Sailor and painter Hamish Haswell-Smith, who was known for his bestselling book The Scottish Islands, has died aged 90

The death has been announced of Hamish Haswell-Smith, FRIAS(retd), DA (Edin), former architect, artist, sailor and author of the best-selling book The Scottish Islands.

The 90-year-old, who had visited nearly every island in Scotland, passed away peacefully in Edinburgh.

Born in Glasgow in 1928, Haswell-Smith learnt to sail on dinghies in Kampala, Uganda, where he worked after qualifying as an architect.

When he returned to Scotland in the early 1960s, he rediscovered his love of sailing, joining the Royal Forth Yacht Club and with Harold Buteux became part-owner of an International One Design racing yacht Kyla.


Kyla, the International One Design racing yacht Hamish Haswell-Smith part owned

These lovely craft have sleek lines, no engine or instruments, and wooden hulls which required hours of back-breaking maintenance work. This meant that they could be bought relatively cheaply and with exhilarating evening races in the summer months they were a wonderful opportunity to forget the worries of life ashore.

Haswell-Smith then enrolled at Leith Nautical College where he qualified as a Yachtmaster.

Through his love of navigation, he was invited by three friends, Peter Crabb, Ian Terris and Craig Hutcheson, to sail with them along the West Coast in their yacht Jeananne.

In 1983 the four adventurers joined forces and bought a new Moody 41, Jandara.

Hamish Haswell-Smith's yacht Jandara

Jandara, the Moody 41 he cruised around Scotland

At the same time Haswell-Smith began a steady retirement from architectural practice and devoted more time to painting and sailing.

He had always carried a sketchbook on the many trips abroad with his wife, Jean and continued to record whatever interested him. He always said that a sketch triggered many more memories than any photograph ever could.

His paintings were exhibited in most of the RSA summer exhibitions during the 1980s, and he had five one-man shows in Edinburgh, one in Dunkeld and one in Glasgow.

Jandara, Hamish’s Moody 41, sailing through the Kyle of Scarp

His paintings were also exhibited by the RSW and at exhibitions in London, Paris and Venice. In 1987 he gathered together a small group of fellow architects and founded the Scottish Society of Architect-Artists under the patronage of the Duke of Gloucester.

Haswell-Smith became a member of the Scottish Arts Club in 1973 where he was elected President in 1982 and during his term of office, there was to be the greatest change ever to occur in the club since its foundation. The members were debating a proposal that the club should admit female members.

When it came to the vote there was a dead-heat. As President, Haswell-Smith exercised his casting vote in favour of the proposal. It is worth noting that the Scottish Arts Club is currently being led by its fourth Lady President, a vindication of his foresight and good sense.

Sailing among the Scottish islands was an inspiration and he grew to love their unique beauty and the friendly resourcefulness of the islanders.

He started researching the background and history and accumulated a vast amount of information which he tried to take aboard Jandara for ready reference.

Hamish Hasewell-Smith hill walking

Hamish Haswell-Smith visited more than 155 Scottish Islands

In the end he decided to encapsulate it in a book, a descriptive survey of all the isles, illustrated with his many sketches and with maps of every island compiled by himself using computer graphics.

The book was the first of its kind to organise the islands in terms of their area based on a precise nautical definition devised by Haswell-Smith himself resulting in a list of 168 Scottish islands of over 100 acres (similar to Munro and his hills of over 3000 feet).

Haswell-Smith landed on over 155 of these 168 islands as well as many of the smaller ones.

The Scottish Islands, which was first published in 1996, was an instant success, coming top of the Scottish Best Sellers non-fiction class. The book is peppered with anecdotal records of people whom he met on and among the islands he surveyed, people whose rich variety he clearly valued and enjoyed. The Sunday Times described it as  ‘The acknowledged Rosetta Stone of island hopping’ and the book has run to many reprints since and four updated editions.

Haswell-Smith went on to publish An Island Odyssey, a light-hearted collation of visits to various islands with a watercolour illustration of each featured island, and turned his hand to illustrating Neil Munro’s book The Vital Spark: The illustrated Para Handy.

He also wrote a long series of weekend articles – an island per week – for the Glasgow Herald newspaper. In the 1990s the BBC featured a Tracks programme of him on the Isle of Jura.

Haswell-Smith leaves a wife, Jean, two children, Iain and Jannine and two grandchildren, William and Nicholas.