Fishing boats from the Past

This brief overview is designed to give the reader a feel for an industry that at one time placed Portgordon at the forefront, for in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century's many a fine boat was built in the village and it was highly regarded as a centre of excellence

Fishing for food can be traced back many centuries, for as soon as man realised there was food in the sea it became a source of cheap and nourishing food. Over time man realised that fishing for the family could become something more because any fish that were caught over the family needs could be sold or bartered and so create in income or alternative food source

In the early days fishing would be done from land but then small boats were built to give more scope to the fisherman and he soon learned to adapt to cover a bigger fishing area and so the story goes on and an industry based mainly on herring fishing was born

At the start a single hook and line would suffice, as time went on the single line became a multiple hook line capable of catching much larger quantities of fish. As you will appreciate line fishing was reliant on bait to place on the hooks to entice fish. A job for the wife whilst the husband was at sea

Next of course it was realised that net fishing did not require bait, however it did require larger craft and so whilst there have been many and varied craft an exception to the ad hoc boat design occurred and the first serious design brought about a style of boat that was to be named the Scaffie. Now fishing really did start to take off on an bigger scale

The fish of the day were herring affectionately known as the silver darlin's in fishing language. They became affordable and with plenty of room on UK markets the door was also open to exports and fortunes were created

ScaffieThe Scaffie with it's short keel and broad beam was idea for pulling on to the beach of sand or shingle -  in the early days there were no real harbours, remember this boat design had limitations for in the main it was open decked and prone to shipping water in a heavy swell. Although equipped with a lug sail and oars (or sweeps as they were known) for calm winds and eventually harbour work.

Design continued to develop and the next breed of craft became the Fifie. The Fifie was generally a larger boat and found safe havens in the harbours that were now being built along the coast it seemed every village and town developed its own harbour though some were rudimentary and little more that jetties, even so they served their purpose and the industry began to flourish

Zulu fishing boatThe next generation were known as Zulus. The design of these boats incorporated the best of the Scaffie and Fifie and now thefull deck became the norm. It should be noted that many Scaffies and Fifies became half or full decked as time went on. The new boats did not replace the old immediately and it would be fair to say many fishermen were set in their ways and did not like to change and others could not afford to

 Steam DrifterSuddenly a completely new design of boat came to the fore and one that did not rely on sails and the wind for power - The Steam Drifter was born - It became an iconic almost legendary craft - no longer did the fisherman have to sail according to the wind, The Steam Drifter could travel at speed to the fishing grounds and more importantly steam back to a harbour to unload its precious and perishable catch - At the same time the UK railway network was expanding to cover many of the previously remote and distant areas, suddenly new markets opened for fresh fish. The industry was in its heyday

The glory days were not destined to last and the difficulties became apparent with bigger boats making bigger catches the markets became saturated and stocks began to decline and then the first world war came along and disrupted supplies to one of the best export markets along the Baltic region. After the war many export markets simply dried up because they had their own fishing fleets and so it went on with real challenges and finally the Second World War began and many of the drifters were requisitions by the admiralty to serve as minesweepers as they did in the First World War

As time went on it was obvious that farming was becoming far more productive and choice of food at affordable prices meant cheap fish the nation enjoyed were losing some of their appeal and so the industry went into something of a decline

The past is just that and today fishing remains an important source of food with management of stocks seen as vitally important. It does appear a balance has been achieved that preserves fish stocks and allows those within the industry to make a living

This brief snapshot of the way things were helps to set the scene but really only scratches the surface and there are numerous books available dedicated to this wonderful industry that brought cheap food to nations and a living for those within the fishing communities.

Portgordon Community Harbour Group Ltd - registered Scottish Charity No: SC040805
Patron: Mrs Clare Russell - Lord-Lieutenant of Banffshire
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