The South and West Coasts


ALTHOUGH facing east, the bit of coastline between the Forelands is to the sailor rather a part of the Channel navigation than of the North Sea proper. It begins or ends nearly every Channel voyage; it is alive with the Channel traffic, and lives by the Channel trade, and its lights and shoals are known to every down-Channel seaman.

 Ramsgate, a tidal harbour of undeserved ill-repute with yachtsmen, is a trawling port of some importance, and like Lowestoft and Grimsby owes its rise to the hardy Devon men who came eastward with their boats and made their homes on the coast fronting on the North Sea which offered such phenomenal harvests to their trawls.

The Ramsgate trawlers are of small size, seldom exceeding 30 to 40 tons, and like the old trawlers of Yarmouth and Lowestoft still show a strong family likeness to the Brixham boats. But while the sailing trawlers of Yarmouth and Lowestoft are giving place to the steam trawlers fishing distant seas a thousand miles away, and to the drift-net boats, both steam and sailing, the Ramsgate sailing trawlers still hold their own, like their sisters of Devon.

Deep-water harbours are now far apart, and the boating conditions from Deal to the Owers are very much the same. The boat must not exceed in displacement what a capstan can haul up the beach above high water. She must be stoutly built, broad of beam, clench built for preference, and simply rigged. Hence it comes that with but slight local variations the short boats of Deal, Dover, Hastings, or Brighton all bear a familiar resemblance.


The Deal Lugger

Perhaps most famous of them all is the Deal lugger. The old 'cat' or three-masted Deal lugger, which used to take off anchors and cables to the sailing fleets of old which sought shelter in the great roadstead of the Downs, is now but rare. In these days of steel and steam, patent anchors and steam winches, there is very little demand for such forms of assistance from the shore, and the smaller and handier galley punt now meets most requirements. 

But these Deal luggers, although rarely seen now, will ever remain famous in the annals of the sea. They have been connected from time immemorial with that famous roadstead of the Downs, and with the historic Goodwin Sands, which form at once the eastern protection and the peculiar danger of the anchorage. They have witnessed the early sea-fights between French and English in the thirteenth century, and the battles of Van Tromp and Blake which gave the mastery of the sea to England.


They have seen the victorious British fleets from that day to this going and coming, and have carried succour to thousands of ships, both steam and sailing, year after year, by night and day, in the dreadful gales against which the anchorage only forms at best a partial protection. And more than this, manned by their intrepid Deal crews they have left their legitimate work, and have risked all in saving ships and lives from the appalling fury on the dreaded Goodwins.

These sands, cast up and maintained by the meeting of the Channel and North Sea tide-streams which eddy round this spot, rise straight out from seventy to ninety feet of water. By the tremendous surface wash of the sea and the strong tide-streams running violently and varying in direction with the hour of the tide, they are kept shorn down to some ten feet below high-water level. Hard as they appear to be in some places, they yet rapidly swallow up every wreck which gets upon them, and every beacon which has been erected in the vain hope of providing a refuge on their treacherous surface.

No more dangerous work exists in the world than the rescue of men from a ship which has once beaten in on the surface of such shallows as the Goodwin. The true power and horror of a long line of heavy breakers, rising up in foaming cataracts twenty feet high and thundering forward thirty miles an hour at hour as their momentum is checked by the sands beneath, can only be realised by those who have once been among them and have survived. Huge seas breaking and roaring in across the wind, their tops blowing away in sheets of solid water to leeward, and anon leaping forty feet into the air as they meet the big line of breakers, add to the terrible danger of any lifeboat or other which dares among them. A cross tide-stream running at four or five knots, the dense drift of sea-spume, the stinging rain, the gripping, shrieking wind, and the thunder in the canvas, all add to the appalling confusion.

Yet in such scenes, before the day of the splendid blue-hulled lifeboats which have earned undying fame in the hands of the storm warriors of Deal, Walmer, and Ramsgate, the old brown-hulled, red-sailed hovelling luggers of Deal*1 brought hope and help to many a fainting group of desperate men clinging to the last spars of their once proud ship.

In shore life we record with pride and speedily reward the bravery of a man who gallops half a mile under rifle fire to help a wounded comrade out of action, or who by an instant's presence of mind rescues a score of people from accident or death. At sea, a dozen men put off in a small open boat from their snug firesides. A black winter night and a freezing gale cannot keep them at home, for they have seen a signal of distress. It is three hours' beat against the sea and a lee-going tide, and they are all soaked and numbed to the bone in half that time. Arrived at the weather end of the Sands, there is no sign of the wreck. The flares are burnt out or washed away. But the men who lit them may be there still: all, or only one. It is an off-chance. But these twelve men are not going to leave that chance. 'Guess we must wait' is all that is said. Then comes ten hours' waiting through the black night for the winter dawn, such waiting as only such men could survive; every minute in every thundering sea and stinging snow-squall threatening death. Then at last in the dawn, 'There she is !' is the cry, and away goes the willing boat under her close-reefed foresail before the seas, boldly into the breakers towering above her mast, Without fear or thought except for those still clinging to the rigging. Yet the work is not done; now comes effort after effort to get near the wreck without smashing up the boat and so bringing death to all. By consummate seamanship and unerring judgment only is it effected, such swiftness of hand and eye, such patience and steadiness of heart and head as would win for this crew unending fame could men but witness it or understand it as they can a land battle or even a football match. This is sport indeed; this is pluck; this is all we venerate, and a good deal more. But these men are of the sea. Six hours later they are getting on dry clothes, and the poor rescued wretches are weeping their gratitude. A paragraph appears in a newspaper: 'Great Gale. Gallant rescue; the crew of a barque saved.' And then all is done; the names if ever known are quickly forgotten; the event is buried in a score of others; and football gives way to the cricket season.

