Oyster dredging. Smacks at Brightlingsea going out for oysters. The oyster dredgerman in Pyefleet Creek, home of the Colchester Native. [DW]
William Francis of Brightlingsea, foreman of the Colne Fishery Company, at the helm of the company smack NATIVE. 1928.
He typified the smacksman, as accustomed to facing a North Sea gale as dredging oysters in a quiet creek. Usually quiet, resourceful men, spending their summers as crew in racing, cruising, steam or motor yachts and winters fishing under sail in smacks, large and small. Rubber thigh boots had replaced the greased leather sea boots with wooden pegged soles of earlier times but the guernsey and cheesecutter cap remained and with toil stained trousers and 'wesket' complete a portrait of a seaman at work in a well mastered environment. The cluttered decks are typical of dredging smacks sailing up tide to prepare for another haul with the dredges; an apparent tangle of bass warps, wood buoys, iron dredge frames, chain mesh dredge bottoms and netting backs, a sweep and all the gear of a sailing smack.
The reef earings are rove for the first and second reefs; the first led to the reef tackle purchase along the boom. A bass mainsheet was used because it wore well for this work, was inexpensive and had plenty of spring in it for gybing and manouvering in strong winds; a tradition carried over from the big North Sea smacks. The light lines seized around the boom are for stowing the mainsails, but add to the apparently unkempt appearance of these small smacks.
The NATIVE was unusual for a Colne smack in having been built with a transom stern for the Colne Fishery Company. Almost all the others had counters, like 133CK sliding past astern, a typical small smack of the type used for oyster dredging and fish trawling in the Colne, the Blackwater and the Wallet. She would perhaps have ventured occasionally on a longer trip, though she is a little small in length, freeboard and hull capacity for stowboating, whcih was a winter mainstay for the many larger Colne smacks. Her cutter rig is typical but the much patched light weather jib and light canvas of her sails mark her present work as dredging in sheltered waters. The high cut foot of the mainsail is unusual and the forestay connects to the stem by a deadeye, with lanyards spread through holes bored transversely through the stemhead.
She cuts along well, with the foresail just lifting and the crew in attitudes of ease as she sails to the next haul. [JL]
Plate.126 in SWW.
Used in The Sailor's Coast, page 47.
This image is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection.