The Humber, A. Watts
Humber Working Craft
So called because of their use for "Eel Blobbing" in the Humber and River Hull, the Blobbers were converted from smacks boats. All fishing vessels, both sail and steam, carried a boat some 18'0" long, 7'0" beam and 2'6" in depth and, as they were condemned by the Board of Trade for sea-work, they were eagerly snapped up for conversion. After restoring the hull, and making good the superficial damage of a working life, the boat was decked and a false keel and cabin added. This varied between a low profile for use on the Humber to a raised top some 2'0" above the gunwale for use on the more sheltered waters of the Hull. Occasionally, the boats would have a flush deck and small cockpit, but this type was in the minority.
The Rig varied again with the use intended; for work on the Humber, and for racing, a cutter rig with gaff mainsail and bowsprit was adopted. Exceptionally for downwind work a mizzen was stepped on the archboard.
The boats on the River Hull were not generally rigged - being propelled by a long oar, and having an eel spear and two staves for suspending the eel blobs. In 1902, it was estimated that there were 50 Blobbers in the Humber creeks and dock basins, and some 100 on the River Hull.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Crab Boat
Although an import from Cromer and Sheringham and, therefore, not strictly a "Humber Type" the Crab Boat was widely used on the lower Humber by professional fishermen and, in 1908 it was recorded that there were 17 of them "on the wire" outside the small lockpit at the Fish Dock at Grimsby. Average size was between 16'0" and 19.0" overall length, and from 6'3" to 7'0" beam with exceptionally boats of 21'0" x 8'0". Oars, 12'0" big, were leaded near the hand to balance them and were used through rowlock holes in the top strake.
The boats were clench built of 3/8" planking on bent joggled ribs closely spaced amidships but wider apart near the ends; the top strake is of heavier section, there being no inwale. Floorboards were only fitted aft to provide a working platform for the fisherman when hauling pot5. Three well braced thwarts were usual, the forward one carrying the mast and rig dipping lug-sail. Although lightly built and usually unballasted, they were, nevertheless, good sea boats and particularly good to weather in a blow.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Goole Billy Boy
Working further afield than either the Keel or Sloop, the Billy Boy was a Ketch rigged trader with a hull similar to that of a Keel but having high bulwarks and, as a rule, no leeboards. The average dimensions of the type were in the order of 63' x 18' although some had a narrower beam, which, although allowing them to pass through locks on the canals, decreased their sea-keeping qualities.
A well steeved up bowsprit carrying a multiplicity of jibs was a feature of the rig; the masts were both stepped in tabernacles for lowering when the vessels had to go "above bridge".
Decoration at bow and stern was common, particularly ship-carpenters carving on the trail boards and around the hawse holes; the gunwale capping was generally painted white, bulwarks black, top strake lined white and brown and hull black. The type has distinctive names – "Joshua", "Try-on", "Abeona", "Bernard", "Fern", "Aimwell", "Eliezer", "Bottle Imp", "Tiger", "Surprise", "Village Flower" and "Sandringham" being recorded.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Humber Duster
The waterman's boat in use on the Humber in the days of sail, and in the early years of steam, was known as a "Duster" or "Gold Duster". These craft would be sailed out to meet incoming ships and would offer their services for the "boating" work of the ships whilst they were laid in the Roads or going into and leaving dock.
In the heyday of sail, the Dusters would race out to secure the most prosperous ships and the Duster first to "gaff" a ship would have prior claim to her, subject to concluding an agreement with the Mate. A hook, mounted on a 12'0" pole, was used as a gaff, and a high degree of skill and watermanship must have been required to gaff a ship at speed and be towed alongside whilst the negotiations took place. Such was the competition that Dutsters from Hull would sail well out to sea or as far up the coast as Hornsea to find an incoming ship.