*1* The term 'hoveller' was in use in the time of Edward III to denote the mounted coastguards of the period, 'homines ad arma et hobilers,' used for watching the Shores, and giving warning of hostile raids in time of war. It is said to be probably derived either from the French 'hobil,' a surcoat, or the old English 'hobbier,' a Stout cob, as suggested in G. B. Gattie's Memorials of the Goodwin Sands, London, 1893. Knowing how the word 'hoveller' or 'hobler' is used to the present date in some places in Cornwall to denote a boatman Who plies for hire and is not a regular fisherman, neither of the above derivations seems very satisfactory. It is a rare word, and it is peculiar that it should be used at the two opposite ends of the Channel to denote practically the same meaning. Is not 'hoverer' as likely a derivation as the above somewhat random guesses?

Yet among sailor men, ever shifting as they are with their fleets about the world, the Deal boatmen and their old luggers and their newer lifeboats will never be forgotten. They are heroes of the Empire second to none, and like heroes are dumb about themselves.

The old Deal lugger was a bluffer built vessel than its sister the famous Yarmouth yawl. But its rig was the same originally when each carried the old-fashioned three-lug combination derived from the French and referred to elsewhere. The Deal lugger, like the Yarmouth boat, has dropped out the mainmast amidships and retained only the mizen and foresails at either end of the boat.

These boats have always been launched and beached with great boldness up and down their steep beach. They were usually 40 feet long by 13 feet beam, and had a small forepeak for shelter.


Lying stem seawards, with masts stepped, they were ready for sea night and day at a moment's notice. They were held fast on the inclined ways by a chain roved through the 'ruffles' in the keel. When the trigger was knocked away, with crew on board and mizen sail set, they would shoot down the beach with square skids below, head-first into the surf. Often their own impetus was sufficient to take them off through the line of breakers, but with an onshore wind a hauloff warp would be resorted to, the whole crew laying on to it as she went off; thus ensuring her riding into deep water. Then up smartly went the foresail, sheet and halyards being set taut as she drew out.

Landing was even more dangerous, especially in the case of the more numerous and smaller galley punts, which must often stand off and on for hours before they dare risk a smooth to run in upon.

Surf work of this nature is a speciality, and the Deal and south-coast men are experts at it; but the deep-water sailor, who knows too well the power of breaking water, and has a horror of a lee shore, would, as a rule, prefer any other way to land.


The luggers and galley punts were alike clench built, and very strong to stand the knocking about in floating and beaching and the strains at sea, alongside ships, or carrying heavy weights in bad weather, to which they were subjected. Both were built of elm and were kept 'bright' and varnished, being thus easily recognisable even on a dark night.

The galley punt is, as its name implies, a boat capable of pulling or sailing. It is smaller than the old lugger, being from 21 to 30 feet in length with 7 feet beam. It is still much used for tending ships in the Downs, lauding pilots, and general 'hovelling' work, and the crew of four men may often be away for four days at a time on such service, which may include a tow of fifty miles or more behind a steamer waiting to take off the pilot. Such work in winter weather may be best imagined.

The mast is placed well amidships, and a long-yarded, square-headed dipping lugsail is set upon it very much like the sail used in the Shetland sexern and in the Arendal yawl in Norway. It is a very useful sail, giving great lifting and weatherly power, and is wonderfully handled. The short mast, its position amidships, and its lack of gear make it extremely handy in tending ships.


The dipping lugsail, the simplest in rigging, the most powerful on a reach and the flattest to windward of all known sails, is the sail of the south coast boatman, with few exceptions, from the Foreland to Land's End.


The South Coast

From Dover and Folkestone, now quite a considerable fishing port, westward, the mast is placed further forward than in the galley punt, and more in the position of the old Deal lugger, with a mizen and a small jib on a running bowsprit often added. This gives one of the handiest of rigs for a comparatively small crew to handle; it gives an even balance of sail-spread under jib and mizen for picking up a berth or shooting drift-nets; keeps the boat under way when the big foresail is dipped; and splits up the sail area handily for reefing purposes in a blow.


Most yachtsmen have met the Hastings and Brighton shore-boats up and down Channel in all weathers and have admired the power in the strong bluff bows flying dry up and down the steep Channel seas. They are usually easily recognisable by the peculiar little counter built out beyond the transom stern, the long pole on the light mizen-mast, and the straight mizen-outrigger, carrying on the line of the gunwale, and never raked up as in the west country boats.


From Shoreham come a finer, deeper class of carvel-built boat, many of them built down west in Cornish ports. The advantage of not having to seek shelter from bad weather up the side of a steep beach is the greater depth and size, and superior accommodation and shelter at sea, which can be indulged in.

The curious old Brighton hoggies, which were common up to the middle of the last century, and were illustrated by E. W. Cooke, have now quite disappeared before the superior handiness and sailing qualities of the south coast lugger.

These boats were quite peculiar, and were the nearest approach in build to the Dutch beach-boats of the Scheveningen coast ever seen on these shores. Like them they were clinker-built, flat-floored, and round-ended, with great beam and strong bilge-keels. They carried a sprit or gaff mainsail, and often a sprit or lug mizen, with a stay foresail set out on a peculiar flat wooden bumkin, raked well down forward. A running bowsprit and small jib were occasionally used.

