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LIFE ABOARD A SMACK

 

The sailing smack although an excellent seaworthy vessel afforded little comfort and every available space onboard these vessels was taken up by the equipment needed for its role as a fishing vessel. The trawl beam alone was often similar in length to the size of the vessel and been between forty and fifty feet, the heavy beam would often be lashed to the outside of the hull for stowage. There would be a sail locker where spare sails of all descriptions were stored. These vessels were equipped with only one cabin which was the living quarters for all crewmen aboard, cooking was also done in this cabin by means of the stove. The only light would enter this dark dingy place through a small deck skylight. As seen in the picture below access to the cabin was by a steep ladder, we can also see the storage lockers which were used as benches, the dark patch on the right would be a cubby hole bunk for a crewman to sleep in. But many crewmen preferred the cabin floor to the confined space of the bunk and were often found in close proximity to the stove. On deck there was no protection against the elements and the tiller would be manned in all weathers. It was common for water to enter the cabin from a wave that came aboard the vessel and in heavy weather the cabin would be awash, with the stove extinguished. The crew would then have to bail the cabin, possibly the reason for the bucket in the picture, which would also be used for toilet needs. Many of the smacks were rat infested and also had other living organisms such as flea`s. Both in fleeting and with single boaters no smackmen was better equipped or had access to any facilities that others did not have, in the North Sea the smacks were alone and had to fend for themselves. At this time there were no doctors or medicine available and on all smacks a basic first aid kit and medicines was none exsistent. Many an injured smackman was left to the devices of his fellow crewmen and received a concoction contrived from the first crewman who thought he could relieve any suffering. After a serious injury like a broken limb ect the fate of a smackman was at best two days sailing to Hull aboard a flagman or carrier without the aid of pain killers as he was tossed about. Some where lucky and received a tot of liquor to relieve their sufferings from a generous skipper. The already small cabin would become even more confined as later smacks had steam capstans fitted and the boiler for such workings was also placed in the cabin. But a small price of less room was paid for the far advantageous steam capstan which relieved some of the manual turning and hours of labour required by the old capstan.

All cooking aboard the smack was done on the cabin stove by the boy apprentice, who had no previous training and relied on the advice of his fellow crewmen to attain his skills. There would always be the large pot of tea adorning the stove, a mixture that a landsman would find foul and undrinkable but to the smackman it was wet and warm and the addition of treacle as a sweatner was welcomed. When first out of port the rations of mutton and beef would be towed behind the vessel in an endeavour to make it keep. But as the weeks passed the luxury of these fresh items such as the meat and vegetables soon passed and a return to dried foods and hard tack biscuits was made. Of course there was always fresh fish but any other meal was a mixture of almost anything available, that was cooked in a tray and handed to the crew, each member dipping into it with his bare hands, there been no niceties as table manners or cutlery afforded. Dough would be kneaded into small buns on the uncleaned cabin table and anything that lay dormant would find its way into the mixture. These buns were commonly called busters by the smackmen. There was almost nothing unpalatable to the hugry smackman and he ate with contentment his sometimes meagre givings. During a storm it would be almost impossible to cook anything and as most times the fire had been extiguished the crew had little or nothing to eat for several days at a time.

Heavy weather to a smackman was a force 8 gale or a hurricane and nothing less would warrant special attention, in heavy seas the shout from the deck "WATTERS COMMIN" would see a flourish of scrambling bodies as crewmen jumped, dived, fell or where forced down the companion way ladder into the safety of the cabin. If time permitted the tiller would be lashed and if not it was to the fate of a crewman to stay on station and keep a firm hold of the tiller, as the oncoming waves engulfed him. For those that did not make the cabin, using all the strength they could muster they grabbed for the nearest secured item to prevent been washed overboard Such was the amount of water that swamped the smacks at times, in some cases the cabin would quickly fill with water and the vessel would sink without hesitation, giving the poor fellows aboard little or no chance of survival. The force and power of the water that had entered a smack could upset the bulkheads and as these vessels carried upto 60 tons of shingle or iron ballast, if the ballast hold broke a man in the cabin could find himself smothered, and due to the ever shifting ballast and water a smack in this condition was surely doomed. Smacks would arrive in port with equipment that had been bolted rove clean from their decks, masts broken and splintered, bulwarks gone and such was their endurence and stamina, for several days the crews would battle and nurse their injured vessels home.

 

Deck Layout of a Typical Sailing Trawler Fitted with a Steam Capstan

1
Bowsprit
9
Rope Stopper for lashing the forward trawl-head 17 Binnacle
2
Pawl Bitt 10 Planking to prevent chafe from trawl head 18 After Winch / Dandy Wink
3
Windlass 11 Trawl Warp Roller 19 Mizzenmast
4
Hatch to Forecastle 12 Hatch to Fish & Ice Room 20 Tiller
5
Forward Winch 13 Dummy 21 Rudder Head
6
Mainmast 14 Cabin Companion 22 Rope stopper for lashing the beam
7
Main Hatch 15 Stove Pipe 23 Roller chock for dandy bridle
8
Capstan 16 Cleat to secure main sheet block 24 Canting Line

 

11 . Trawl Warp Roller

The roller is seen here with the choke and taff rail in place and the roller in use.

 

13. Dummy Roller

The trawl warp is wrapped around the dummy when shooting the trawl which is secured when the trawl is been towed.

 

 

 

 

18 Aft Winch or Dandy Wink

 

Used to heave up the aft end of the beam from the trawl gear

 

The introduction of the steam capstan although taking up valuable room, paid it`s price in elliviating the harduous labour of manually turning the capstan unassisted to bring the trawl aboard..

The Steam Boiler and Engine for working the capstan.

A typical layout of the equipment in a smack.