Open Working Boats of the North West

Working Boat

Extracted from and by courtesy of The Boatman Magazine and John Leather

John Leather introduces some of the little known traditional craft with a distinctive appeal for today’s small boat sailor.

Many types of small craft once used to earn a living under sail and oar have, in recent years formed the basis for reproductions. In most cases they have been amended for pleasure sailors who while keen to experience the performance of traditional boats and to understand something of the lives of the working men, have little desire to experience the toil and ever-present financial worry which accompanied the real thing. In Britain, many of these reproductions are based on fishing craft from the East and South coasts of England. One thinks, for example, of the Essex smacks, Solent fishing cutters, Yorkshire cobles…  But the once considerable fishing activity of the North West Coast, from Wales to South West Scotland, has also resulted in some replicas of its several interesting small boat types.

Many will be familiar with the cutters once used to trawl for shrimps, prawns and bottom fish along the North West Coast but, in Morecambe Bay, there were also many small open boats rigged with a standing lugsail and used for working set and drift nets or raking cockles and gathering mussels. The small size of these boats, around 20’ in length (6.1m), makes them interesting to today’s sailor as a practical knockabout type for robust pleasure use.

The standing lug (illustrated above) was not used as a principal sail in British small working craft but, nevertheless, it had its advantages. With its tack taken to the mast, the standing lug could be set flat and was easier to handle than the more prevalent dipping lug. The standing lug was also simpler and easier to make than the gaff mainsail of the local cutters and it readily commended itself to the economically minded fishermen of Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland and Dumfries. It could also be cleared out of the way when lowered, allowing the boat to be rowed when becalmed or when working nets.

The Blackpool beach pleasure boats and the ferry boats between Knott End and Fleetwood, across the River Wyre ,set lugs for a living and, slightly further north, the fishermen of the swift flowing River Lune developed two types of lugsail boat. Most were owned at the villages of Overton and Sunderland Point at the mouth of the river. As it enters the Bay, the River Lune passes through a steep-sided channel and, in some wind and tide conditions, its waters can be rough. Salmon are attracted to this confused water and “tank whammel boats” were designed and built specifically to work in it. Primarily used by the fishermen of Sunderland Point, the tank boats were some twenty foot in length, were rigged with a standing lug and a foresail and, unusually for fishing boats, had airtight wooden buoyancy chambers built into the hull. The resulting craft were remarkably safe and could cope with swamping – such were the conditions that the two-men crews would frequently need to lash themselves on board when fishing. But there was, inevitably, the occasional accident and in the 1920s one tank boat was lost when the forward tank hatch washed off. The tank boats were gradually superseded by the smaller whammels which had less draught, were easier to handle and did the job equally well in similar conditions.

Lune Pilot Thumb

2 Responses to “Open Working Boats of the North West”
  1. I have a lune pilot for which I have just refurbished I am after a set of wooden oars she is 12ft6 can you give me advice on how long the oars should be an who is selling a set .

    • John – I am hoping that by posting your comment that one of the owners of a 12ft6 can share their experience. As a general rule – as long as possible. But you need to be able to stow them on the boat underway out of the way which is the limiting factor. JB

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