The Dusters were of two types; the Grimsby Type at 21'0" x 6'10" with a single dipping lug-sail of considerable area were the larger and more powerful, suited to the exposed conditions of the lower estuary, and the Hull Type at 18'0" x 5'6" with a two masted sprit-sail rig as shown in the illustration. Both types were extremely strongly built to cope with rough usage in going alongside under way; the larger type having up to 5 thwarts braced with both hanging and lodging knees. For rowing, wooden thole pins, instead of rowlocks, were used. As protection, a large rope fender was worked over the stem-head and other fenders were secured at each end of each thwart ready for dropping when necessary.
The Hull boats were frequently used without ballast, the Grimsby boats carried 8 to 12 cwts of lead ballast or had up to 3 cwts of lead run into their deep false keel. Hull boats sailed under the fore sprit-sail only in strong winds, Grimsby boats had four reefs in the lug-sail - these sails were commonly made by the local sailmaker, J. Powell, and were all hand stitched.
The watermen took great pride in their boats and paint, varnish and gilt stripes were the order of the day; like all rivermen's boats the Dusters were keenly raced once or twice during the year - but the real prize was the capture of a wealthy incoming trader.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Humber Keel
Widely thought to be a direct descendant of the Viking longship so common on the Humber during the 9th and 10th Centuries, the Keel is the most distinctive of the local craft and was first noted, as a "Keyll", in the 14th Century. It is unique in this country for preserving the working square rig into the 20th Century over a trading ground that was usually the Humber waterways but, occasionally, coastal in that passages were made to Bridlington or Boston Deeps. One that ventured as far as London achieved fame by being entered as "a one-masted Brig".
Dimensions varied with the use envisaged and the locks that had to be negotiated; the Sheffield size being 60'3" x 15'3", with other craft being up to 68'0" in length. The main features of the hull are, perhaps, the exceedingly bluff bows, the massive leeboards and the well arched hatch covers.
The illustration shows the general lines and rig, including topsail which was used primarily on the canals rather than in the estuary. Deck furniture included a large and efficient windlass for the anchor, mast rollers, at the fore-end of the hatch, for raising and lowering the mast (also useful for warping the vessel), the mainsail rollers at the after end of the hatchways, the track rollers, the sheet rollers and a roller set virtually under the stern rail for winding up the fall of the leeboard purchase.
Non-mechanical effects included two huge "stowers" - long poles similar to a Norfolk quant, two long boat hooks, warps, heaving line, a ton or so of chain cable and a water cask with dipper on chocks to the starboard side of the after deck.
The anchor had a function other than that for which it was primarily intended; when lowered, and with its crown just touching bottom, the Keelsman could steer his vessel as he "drove" with the tide up or down the Trent or Ouse when the wind was foul. In that position it was always ready to let go and stop the Keel altogether if required. The crew normally consisted of two, exceptionally of three. Accommodation, often in a stylish and always in a comfortable cabin, was provided for the Captain (and, often, his family) aft of the bulkhead, and for the crew of one forward of the fore bulkhead. Keels were built widely throughout Yorkshire wherever a river or canal gave access to the navigations.
Clapsons Yard, at Barton upon Humber, and Richard Dunstons, then at Thorne, both still very active, built many Keels and a visual record of the type may be seen in the many paintings of Reuben Chappell, Goole's famous marine artist (1870-1940) and, to a lesser extent, in the work of the Hull artist, John Ward
"The Humber", A. Watts.
The Humber Sailing Trawler
The cutter rigged Trawler was introduced to this area in the 1840s from Brixham following the discovery of the "Silver Pits" fishing ground off the Yorkshire coast. The best time for fishing the Pits was winter when the fish sought the deeper water and a number of Brixham boats made Hull their winter headquarters - both for convenience and for the facilities available in the Port and, inevitably, some stayed permanently providing the impetus needed to start the Hull Fishing Industry.
These first Trawlers were of some 30 or 40 tons, developing eventually to 80 tons or so, with dimensions of 85'0" x 20'0" beam and 11'0" draught, as the example illustrated - The Othello, built in 1884, in Brixham, for Mr Charles Hellyer. The massive rig of this vessel is indicated by the size of the bowsprit at 36' overall with 24' outboard and requiring no shroud or bobstay, worked below the rail and through the knight heads. The windlass was immediately aft of the bowsprit bitts and a fore hatch was located between the windlass and the winch used for hoisting sails, hauling up the forward trawl head, hoisting in the bag of fish and for warping the vessel. The hatch gave access to the forehold where sails, warps and other gear were stored.
