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THE SMACKS

The word smack is used in general to collectively describe the various riggings of the fishing vessels of the mid to late 19th centuary, the early smacks were lug-rigged vessels , they then progressed to been rigged as cutters or sloops and laterly the most favoured was the ketch rigged vessels.( The word Smack used by the fishermen been derived from the sound the sails made as they where taken up by the wind )

 

A Hull or North Sea trawling smack was built from wood although around 1880 there were a number of iron built smacks, iron smacks did not make an impact in any numbers because of the introduction of the steam trawler, the iron smacks that had been built were mainly then converted to steam vessels. Although there are many pictures of the old sailing smacks there are very little remaining original photographs, of Hull vessels, one that I know of.

The early Hull trawling smacks were far smaller than the smacks which would later explore the length and breadth of the North Sea. and would be on average around 23 to 36 tons, they would have a length of no more than 40ft. Although these vessels were small in comparison, about half the size of the later vessels, with favourable winds they could attain high rates of speed, but with unfavourable winds the smacks could remain idle for days at a time ( the main disadvantage of all smacks ). The sailing smack was lightly rigged, this was for the ease of movement around the vessel when working the trawl gear. The early sailing smacks that arrived in Hull would venture at the most a few days sailing away from port at first. The Dogger Bank was in the ideal position for these first vessels arriving at Hull to trawl a good haul and head straight back to the markets. There were two factors which affected the sailing times and distances travelled by these early vessels, firstly was the need to return to port with their catch in prime condition and as at this time there was no means of preserving fish, a few days was the longest they could keep their catches in a saleable condition. Secondly these early smacks although extremely sea worthy and rugged vessels were not built for prolonged periods in the rough North Sea conditions. These limitations would soon be overcome with the introduction of larger vessels, the fleeting system and ice.

 

Men Employed
4
. . .
350
. . . . . . .. . .
Total Trips Per Year . . . .
2,000
. .
3,800
. . . . . .
Trawl Net Cost . . . . . .   . . . .
£9 - £16
. .
Steam Capstan Cost . . . . . . . . . . .
£150 - £175
  .
Ice Imports .. . . . . . .
18,000 - 20,000
. . . . . .
Pads Landed .   8,159  
80,194
. 119,489
.
. . . . . .
Average vessel Tonnage
23 - 36
.
.
.
50
50
.
55
.
66
.
85 - 90
.
.
Estimated Fleet Tonnage
.
570
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
29,233
.
.
Estimated Fleet Value
.
6,425
.
.
.
£250.000
.
.
.
.
.
£555,000
.
.
Average Vessel Cost
.
.
.
.
£600 -£650
£700 - £800
.
.
.
.
.
£1,360 -£1,600
.
.
No of Smacks
1
21
30
110
.
270
.
313
386
390
420
417
448
0
. . . . . . . .
.
. . . . . .
.
1841
1845
1852
1855
1862
1863
1864
1872
1876
1877 1880
1882
1887
1903

 

Fleeting. Fleeting was adopted at Hull sometime in the 1850`s from the Barking men who had introduced it to their vessels in 1843. The Hull smacks would set out and fish in small fleets from September to April. Each vessel staying with the fleet no longer than 6 weeks before a return to port for stores and equipment and to receive payment for the fish they had caught. Each day smacks would join and leave the fleet. As the new arrivals joined the fleet the vessels that had fished their six week period would leave. One of these leaving vessels would be designated as a carrier to take the fleets fish back to Hull, at this time no purpose built carriers were used by the Hull fleet. The vessel designated as the carrier would hoist it`s flag to show the smacks which vessel they were to board their fish to, hence the vessel was called the flagman. Each smack in the fleet would then send their baskets of fish and a fish note stating the number of baskets ( Pads ) and type of fish caught to the flagman. Once all the fleets catches were boarded to the flagman ( carrier ) it would set sail for Hull and the market where upon arrival the skipper would hand a tally of the fish aboard known as a ( Pot List ) to the salesman. The fish would then be unloaded by steam crane and taken to the market. The skipper of the flagman would later approach the fish salesman regarding the settling of his smacks account for the previous six weeks he had been fishing. Like previously at Brixham and Ramsgate Hull had adopted the share system of which the Skipper, Second Hand and Third Hand were on shares of which the skipper received a 11 / 64 share and the other two men a 9/ 64 share with 1/5 deducted for provisions, any remaining money went to the owner and as in most cases the skipper was the owner or part owner he would receive a further share. It would be upto the owner of the vessel to pay any monies to the apprentice`s as per agreement. The smack would then remain in port for about a week before returning to the fleet.