(AFTER E. W. COOKE 1828)

Some variation seems to have taken place in their rig prior to the introduction of the now usual lug- rigged boats; for while for some time they used the high boomless gaff mainsail familiar in the little Itchen sloops with perpendicular aft leech, in Cooke's time they had certainly nearly all adopted a lower cut spritsail and mizen.

A particularly fine, powerful class of open clinker-built yawl is used on this coast for pleasure purposes in the summer, and the splendidly effective build and rig of these boats is often obscured by the nature of the service to which they are put.


The Itchen boat brings us further west to the strong tides and narrow channels of the Solent, where short tacking and quick turning are a sine qua non, and where consequently the dipping lugsail is no longer suitable. The local rig has always been the gaffsail, or, as in the old Portsmouth wherry, the spritsail, with straight leech up and down and no boom, which required no dipping in going about, and was light and simple to handle.


The similarity of the sail-plan of the old Itchen boat to that of the service launch and the quay punt and oyster-dredger of Falmouth is somewhat striking. All are the result of a plan designed for somewhat similar objects. The service launch is fitted with the 'de Horsey' rig, the object of which is short spars and snug sail and mast-plan all inside the boat. A mainsail with perpendicular leech which is boomless for quick handling, and a fore staysail, are the working sails, topsail and jib-topsail being only adjuncts for fine weather and plain sailing, just as is the case with mizen and jib in the other boats mentioned.


While the Itchen boat was used for fishing and piloting, and was consequently a heavier sea-going boat able to stand up to a lofty mainsail, the old wherry which plied at Spithead as a ship's tender and passenger boat, remained a light open skiff in construction.


The centre of effort of its sail area was kept low, as should be the case in all open sailing boats, and its masts short for going alongside shipping; while for convenience in handling, when loaded up with passengers or luggage, the sails were all inboard and split up into main, mizen, and fore sails, a simple and handy rig for any class of yacht's or ship's boat.


The Solent men have always been consummate fore-and-aft sailors, and the earliest pictures we have of Cowes Roads show that the local cargo-carrier was a dandy-rigged vessel as early as the eighteenth century. On a fine morning off Gilkicker Fort I have counted no less than eleven of these boats in sight from the deck at one time.

Further west are two ports which have always been strongholds of the fore-and-aft smack, which, as pointed out, has always been the favourite rig of the deep-sea trawler.


Brixham was a fishing station in the time of the Armada, and the fore-and-aft rig was probably developed by the Brixham men as early as the sixteenth century. Although records are scanty, it appears that trawling was somewhat extensively practised there at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the vessels and trawls were all small compared with those of the present day.


Following the intrepid wandering spirit of their race, numbers of Brixham men settled by degrees at eastern ports such as Ramsgate and Grimsby, using those places as the stations from which they could more conveniently reach fishing-grounds presenting suitable conditions for the use of the deep-sea trawl, which was rapidly growing in favour.


It appears more than probable, indeed, that the deep-sea trawl was first worked in the North Sea by the west-country seamen, and was afterwards adopted by the east coast men, first in the Thames estuary and ultimately more widely along the coast. To this day the big North Sea trawler differs in sail-plan from the North Sea driving and long-line boats, and is the counterpart of that of the Brixham and Plymouth trawling smacks.


So late as the seventies the Brixham trawlers were all cutter-rigged vessels, from 25 to 40 tons, but since then the larger class has discarded the long heavy boom for rough sea work, and, in common with the majority of English fishermen, has adopted the mizen. The result is a very beautiful class of dandy-rigged vessel running up to 60 tons and 70 feet in length. The time to see these boats is when they are soaring over a south-easterly sea with a gale of wind, with topsail set, and travelling dry and comfortably at eight or ten knots.

A marked characteristic of the west-country trawler is the forward rake of both masts, which is more pronounced than in those of the east coast ports. The 'mumble-bee,' the small class of Brixham boat, still retains the cutter rig.

The Plymouth men, who followed near on the heels of Brixham in the use of the trawl, have held on to the cutter rig somewhat longer than the large Brixham boats, and in the eighties as a boy one used to see with admiration these splendid smacks beating to sea in the heaviest weather with the huge mainsails close-reefed and storm jib bending the bowsprit (which seldom had a bobstay) like a trout rod, as the high, straight bow soared over the big Atlantic roll. In the drift-fishing, however, Plymouth men prefer West Cornwall built boats either with the Cornish Lugsail or dandy rig; but they seldom keep their boats or gear in the same smart condition as do the Cornishmen.

Westward of these ports comes the rugged coastline of Cornwall, with its many creeks and coves, all of which give protection to a seafaring population owning and working their own little sailing-craft.

While mining in the Duchy is decaying, and agriculture but holds its own, the fisheries give employment to some 50,000 souls, and a large number more follow the sea in deep-water ships, and especially in the smaller classes of coast traders. Scarcely a creek or pier of any size but owns its topsail schooner or its ketch, often beautifully modelled and finely canvased, or its old-fashioned smack of a hundred years ago, engaged in local cargo-carrying to Wales or up-Channel, or in foreign voyages to French and Spanish ports. Just as in the time of Queen Elizabeth, so to this day these little vessels of 200 to 300 tons journey fearlessly about the stormy western seas, across the Bay, or to the cold North Sea. Their reward is less than in those cheerful times, and nothing is ever heard of their quiet daring. Yet any day from the midst of the winter night-rack a small staggering bit of a ship with three or four feet freeboard comes in dripping to the pier-side, quietly and without noise or fuss, as if from across the bay; safely moored and with ropes coiled down, the skipper (who is often as not the owner) and his crew leave her to go up to their homes on the cliff above, and inquiry will elicit the fact that they U have not been home for three months, and have sailed some thousand miles since last their vessel lay in the snug home-berth. A few days. and they are at sea again; winter, summer, or equinox alike, when the liners put back, and the lifeboats are out, no less than when the white-sailed yachts go forth, they are steadfast at their work, earning the modest profit or more modest share or wage which is their living.