The main hatch or warp hatch was immediately aft of the mast and the trawl warp, as it was hove in round the capstan, was led down and coiled under the deck in a large compartment on the starboard side. Immediately aft of the main hatch was a watertight partition forming the after bulkhead of the main hold and the forward bulkhead of the Ice and Fish room, which had a separate hatch kept as small as possible - as were all hatches - to avoid intake of seas when the vessel was swept in heavy weather.
The standard on deck just aft of the fish room hatch was known as the dummy and the trawl warp was attached to this by a stopper when towing the gear. The stopper was made of an old piece of trawl warp, weaker than the main warp, so that, should the trawl become fast on an obstruction, the stopper, and not the warp, would part.
Next aft came the companion way leading to a fitted cabin for the five hands, the main sheet block secured to a massive beam, the after skylight, mast and tiller.
Ballast consisted of concrete placed between the closely spaced timbers in the bottom and lower parts of the hull and ten or twelve tons of pig iron amidships.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Humber Sloop
The hull of the Sloop has substantially the same lines as the Keel but is generally without the restriction of beam imposed upon the latter by the width of locks on the canals and navigations. The Sloop traded mainly within the estuary, along the coast, and in the tidal areas of the Trent and Ouse. The increased beam gave greater cargo carrying capacity and many Sloops carried 170 tons or more. The rig, however, is the essential difference between the two vessels, the Sloop having a fore-and-aft rig of gaff mainsail and jib.
Early Sloops carried a bowsprit with the jib, set on a stay, plus a flying jib hanked to the top-mast stay. The bulwarks on this type are raised and the cargo hatch is divided into a small one forward of the mast and a long, large one, aft of it. The mast was stepped above the deck in a very strong wooden lutchet.
The later Sloops, built of steel, were simpler looking vessels with more powerful mechanical equipment for handling the heavier spars and greater loads. Both keels and sloops towed a "cob boat", generally 12'0" long and 4'6" beam, clinker built with bluff bows and fine stern lines. It was propelled by a simple sweep over the transom. Miniature Sloops were common, particularly on the Ouse and Trent; at 30'0" or so overall they would load 20 tons and be sailed single handed by their owner - particularly as market boats.
George F. Holmes, writing in 1905, says "that a full powered Sloop turning up or down the Humber against a strong breeze makes a very fine picture, as she crashes through the short seas and flings their crests in spray halfway up her gleaming red sails".
An evocative picture from a knowledgeable eye witness who spent a lifetime sailing the estuary.
"The Humber", A. Watts
The Paull Shrimper
Paull Creek, the lower part of the former Hedon Haven, was the home of the Paull Shrimper and, at the turn of the Century, the fleet was numerous and the business profitable. The boats varied from between six to twelve tons in displacement, the larger boats being kept anchored in Paull Roads, the smaller type using the creek between tides. The illustration shows a typical rig and hull with the cockpit well extending to the after side of the mast. Very little deck gear was carried, the bowsprit being pressed into service, partly run in, as a Spanish windlass when, for example, the Trawl was fouled and additional power was required. Sails were made by the fishermen themselves, with plenty of flow and heavily "dressed" for a long life.
The boats were undoubtedly good sea boats and were reported to run or reach without a hand on the tiller, whilst the single hand boiled his shrimps, changed head sails or coiled down his trawl warps. The larger boats carried a crew of two. Shrimping was effected by two 9'6" beam trawls with the boats sailing on the ebb and returning on the flood, having the advantage of a favourable tide when working the narrows. They usually fished locally but occasionally they were to be seen prawning on the Haile Sand outside the Humber or, fitted with a stow net, on the Trent or Ouse.
"The Humber", A. Watts