After fishing from September the fleet would return to Hull for Easter and during the Easter break the smacks would undergo a refit where upon they would return to sea and join the Short Blue Fleet of Hewitt & Co of Yarmouth, on the Danish and German Coast at Heligoland. Unlike the previous fleeting season the fish would now be transfered to the carriers of the Short Blue Fleet who at this time used pond ice from the UK to freeze the fish as it was loaded aboard the cutter. A charge which was deemed excessive by the Hull men was made for this service and 20% was taken from the total of the fish sales for carriage and handling.

By 1859 due to the charges of 20% been made by the Short Blue Fleet for ice, carriage and the sale of fish, Hull owners initiated the import of Norwegian ice and in a joint venture Robert Hellyer, with J Westcott , Henry Cousins and Thomas Halfyard each had a cutter purpose built to bring the catches of the Hull fleets back to the markets of Hull and London. After the first two shipments of ice arrived, it was stored in a wharehouse on the fish dock. This was the start of the Hull Mutual Ice Company, then after other owners combined in the venture the Hull Mutual Ice Company was renamed the Hull Ice Co. After a valve was left open by a Dock Company worker at high water the Hull Ice Co wharehouse premises were flooded destroying all the ice. After this incident new premises were built in Cambridge Street, Ice was then taken to the dock and smacks by cart, but this was not ideal as during the summer months the ice would quickly melt on it`s short journey.

After an initial influx of 20 purpose built sailing cutters for carrying ice the Hull fleeting system would go through some changes, with the introduction of the imported ice and larger faster vessels to transport the fish owners started to send their vessels out in fleets of around 20 - 50 vessels from May to September but these fleeter smacks would carry no ice. As in the previous fleeting system each vessel would remain with the fleet, but for an extended period of between 10 to 12 weeks before returning to port for repairs, stores and settling. Again each day would see the leaving and arriving of several smacks. During this summer seasons fishing each fleet would employ a number of its own dedicated carriers, all working at the same time, one would always been with the fleet awaiting loading, while others were enroute to or from the markets of Billingsgate London or Hull. These carriers would have enough ice to pack all the baskets of fish received from the fleet of which a charge of 1s to 1s 6d per basket would be made for ice and carriage. By 1872 over 20,000 tons of ice were been brought to Hull and in subsequent years several vessels would be built for Hull owners to convey the ice from Norway by 1877 there were six vessels employed in transporting ice by Hull owners, and several foreign vessels employed in the trade.

1871 Barque Fanny Bresauier - 274 tons - Albert Dock Ice Co Ltd Hull

1874 Brigantine Beagle 261 tons

1876 Barquentine Charlie Blackwood - 317 tons -

1764 Barque Truelove - 285 tons -

Each Fleet would be controlled by its own appointed admiral, who would be a skipper with many years experience the admirals vessel was also working smack and he fished like all the other smacks in the fleet. The admiral would be in total control of the smacks and later the steam vessels movements within his fleet. If the admiral had to leave the fleet for any reason the command of the fleet would be passed to a vice admiral. The admiral who was of no Naval ranking would control all movements and actions by means of signal rockets at night and flags by day, different signals would be given for the shooting and hauling of the trawl . There were also seperate signals for trawling on the port or starboard tack. On been given the signal to shoot their trawls, usually at the onset of a new tide run, which would give the vessesl six to seven hours trawling time on the ebb or flood tide. All vessels would set off on the given tack towards a mark, there where no hard fast rules and skippers could on their own discretion tack however and in which direction they pleased. The main reason for tacking on a given side and given direction was to avoid collisions, as the mass of vessels started to shoot their trawls and head off towards the mark. The mark was a postion nominated which could be upto 10 miles from the fleet on the course to be trawled. A smack known as the mark boat would head for the given position and during this session of shooting the trawl which would last several hours, the mark could change position several times as the admiral followed the shoals movements taking into account the tide and ground covered. The mark would also be where the carriers of the fleet would await, as when the vessels after several shootings and haulings of their trawls reached the final destination of the mark boat, would commence the loading of their catches to the awaiting carrier.