The Cornish Lugger

The rig of the Cornish fisherman is the lugsail in its most simple and most powerful form. In the little open boats of 20 feet keel, as in the big decked boats of 40 tons measurement, the favourite rig is the dipping lug-foresail and standing lug-mizen; and for the wild seas they navigate no more suitable rig could be devised. As nearly every Cornishman, whether miner or fisherman, has been brought up to 'knaw tin,' so, whether fisherman or miner, he has it somewhere in his blood to handle a lugsail boat.


I doubt if any finer boatmen are to be met with than the crabbers and long-line fishermen, whose little open boats may be seen hauled up inaccessible cliff paths in the rough exposed coves among the cliffs, or ranging wide at sea twenty or thirty miles from their capstan in any weather that a boat may live in, and in a good deal that theoretically it may not.


The majority of these boats are about 20 feet keel, some range up to 23 or so, but they become too big to handle in the cove if they exceed that. They have straight stems, high sides, beam about one-third of their length, and transom-sterns. They are all open, with four or five thwarts, with light bulkheads underneath them dividing off the ballast-room from the fish, and so on.


The floors inside are generally built fairly high up, and a pump is fitted in front of the helmsman, draining overboard.


The mizenmast and outrigger are generally left standing both ashore and at sea, while the foremast is lowered down aft when the rolling fishing-ground is reached or the boat is grounded in the cove.

The mizen is often stepped some way inboard, so that the helmsman sits abaft it. As in the larger boats, the sails are seldom reefed, but as the wind increases a smaller mizen is set and the large one moved forward and set in place of the foresail. As Wyllie has been the interpreter in colour of the Thames barge, so Napier Hemy has made these little craft and the rolling green seas of the Cornish coast familiar to all picture-lovers.


But it is in the more protected ports and bays along the Cornish coast that these boats have been developed into as fine a type as is to be met with in any sea of the world. The fame of the Penzance luggers is worldwide among seamen, and justly so. But although the boats are registered under the letters P.Z. at the port of Penzance, they in reality hail principally from the three picturesque fishing-ports of Newlyn, Porthleven, and Mousehole. The first of these has won a distinctive- name in the world of art, the second is scarcely less renowned for the admirable quality of the work turned out by its boat-builders, who supply distant fishing-ports as far north as the Tyne with some of their finest, fastest drift-boats. Mousehole, if the smallest and least known of the three, could, not so many years ago, at least claim the distinction of being unsurpassed for the strength and variety of its smells.


These boats, and those of St. Ives, a little port quite distinct upon the north coast, have followed the inevitable rule; as competition and the greater distances to be covered in search of fish have forced their crews to go further afield, they have increased of recent years in size as well as in number, and many of the larger boats run to over 50 feet in length. The proportion of one-third beam is pretty regularly maintained, with a draught of 6 to 7 feet.

Although a certain number of these boats retain the transom-stern of their smaller brethren, in which plenty of width aft is a desideratum, and some of the larger modern boats have tried the counter-stern, most of them are built stem and stern alike. And it is the fulness and boldness of the curves at the quarters leading off to the stern-post that form one of the handsomest features of the west Cornish boats, and give them a peculiar appearance when heeling even at a considerable distance.


The origin of the build of stern in these boats is said to be in the smallness of their harbours. Lying side by side they may be seen in Mousehole or Porthleven at any time, so closely packed that there seems to be no room for a single other boat. Yet two or three more will come running in from the offing, round the pier-head, and finally wedging their bows into the angle formed by two sister boats, force them apart, and so make a berth. Such situations make over hanging ends or square corners de trop, and explain the strong rubbing strakes which form so distinct a feature of these boats.

The present extensive drift-net fishery of the west had its beginning in the small pilchard 'drivers,' which seldom exceeded 30 feet in length, and were only half-decked. It was one of these boats, commanded by John Hocking of Newlyn, which made the passage to Melbourne in 1846, and took the mails from the Cape. She had to lie to a sea-anchor several days in the westerly gales on the passage from the Cape, but otherwise was never seriously inconvenienced by weather.


The mackerel drift-fishery has gradually come into prominence, and the larger boats are employed in this fishery in the spring. The usual class is 43 to 47 feet long. A larger mesh and greater length of net is used, and the fishery commences early in March, the boats ---ing out to find the fish as far as a hundred miles west of Scilly, or south from the Lizard. At this period a large number of east coast boats from Lowestoft, Yarmouth, and from other fishing-ports such as Shoreham, visit the Cornish coast to participate in the mackerel fishery.

Huge French ketches hailing from Boulogne, 90 feet in length, and with crews of whom sixteen may be seen on deck at a time, are also prominent with their gay mizzen-trucks, white painted blocks, white bow wave-line, huge spars, high sides, wide sterns, and forming a most remarkable class of drift-fishing vessel developed from the English North Sea fashion.


