and gave up twin rigging, as it was “impossible to afford to keep pioneering new ideas and make a living” however there were lots of other small ideas he developed to make working life safer or easier.

With this vessel he was well known at the prawns on the East and West Coast of Scotland.

David decided to come ashore when Millars of Crail, the Marine engineering and fabrication company came up for sale and he sold the St Adrian 11.  He successfully converted and improved many fishing vessels, adding in shelterdecks, new layouts and even designing and building a small steel transom stern conversion for the wooden Forth Ranger. This facility also helped him maintain and improve his own fleet and enabled the classic Tod thought behind the fit out of a ferro concrete yacht hull he had purchased from the middle of a field in England.

When David’s eldest son, Andrew,  a joiner, wanted to go full time fishing not just at the creels in the summer it coincided with St Adrian II  appearing back on the market, and they brought the boat back to Pittenweem. His younger son David was an engineer and when he wished to go to the fishing, they purchased a steel hull, towed it to Anstruther, and lifted her out, Davie then set about reducing its length and created another superbly efficient small trawler, the Crusader.

The second St Adrian was sold on when Andrew decided to build his first fast creel boat the Genesis.

The last of Davie’s fleet to be named St Adrian had been a Fleetwood registered steel trawler called the Lady Mabs, it had gone ashore in thick fog at St Monans right at the time he purchased Millers of Crail. Davie acquired the wreck and went about his usual upgrades and conversion. For many years this vessel fished out of Pittenweem until the Geordie and Henry decided to retire. It was sold on to Fraserburgh renamed the Alta and has just recently been cut up in Macduff.  The first St Adrian is currently called the Radiant Star, FR Reg and is now undergoing refit in St Monans, and the St Adrian II still works on the west coast.



Andrew continues to work a fast creel boat, the Genises and David Jnr still Skippers the Crusader fishing for prawns from Pittenweem,  both vessels well maintained as David Snr had done before them and still recognisable in the smart Tod Blue and white colours.

Davie’s influence and work has spread much wider that the working fleet.

Billy Hughes BEM retired manager of the FMA Pittenweem, said that when David was President of the organisation “ They had a very close working relationship, they each would have ideas and strong opinions but it was rare that they would disagree, they would talk though things and what resulted was always for the benefit of the fishing industry and the East Neuk of Fife.”

Members of the local Community Council have also paid tribute to his chairmanship and stewardship of that organisation. He chaired many other groups including the Fife Harbours committee.

He has been involved with the Scottish Fisheries Museum since it opened in 1969. As volunteer, Trustee, Chairman and Vice President. He has driven forward expansion and development, solved multiple practical issues in the rambling complex of old buildings. He has overseen all the technical challenges round restoring and sailing the Reaper, the museum’s 1903 flagship sailing lugger and other boats in the fleet, ensuring that that small independant museum has a collection of national significance. One of the most remarkable feats was installing the 78ft zulu Research LK 62 into a museum gallery. He had rescued the hull from being destroyed after a storm,  protected it by building a steel frame round it and almost single handedly manoeuvring it across the main road and into the museum.

Always thinking about how the museum could thrive and survive Davie knew that the community had to be rooted in all aspects of the Museum. The formation of specialist interest clubs affiliated to the museum was another of his plans and a way to achieve this.

In 1985 the Reaper had just completed it’s first phase of restoration and sails had been designed and delivered, but there was no crew. His newly formed SFM Boats Club started a programme of outreach that has seen the boat visit venues from Portsmouth to Lerwick, encouraging many volunteer crew on adventures,  Davie frequently skippered the vessel when not working at sea while retired fishermen skippered the vessel on the longer trips. This club has introduced Scottish fishing heritage to over 180 000 visitors from 120 countries including many organised school parties.

Another passion was model boat building, he was a very skilled modeler both from scratch and working with cast hulls. The second club he formed was the SFM Model Boats Club in 2008 and as chair of that it became a thriving group. Many of the models were remote control and they sailed them at various venues. When Davie became ill in the last couple of years unable to go long distances with his models, a few of the club (under his supervision) built a large pond in his back yard and they met on Sunday mornings to sail their boats. This happened each week until the time he went into hospital towards the end of 2021.

He built a wide range of models, one each of his own and son’s fishing boats and his yacht, steam drifter and modern fishing vessels. One of the last models he completed was a planked scale model of the 1937 Manx Beauty, a local restoration project that he was technical advisor to. He donated it to be used for talks and school visits to show the ambition and end product of the project.

Undeniably one of his visions and achievements that has had the greatest impact was his project developed through the Scottish Fisheries Museum to re-establish small scale boat building in towns and villages round the coast. His plan was to create a wooden vessel in kit form that could be constructed by communities and help re introduce them to the skills and put them back in contact with the sea.

The idea was developed with the Museum and Alec Jordan (Jordan Boats) who had the CNC equipment to be able to do this. The first prototype was a small vessel that they saw did not meet the requirements or be aspirational enough to inspire communities to take part.