The typical day of a days trawling by a fleeter would start around noon after the boarding of the days catch to the carrier had been finished and the mark boat having been sent off to its allotted position. The flag would be raised to commence shooting the trawls on a given tack, the entire fleet would then commence fishing keeping their trawls down for several hours. Again this was not a hard fast rule and as the vessels reached rough ground or on the skippers orders the trawl would be hauled. During these hours the trawl was down the crewmen would carry out several neccessary jobs aboard the smack effecting repairs to equipment and general tidying and maintenance, apart from the crewmen on the tiller and watch a few men would sometimes snatch a hour or two asleep in this time. The act of hauling the trawl was very labour intensive and was done by manually turning a capstan, a process which could take several hours especially in heavy seas or with a large catch. Once the trawl net was aboard the vessel the fish would be released and the process of placing them in baskets or later boxes would begin, the net would be inspected for any damage or wear and repairs made if neccessary. This whole process would be carried out again around 6pm in the evening and around 12.00pm midnight giving a total of 3 sessions of trawling lasting around 18hrs, after the final session of trawling around 6 - 7 am the vessels would await the signal to board their fish to the carrier, which again would take several hours for the complete fleet to board their catches. It was advantageous to be one of the first boats to arrive at the carrier enabling the fish to be boarded and the crewmen to get back to their own vessel for a rest before the commencement of the days trawling. Several of the first men to reach the carrier would also be employed to assist in the boarding and packing of the fish, of which they would receive a payment from the carrier skipper for doing so.

Ferrying. Ferrying was the act of loading the days catch from a smack aboard the smacks small boat ( Coggie ) and rowing to the designated carrier to unload the pads ( baskets ). This process was carried out every morning and in all conditions apart from the severest weather, the boat would be manned by at least two men the mate and third hand been the normal practise, although the skipper would often go to the carrier for news and general chat to others. Due to rowing a fully laden boat in high seas, and the conjestion that occured around a loading carrier, ferrying was one of the highest causes of loss of life especially in the winter months. The fleeting system would later become known as boxing and the ferrying of catches to the carrier known as trunking, after the wicker baskets ( Pads ) were replaced by wooden boxes or trunks as they were known. It was a common occurence in heavy seas for a coggie boat to be smashed against the carrier resulting in the boat been upturned or sunk and there have been cases where a coggie boat was picked up by a wave and landed clean on the deck of a carrier. As with the high frequency of loss of life while ferrying this was also a time of hightened accidents and many men crushed limbs between the coggie boat and the carrier. The act of leaping from the small boat to the deck of a carrier which was rising and falling in a swell was also fraught with danger, and many men miss timed this crucial leap. The process of passing the heavy baskets or boxes from the boat to the carrier also added to the injury statistics as fully laden boxes fell upon the men below. It would be a very lucky man who was rescued from the water after a coggie boat was upset or he had slipped from the carrier. Due to the conjestion around the carrier it was difficult for any attempted rescue to be made, as manouverability was almost impossible and slow at best, unless the victim was in arms reach of a would be rescuer his heavy clothing and sea boots would soon drag him below the waves and out of sight.

 

 

Single Boating: With the introduction of ice, some smacks were fitted with an airtight ice box and when the smacks returned from fleeting in September the vessels with ice boxes would fish the winter months from September as single vessels making lone voyages. Each single boater as they were known would carry 2 - 4 tons of ice and remain at sea for periods of 10 - 14 days placing each catch in the ice box in layers with a covering of ice between each layer. When the skipper deemed he had caught enough fish he would head to his chosen port or market. As with fleeting some of these single boaters would fish the Dogger Bank taking their catches to the closest or most favourable market at the time Scarborough and Hull been favoured. There where many of these single boaters that would fish the areas of Sunderland and Hartlepool taking their catches into these ports daily. There were also cases were a smack would sell its catch from a beach. There was much commotion and resentment from the shieldsmen towards the Hull smacks landing their catches at the ports of Sunderland and Hartlepool. When landed the fish from the single boater would be taken out and sold loose by weight as they did not use baskets or trunks. The fish when sold would then be packed in barrels ( called Kits ) holding 10 - 12 stone of fish, crushed ice having been placed between each layer of fish and a final layer placed on top of the barrel before a straw bed and lid were fastened in place. The barrel could then be dispatched to it`s destination anywhere in the country. These single boaters were now capable of travelling far greater distances, the vessels that had evolved through the previous decades now been larger were more apt for longer periods at sea in rough weather and they could also keep their catches fresher by means of the ice.

With both fleeting and single boating the use of ice revolutionized the fishing industry, vessels could now in either form fish the complete year, bringing their catches to the markets after many days fishing. The fish now arriving in a far fresher condition than was obtainable in the pre ice years. Previously fish that was deemed fresh and brought to market within two days of been caught was found to be inferior to the quality of the fish which was put on ice the moment it came from the water and remained so untill it arrived at the fishmonger after a far longer period in transit. The three main ingredients needed for the mass distribution of fresh fish anywhere in the country had now come together, the finding and harvesting of the fish by fleets, the rail network to distribute the fish, and the means of keeping the fish fresh from catch to purchase. Fish which had only previously been available to people living close to a port and with the wealth to buy this expensive food was now available to the masses of the country and as the price of fish dropped the demand rose.

Men on the Dogger sorting their haul ready for packing