Later on, as autumn advances, all these 'drivers' may meet again up-Channel and off the Yorkshire coast-the little, clean-cut Cornish luggers, or the big east coast dandies, racing the tall-masted Scotch 'Fifies' in from the offing with their cargoes of herrings.

For this fishery another entire set of nets is necessary, with medium-sized mesh. On the south and east coast of Ireland, too, at this season many Cornish boats may be met with following the herring in company with their Manx brethren. It is remarkable that these Cornish boats so favourably impress the people of the ports they visit that there are few places to which they have found their way which do not own some Cornish-built boats of their own.


Many a 'driver' I have seen with the letters of some distant Irish, English Channel, or east coast port upon its bows, but having in its clean, easy waterlines the unmistakable stamp which I knew from boyhood, and inquiry showed she was a native of the west country. Porthleven is building at this moment for Lowestoft and South Shields; while the whole Manx fleet, which when Houldsworth wrote in 1874 was dandy-rigged, and had then admittedly adopted the mizen from the Cornishmen, is now built and rigged exactly on the model of the Mounts Bay boats, with a few local differences which the keen, practical Manxmen have evolved on their own account.


The long mizen outrigger would appear to be the chief source of weakness of the Cornish lugger, standing as it does alone without any form of stay whatever. In order to be clear of the sea when plunging it is topped up at a considerable angle by a huge timber chock, generally painted white, like the rudderhead, stemhead, and other points of the top works. Only in two or three cases have I heard of its being carried away at sea, and in each case it went just outside the gunwale and was easily secured, hauled inboard, and chopped down to fit the heel-iron, a smaller mizen being set upon it, and the whole job completed within an hour of the accident.


This outrigger, often as big in diameter as the foremast itself, is always stepped on the port side, and as a consequence the mizen-sail is always set to port of the mast, (this is also the rule in the Manx boats) while the dipping foresail is of course always set to leeward. Cornishmen very rarely carry the sail against the mast even for a short board, whereas the Scotch may often be seen with the tack into the mast, and the sail standing against it. This is largely owing to the greater hoist, size, and weight in the lofty Scotch lug, which makes it much more difficult to handle.

The mizenmast is slightly shorter than the foremast to the halyard sheeve; above this, however, is a long pole for hoisting the mizen topsail, which makes it considerably higher than the foremast over all. The mast is stepped a long way inboard and is given a great rake forward, especially in the newer boats, though it is never so excessive as that of the east coast drift-boats, or again in the Scotch luggers. One reason given for this rake is that it throws the sail further inboard, and fishermen believe that the larger the sail area inboard, the greater the speed. It is very possible that bringing the centre of effort of the mizen further forward conduces to less weather-helm in a breeze, and better balance of sails, and therefore less use of the rudder and more speed.


But in the Cornish boats it also enables the mizen outrigger to be topped up higher out of reach of the water without spoiling the flat set of the mizen-sail.

In reducing canvas for increasing wind, the mizen-sail is set as foresail. The tack is then taken forward of the mast' as far as is necessary to enable it to sheet fair to the foresail sheets without being pulled out of shape. In the case of the smallest storm mizen being set forward, it generally sheets fair with the tack to the mast. The small triangular 'watch' mizen will then be set aft.

It is noticeable that the West Cornwall men very seldom set a jib, and although there is a stout forestay to the mizenmast they never set a staysail upon it as do the Manx 'Nickeys.'


Yet there is no doubt that in light winds the Cornish lugger is undercanvased and cannot compete with the big Lowestoft dandy-rigged boats, which carry main and mizen topsails, spinnaker, and balloon staysails. The Mevagissey, Fowey, and other East Cornwall boats use a light-running bowsprit and jib very much; such a device does not add materially to the weight or gear to be handled, and especially in reaching is a great addition of power, the jib when well cut being essentially a lifting sail very valuable for speed. In a lug rigged boat in the east it was my experience that a light bowsprit involving the minimum of gear, with a small storm-jib set upon it, was of great value even in beating, and involved no difficulty in handling; and one cannot help being of the opinion that the West Cornish boats would benefit greatly in ordinary weather from a perhaps slightly loftier foresail, a jib and bowsprit, and a possible mizen staysail in boats of greater length. A large jib when close-hauled, especially if flattened in too much, will do more harm than good to most boats; a jib needs judgment in setting more than perhaps any other sail except the Chinese lug. But men who take such care of and use their sails so well as the West Cornwall fishermen, could be trusted to get the best out of a jib if they once adopted it for light weather.


Such a bowsprit as is suggested would be a very different thing from the enormous spar with its weight of gear, stays, and whiskers, which was considered necessary to give the required head-sail to the old knife-edge cutters of the seventies and eighties, and which used to cause so much heavy plunging and be such a cause of real weakness to those craft. Nor need it emulate the tree-trunks used by the Boulogne fishermen as bowsprit, which are actually little less than sixty feet long from heel to point. A light running spar is all that is necessary, and quite a moderate-sized sail would do in ordinary weather.

The Cornish lugsail is probably as near perfection in cut as any sail upon the seas, and while the sailmaker has acquired the art of cutting, the fisherman is no less successful in the art of setting. In fact, of all the fishermen I know, none come so near being yachtsmen as the Cornish. It is well-nigh impossible to see a Cornish sail pulled out of shape by careless stretching: hard, straight luff, full leech, and rounded foot are all there; no concave outlines such as are common enough further round the Channel.