Alec Jordan also had a vision for community racing of vessels, his business was based in East Wemyss where miners of Fife used to run very popular regattas. With rowing enthusiast Robbie Wightman of North Berwick the idea of a vessel suitable for competitive coastal rowing was developed. A grant from Museums and Galleries Scotland was secured and the Museum commissioned Ian Oughtred to design a rowing skiff based on the Fair Isle yoal of Shetland, a 22ft open boat with excellent sea going capabilities.

The design was christened the St Ayles Skiff named after the area the Museum buildings are housed in. Clubs were formed in Anstruther, North Berwick and Port Seton  and the first regatta was held at Anstruther in 2010, The Scottish Coastal rowing movement was born. Driven at the start by David, Robbie and Alec the passion and efforts of many individuals, communities and clubs has made this sport grow at an incredible rate. At that first regatta a national committee was formed to oversee the sport, Scottish Coastal Rowing Association. David served on this, and in his usual way supported the whole movement as well as local clubs on all levels, from practical help and advice.

There are currently 213 vessels registered in UK, 21 in the USA/Canada, 18 in Australia/ New Zealand, and many others in the UK and Europe currently under construction. Some being built as a part of school courses and others by regenerative groups as well as town enthusiasts.

Covid put a halt to the regular regattas, however rowing to pre covid levels is returning, when, weather permitting, hundreds if not thousands of people are now involved rowing Skiffs for pleasure and competitively.

This year the fourth World Championships, Skiffieworlds 2022 will be held in Holland. The first was in Ullapool, the second in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland. The third was in Stranraer in 2019 and attended by more than 30,000 spectators.  Featuring over 1500 rowers, the economic impact on the area of the event has been independently assessed at over £3.5million. Davie was particularly proud of the Anstruther womens teams, but also showed his support for the whole sport by making a three week trip, sailing his yacht Braveheart to Strangford Lough for the 2016 Skiffieworlds.


The UK is an island nation, the number of people working on the seas has plummeted, maritime skills, traditions and seafaring skills are disappearing. The impact of the coastal rowing movement is remarkable and cannot be overstated. Alongside from the obvious health and community bonding benefits, this movement has put people back in touch with the seas, learning about tides, wind over water, swell and the skills to safely cox and row an open boat in all kinds of weather.

There is now an International committee to take the movement into it’s next phase.  This phenomena  continues to grow and thrive. Davie was very proud of what communities have achieved from the seed he planted and help steer.

For the past 40 years David Tod lived in Cellardyke, with a panoramic view of the Firth of Forth, some of his model boats are proudly displayed in the windows. Margaret and Davie were a solid devoted couple, not only did she keep the books for all the boats, but she kept Davie in tow from going over the top with some of his more off the wall ideas. They had a good group of friends who they met regularly with especially in retirement.  Davie and Isa Smith,  Jim and Sheena Tarvit and the Tods would meet at the chippy each Thursday evening, and then Davie and Margaret would head up to Peter and Ruth Murrays to round off the evening.

They both loved the view from Pickford Cresc but for Margaret it was a huge part of her life, she would anxiously look out for the boats coming  home. When the boys were young, after seeing the St Adrian pass the window she would pile the boys into the car and take them to sit and watch the boat come in the harbour mouth in Pittenweem. Not waiting for Davie to land the catch or red up, she would head home knowing her man was safe. When the boys got their own boats, she’d watch out for them too. They were a very close couple and her loss just over three years ago had a huge impact on Davie. He had been diagnosed with kidney failure prior to that and has been on dialysis three times a week since then. He was admitted to hospital on 22nd Dec and passed away on Monday 14th February.

Davie was a practical thinker, a solver of problems. If you met him face to face, he was blunt, he knew how he wanted things to be done and you needed to stand up to him, but if you had a sensible point he would listen.

On the face of it most people would not describe David Tod as a passionate man, but in his actions he had a deep down passion for Scottish Fishing industry and it’s heritage and encouraging individuals, groups and communities to achieve the best they could. He was not just a man of vision this was backed up by a practical side and unlike many who just come up with ideas he had the tools to achieve his goals. Davie has created an impressive legacy in almost everything he touched.

He was at ease in any company, a straightforward straight talking fisherman when he needed to be, and a fun cheeky guy when dealing with overwhelmingly female committee of the Anster rowing club.

As a friend, technical advisor, and the man who supported and mentored me as  a 19 year old Curator of the Scottish Fisheries Museum in the 1980s Davie will be sorely missed.

David was awarded the British Empire Medal in June 2017 for services to Preserving the Heritage of the Scottish Fishing Industry.

He is survived by two sons, Andrew and David their wives, Lorraine and Janice and four grandchildren.

Article courtesy of Richard Wemyss/The Cellardyke Echo  https://www.cellardyketrust.org/