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Sea Fish and Shellfish

The Fishing Fleet

There were two main types of fishing vessel on the coasts of Northumberland and Berwickshire, until steam drifters and trawlers were introduced in the second half of the 19th century.

The traditional, clinker-built coble is a type of boat found only on the North East coast of England, from the Humber to the Tweed. The top photograph shows the coble “Cornucopia” at Berwick’s Tweed Dock.

The coble’s flat bottom enables it to be launched from a beach and the long rudder acts as a keel. Cobles were equipped with a dipping lug sail, requiring great skill in handling at sea. Many were later fitted with engines. The sea-going coble is usually 20 to 30 feet long.

Keel boats differed from cobles because, as the name suggests, they had a deep keel. Keel boats were usually from 40 to 70 feet long. Different designs were favoured by particular regions.

The most popular design on the East Coast was the ‘fifie’, a two-masted vessel with a dipping lug foresail and a standing lug mizzen. They had a straight stern and straight stem, and a wide beam that made them quite stable in the water. A photograph on this page shows “Reaper”, a fifie from the Scottish Fishing Heritage Museum, moored alongside Berwick Quayside during one of her visits to the town in recent years.

Other types of keel boats included the ‘skaffie’, which was popular in the area around the Moray Firth, and the ‘zulu’, which first appeared in 1879 (the year of the Zulu War in Africa) and combined the best features of the fifie and the skaffie.

Steam-powered drifters and trawlers appeared in numbers in the North Sea the 1880s, but the cost of operating them meant that fishermen working out of small ports continued to use sailing cobles and keels, with diesel engines often being fitted by the beginning of the century.

Cobles and keelboats

“Reaper”, a restored Scottish herring drifter