An hour after her catch has been landed, all on board the Cornish boat is scrubbed down; not a scale remains on deck, not a spare rope-end is loose; and all the sails are furled and stowed away beneath the coat in a big bundle in the lumber irons. Down below equal order reigns, and the visitor is welcomed by a sense of cleanliness which is not by any means usually associated with fishing-craft. And the clean-lined Cornish boat is a yacht not only in appearance but in speed, and especially in the highest test to which men or vessels can be put, beating to windward in a seaway. I have often seen a Penzance lugger out-pointing much larger east coast fore-and-aft rigged vessels, and at the same time outpacing them fast, making a very close thing with a large modern-built yacht. The most inspiriting thing that any man may see, or still more take part in, is the beat-out of the Newlyn fleet in half a gale from the eastward; a hundred or more racing for the fishing-ground, like a flock of hardy, brown-winged seabirds.

And each clean-lined boat has its own story it could tells. They look alike enough at sundown rolling at their nets, just as you and I are alike to the stranger until he knows our tale. And this is the tale of St. Michael, 55 P.Z., and many others are like unto it with variations.


St. Michael was new at that time, and had a counter-stern like an east-country boat's, and but little luck in fishing; small catches and damaged nets too often. There was the skipper, Roger Sennett, my old friend, and there was a crew of six men and the boy; one of whom being ill, Uncle Dick went in his place. Now Uncle Dick had been to South Africa and had made his 'fortun,' such as Cornish miners reckon it. And by reason of his being sick with a dose of malaria which could not be parted from him, he was wearing all that a deep-sea fisherman wears in winter, including vast sea-boots and a complete set of oilskins. It was thirty miles off the Lizard lights when everything was ready in the St. Michael to shoot the nets for the night. She was running down-wind with small mizen and foresail, and the big westerly seas rolled up astern, backed by the fierce breeze, which with a falling glass threatens a nasty night for all who must be at sea. And as she was cautiously jibbed preparatory to bringing to, to lower sail, the boy against orders got down to leeward, and when the foresail sheet gathered itself up and with the crack of a pistol went rigid as a bar of steel, it caught the astonished boy beneath the armpits and hoisted him instantaneously and irresistibly into the air, shooting him twenty yards away into the glooming seas. Uncle Dick stood on the weather quarter and saw; lie turned quickly round, and as he stood plunged over the stern after the boy. The cry of 'man overboard' does not avail to bring a vessel into the wind when running at nearly ten knots before an Atlantic blow. With helm hard down and all hands hardening in the sheets, she will be four hundred yards to leeward in the time that you can say it. So the sweeps and all available floating stuff which minds accustomed to act impelled overboard after the lost men, were rising and falling, almost lost to sight in the spreading night to windward, by the time St. Michael had brought herself up to meet the seas. The quick eyes of the younger hand saw how far still to windward were those two small heads rising, falling, and fighting watery death. Quickly he threw off his clothes, and with the end of a small line in his teeth sprang overboard to join them, and left his four mates to work the boat in time, if possible, over the lost ground. Then came the long struggle in which each simple heart seemed to live a lifetime. While the boy soon had to act rescuer to the old man spent by sickness and encumbered with his vast weight of clothing, the new arrival collected all he could of the floating stuff and fought his way to his fast-drowning shipmates. 'Cheer up, Uncle Dick; hold on, uncle,' kept saying the boy, 'here she conies. I see Roger's face quite plain, I do.' At length all were alongside, but in the heavy sea it was almost impossible to get the exhausted men on board, and when at length it was accomplished with the aid of a tackle, it was over an hour before Uncle Dick returned to consciousness, and the nearest drop of available stimulant was, Cornish fashion, in Penzance harbour, fifty miles to windward. And thither they had to go for it.

That and the like is what St. Michael thinks about riding to her buoy at nights. When they get a yarn at a quiet anchorage, others can cap hers for grimness but not for bravery, and few end so well. Did not the Lone Star see the Alary founder with all hands close beside her inside the Wolf? Has not the Blue Bell twice lost a hand on the passage to Ireland? How many boats can tell of the terrible runs for shelter in the violent winter gales, of three boats pooped and smashed to matchwood by the furious Atlantic combers within two hundred yards of the harbour pier? Such are the secrets of Mounts Bay boats, which they do not brag about, but which one who knows their history is not likely to forget even of a summer's evening when they all go forth glorious in topsails and big new foresails.

And a word for the strong, gentle-hearted, adventurous men who form their crews: learned in the Scriptures and the sea, ignorant of the world; easy going like all sons of the wave, lazy as the hustled business man counts laziness, but tenacious of convictions; able, very able (but not always willing) to act, ready generally to ' prache' or sing a hymn; slow to leave port, but fearless out at sea; narrow-minded perhaps, as it is reckoned by some; most kindly certainly, friendly, hospitable, and ever ready above all men to bear a hand to him who needs it upon the water. Such are my old Cornish friends, their own musical natures bitten of the old sea spirit.


Falmouth Estuary

Just as the Solent with its strong tides and narrow channels has become the home of a fore-and-aft class of boat, so similar conditions in the beautiful estuary of the Fal, with its many creeks and winding wooded reaches, although set in the midst of a lugsail coast, have made it the home of a distinct class of deep, well-ballasted boat, carrying the gaff and boom mainsail, stay foresail, and jib.

The quiet old-world villages at the head of the many coves which lie along the indented coastline about the Fal estuary own a number of these boats varying in size and finish. Nearly all have great depth for their length, straight stem, transom-stern, waterways along the sides, and a fore-deck extending to the mast, and very high freeboard.


