The campaign to save the sailing coble in Bridington

PUBLISHED: 23:42 03 October 2012 | UPDATED: 05:06 10 February 2013

Mike Wilson during a television interview with Paul Heiney. Photograph by Diane Wilson

Mike Wilson during a television interview with Paul Heiney. Photograph by Diane Wilson

Conservationists refuse to abandon one of Bridlington's last links with its ship building history. Terry Fletcher reports

Mike Wilson is the first to admit hes no sailor - I get sea sick far too easily for that, he wryly confesses. But hes not letting his status as a landlubber prevent him from trying to save a century-old link with Yorkshires seafaring past.

As treasurer of the Bridlington Sailing Coble Preservation Society he has the daunting job of raising 67,500 to restore the Three Brothers, which is believed to be the last remaining sailing coble of what was once a vast North Sea fleet. For generations every coastal community in Yorkshire had its cluster of cobles pulled up on the beach or tied up in the harbour. Until just a few years ago as many as 30 might be seen hauled ashore at the North and South Landings at Flamborough Head, with a similar number bobbing in the harbour at Bridlington.

The basic design with its wedge-shaped bow, flat bottom and shallow draft, which makes it easy to launch them from beaches, is thought to have been brought here by the Angles and Danes. For generations cobles were the versatile work horses of the inshore fisheries, used for everything from herring netting to crabbing and long line fishing, easily handled by a small crew, often just a man and a boy.

When seaside holidays become popular the fishermen found a lucrative market taking visitors sight-seeing along the coast and carrying angling parties out to sea.
The Three Brothers was built in 1912 by Baker and Percy Siddall, at their yard in Bow Street, working in the traditional way without plans, relying instead on their experience and craftsmens eye.

It would have taken them up to six months to shape the boat and then to attach the overlapping clinker boards before the ironwork was put in place and sails attached.
She was built for a local man, Robert Crawford, who named her after his three sons, William, George and Abraham. In 1920 she had an engine fitted and began a nomadic existence that saw her move first to Whitby and then to see service as a ferry, first in Middlesbrough and then on ukTyneside before she returned to Bridlington in 1960.

By 1980 the heyday of the cobles was past and she was bought by the Harbour Commissioners who later removed the engine and returned her to sail before the preservation society took over responsibility for her 26 years ago. Various minor repairs and renovations were carried out over the years along with an annual painting but last year it was decided to carry out a thorough survey and the results horrified the society. A man came along and produced a list three or four pages long of what needed to be done, says Mike.

Weve replaced the odd board ourselves but this was way beyond what we could do.
Even the skills to carry out the work are hard to come by but eventually a boatyard in Lincolnshire quoted a price of 67,500. Thats an astonishing amount of money for a boat that cost about 90 to build in 1912, says Mike. It has left us with a mountain to climb.

We could get a coble much cheaper but I personally would not be interested in that. I do not want to sail in her myself. Ive been out in her three times in 10 years but for me that is not what the society is about. This is the last sailing coble on the coast and a direct, tangible link with the towns shipbuilding history and it must be saved.

However, raising the money is far beyond the pockets of the 160 or so members of the society, most of whose funds come from running a museum on the harbour. Takings this year have been hit by poor weather and the increasingly elderly membership not being able to open as often as they would like. A grant has been offered to cover 60 per cent of the cost but under its terms the reminder must be raised privately.

When the museum is open people give very generously because a lot of them remember going out on her for pleasure trips. Weve also had some generous cheques but we still need a lot more.
Fishing is an essential aspect of our background and to allow the coble to disappear is unthinkable. This vessel is as important to us as the Cutty Sark, Mary Rose, Endeavour or Victory are to the nation. We aim to repair the three Brothers so she can sail again for many years to come, he says.

How you can help

Donations can be made by sending cheques payable to BSCPS, Harbour Office, West End, Bridlington YO15 3AN or via the societys website bridsailingcoble.org.uk

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