Flushing, Pill Creek, Restronguet, St. Just in Roseland, and half a dozen other snug, wood-fringed anchorages have their little fleet, lying with bow-ropes among the primroses, and ready for use in the hundred and one ways which a waterside population with the sea instinct know. Oyster-dredging, mackerel-whiffing, long-lining, or crabbing, as the season suits, or even a cargo of wood or a pleasure-party-all have their turn. And better cut, flatter setting mainsails not even the Solent can show.

The Falmouth quay punt is the well-known class of Fal estuary fore-and-aft rigged boat, and is used for taking off stores to ships lying in the roads of that splendid harbour, and for long-lining, crabbing, drift-fishing, or pleasuring as the case may be.

There is nearly always a large fleet of deep-water sailing ships lying at anchor in the capacious anchorage of the harbour, waiting for orders, and bound to and from such distant ports as Calcutta, Rio, or Sydney.


The quay punts may be seen all the year through going alongside the ships with any stores which may be required, such as beef, flour, or coal, or taking off anchors, cables, and rope. As they must go off in all weathers, they are half-decked with waterways round the large open cockpit, and are high-sided, deep-hulled boats; the winter rig is a snug and handy one, consisting of jib-headed mizen, small gaff mainsail, fore staysail set on a short iron bumkin beyond the stem. The gear and rigging are of the simplest, and can be quite easily handled by one man in any weathers. For summer wear a longer mast and larger set of sails are used, and standing lug-mizen, balloon staysail and jib set on a running bowsprit may often be seen. By reason of their straight stem, transom stern, and very high side, and the comparatively short pole-mast preferred for going alongside shipping, these boats are not very taking to the eye. But when handsomer-looking craft begin to cry for shelter, the quay punt is just beginning to feel in her element, and to show her qualities; and whoever has had experience of these boats when the south cone is hoisted, when the wind has 'dropped' or 'backed to the south-west, and a 'rubbly' sea as they know it is running in the bay, is aware that for speed, handiness, and stiffness in bad weather there is nothing of their size to equal them.


Quick in motion owing to their short ends and heavy ballasting, they seldom take any heavy water, although they throw it freely. Many hard winter blows they come through safely. The dangerous time is when they are out 'seeking' (i.e. looking out for ships.) off the Lizard. As the Atlantic depressions approach these coasts, the west and south-west winds with which they are heralded fly suddenly to the north-west and blow with great violence.*1 When caught offshore in these blows it is a hard beat up, and occasionally a quay punt has had to run away east, or has got lost, it was supposed, in the Race off the Lizard. But as a rule, with close-reefed mainsail and foresail, the quay punt stands up to anything, and will weather in against the hardest 'puffs' or squalls of the bitterest nor'-wester. At a certain angle of heel the boat seems to refuse to list further, and it is simply a case then of hanging on and not being washed out of her.

About forty of these boats are owned in and about the town of Falmouth alone. Formerly they seldom exceeded 22 feet in length, but the need for speed developed in racing off to ships has produced a bigger type of boat, and they now run to 24, 28, or even 82 feet lode-water length. The draught of a 24-foot boat would be nearly 6 feet, beam 7 feet, and ballast about 8 tons, there being generally in the newer boats a considerable iron keel. The large cockpit is used for placing stores in, and about two tons can he carried at a time in the worst weather, while in the summertime it affords plenty of accommodation for a pleasure party. The usual cost is from £80 to £100.

*1* Just as in the Baltic the North-Wester is reckoned the most violent gale, and in one's own experience more accidents happen with the wind in this quarter than even with the the south-west and south-east gales, which often drive in an actually heavier sea, but which have less sheer ferocity and hitting power.

Like other Cornish ports such as St. Ives, Penzance, etc., Falmouth had a fine class of six-oared gigs for pilot and other duties. These boats are getting rare now, but may still occasionally be seen moving very fast with their low, long-yarded, lateen-like lugsail set in a short forward raking-mast.


The small punts or dinghies of Falmouth and other places on this coast are usually rigged with a small standing lugsail right in the bows, and a little jib-headed mizen a very handy, light rig for any dinghy for yachting or rough work, placing the steersman well between his sails, and exhibiting fully the value attaching to a mizen for small craft in rough and stormy waters.


These little boats are generally under 14 feet in length and are carvel-built, with a straight stem, sharp entry forward, and flat floor carried well aft. They are used for ferrying passengers and for dredging oysters and other fishing work.


They are at very smart class of neatly built little vessel, and with one or two men are handled in any weather. A dozen or more may be met single-handed on the oyster-beds in the roughest equinoctial winds, kicking lightly over the flying green seas, and no finer display of fearless watermanship can be seen.


One of them I once met outside, running in before a strong sou'-wester, with the peculiar sprit mainsail which the western men like, in shape very similar to the old Brighton hoggies, with her two hands in their oilies standing up in her looking out for their crab-pot buoys. How they kept their feet as the tiny craft, with scarcely 16 inches freeboard, rolled and lurched top-heavy before that wind and sea was a mystery, and we watched them with admiration.


For we were being shaken off our feet by the violent plunging of our much larger craft.

This spritsail rig, which is a favourite for open boats in the west country, as it used to be in the Thames and at Spithead, has much to recommend it.

The mizen, whether leg of mutton or spritsail, is always a handy sail, and makes up for lack of a long main boom over the stern, with the advantage that it needs no looking after and does not press the boat down. I am aware that some sailors, not accustomed to the mizen, often find it an additional thing which it is a worry to have to think about; but the professional fishermen and those who are brought up to it know its value, and are aware how little looking after it really needs. The sheet can be always let go, and the sail furled standing on the mast in a trice.

The foresail, balancing the mizen, when set on a bumkin over the bows is a lifting sail, and if cut high in the foot will never hold water or press the boat down. It has the advantage of' being right forward out of the way, and can be kept standing when manoeuvring under oars, or working lines or pots.


The sprit mainsail is unequalled for shape and handiness if properly set. For this there must be a purchase to the grommet at the heel of the spreet to keep it well up. A couple of thimbles spliced into the eye at the throat carry the simple brail which is all that is necessary for taking in the sail. There is no boom, so dangerous and inconvenient in an open boat, but one can always be fitted if thought necessary. The sail is better without, and can be spilled more instantaneously in a squall than when a boom is used.

Although for windward work in open boats the big balance-lug, with its uncompromising lacing to the boom, is undoubtedly the most powerful in fine weather, after an extensive experience with both from the days of early boyhood, the palm for all-round handiness, and for results under all conditions, must, where open boats are concerned, be awarded to the sprit main mizen and fore-sail rig as used in the old Thames hatch-boats, in the Portsmouth wherries, and by the west-country boatmen. And no rig is prettier to the eye when well-cut and made by a good Falmouth or Penzance sailmaker, and fitted in a good centre-board boat.

The iron-bound coast of North Cornwall and Devon has few harbours of note, and the trawling of the Bristol Channel has been in the hands chiefly of the enterprising men of Brixham, who have done much to make Milford Haven a fishing-port on the west as they did Ramsgate, Lowestoft, and Grimsby in the old days on the east.


The Isle of Man

In 1870 the favourite rig of the Manx fisherman was the dandy. Quite a number of boats then owned in the island for the long-lining and drift-net fisheries had adopted the mizen from the Cornish boats which they met when visiting St. George's Channel or fishing in Irish waters. The rig before that time seems, as far as records go, to have been the smack or cutter.

In build and lines the Manx dandies were very similar to the Cornish boats, the sharp stern, full round quarters, and straight bow being almost identical, but it is not clear how far it was indigenous to the island. In scarcely twenty years, however, the whole Manx fleet changed into the lug rig, and by 1890 it had openly adopted the Cornish style of rig as well as builds.


So far the Manx seamen had shown themselves to be capable imitators of a serviceable type of vessel eminently suited to the rough seas about their island. It did not take them long to effect considerable improvements, and in the matter of size they have far out-classed the general run of Cornish boats, running to 10 or 20 feet greater length, and proportionate increase of tonnage, length of net, and number of crew.

A prominent addition to the sail area forming a characteristic feature of the Manx 'Nickey' is the big staysail carried between the masts on the mizen forestay. It is reasonable to inquire what has made the Manxman leave the smack for the dandy rig, and the dandy the lugger, thus reversing the development which has taken place at Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast, where the old luggers of the seventies of the last century have given place to the ketch or dandy, not only for trawling but also for the drift-fishing and all purposes.


The adoption of the mizen in the smack-rigged vessel is explained by its convenience for a boat lying to nets in keeping the head to sea, and the superior handiness of the smaller mainsail over the heavier boomed sail of the cutter rig, especially where the mast was made to lower down aft, as is generally done in drift-boats.

The reasons which probably led to the adoption of the fore-and-aft rig on the Norfolk coast were pointed out above. These reasons did not exist in the Isle of Man, which is surrounded by wide seas where long tacks are made and where rough weather is the rule.

The simplest possible form of rig, with the mizen and with the least gear about the mainmast, naturally commended itself. The weatherly quality of the lugsail observed by the Manxmen in the Cornish boats had much to do with the selection, and as the Manx crews are all seamen to the bone the big dipping lugsail necessary in the larger-decked boats had no disadvantages to their minds, and in fact they handle it, as they do all connected with their craft, in the most fearless and seamanlike manner. As they increased the length of their boats the Manxmen soon added the mizen staysail to fill the increasing gap between the foresail and mizen, the greater length enabling this to be done without spilling wind from either sail.


Although the sails are not always made and set quite as well as those of the Cornish boats, and concave foot and leech are often noticeable, yet the boats are among the smartest and cleanest of our coasts, and running to the size they do they are second to none in power or seagoing qualities.


Although some saintly mariners appear to have gone to sea from Ireland at various times between the sixth and ninth centuries, it is curious that the mast and sail have never been greatly developed by the modern Irish and without doing them an injustice it may be said that they have never been a seafaring race.


St. Perran performed a remarkable feat of seamanship when he navigated a millstone to Cornwall, but I believe he was not an Irishman, although at that time sailing from an Irish port; nor do the Irish appear to have wished to emulate the performance, which seems to have been regarded as rash even in a saint.

To come to more recent times, it is true that cutter-rigged craft appeared on a map of Ireland in the sixteenth century, but this fact does not throw any greater light on Irish seamanship of the period. The Galway hooker is probably the only eminent boat of a sea-keeping type now in existence which is indigenous to the Emerald Isle, and the native genius of the race in regard to naval architecture of sailing-craft has been confined to some not very advanced lugsail boats of canoe type, such as the Groomsport yawl or Galway pookhaun. What large fishing-boats are owned or manned in Ireland have been mostly acquired from the Cornish, Manx, or Scots fishermen who frequent and fish in Irish waters.




TRAWLER OFF HAVRE (missing original)




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