BARNABAS - Dipping Lugger, St Ives, 1881
During the golden age of these be-canvassed fishing vessels, it was said one could walk from one end of the harbour to the other, merely by stepping from boat to boat. Large tanned and weathered nets also hung from the harbour railings to dry out between voyages.
BARNABAS was built in 1881, above Porthgwidden beach, in St. Ives, by Henry Trevorrow, for Mr Barnabas Thomas. At an overall length of 40 feet, she was registered as a first-class mackerel boat and a second-class pilchard boat.
During her early life she was mainly occupied in drift-net fishing for pilchards and mackerel, depending on the season. She was rigged with a dipping lug sail on the foremast and a standing lug on the mizzen. In light winds BARNABAS also carried a mizzen top sail. Her sail number was SS 634, the number taken from a hymn in the Methodist prayer book: “Will your Anchor Hold...” In 1917 the boat was fitted with a 10 hp engine, comparable with the 55 hp Yanmar diesel that is fitted today.
During her fishing days, the crew comprised four men and a boy. For such a relatively small crew this would have been extremely hard work. They would have to sail the boat, with her heavy spars and canvas, and fish, hauling in the long and weighty drift net, in often challenging seas.
The crew cuddy was up forward, comprising four bunks and a wood burning stove, on which all the cooking took place. Living aboard was primitive, uncomfortable, and often wet below decks. Nowadays, the layout below decks has largely been maintained, although there have been some minor concessions for a modern crew’s comfort (not many though!)
Typically, in the early part of the year, the pilchard shoals were to be found around the Cornish coast. As the fish migrated northwards, part of the fleet would follow to the Irish Sea, or as far as the extreme north of Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetland, to catch up with the mackerel shoals here, or in pursuit of herring.
Some of the fleet took a more direct route. They made passage through the Clyde and Forth Canal, following the fish to Scarborough and the other east coast ports, before finally heading back Cornwall, by way of the English Channel.
BARNABAS ended her fishing days in 1954, when she was bought by Wally Briggs and converted to a yacht. In 1968 the boat was recognised as a rare and historic survivor of the Cornish fishing fleet and taken over by the Maritime Trust. Due to the generosity of Peter Cadbury, she was restored in 1980. The Cornish Maritime Trust was formed in 1994 with BARNABAS as its flagship. The Trust now operates four lovely vessels including: 'Softwing', a 24 foot 1900 Truro River Oyster Dredger (a working boat), 'Ellen', a 17 foot 1882 Gorran Haven Crabber and the 'Sea Urchin'.
Unfortunately, a survey in 2002 found BARNABAS in very poor condition. After extensive fund-raising, a substantial grant was given by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in 2005, which provided a lifeline for a major refit. This was carried out in the Penzance Dock Yard by R. Cann and Son of Totnes.
In 2010 the historic boat was invited to join the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant on the Thames. This involved a lengthy voyage through the English Channel. She paused for a stopover in Faversham, to adjust to a shorter rig, so that she could pass under the low Thames bridges. Joining the flotilla, she glided gracefully along the capital’s waterway, proudly flying a Cornish flag, nearly as big as herself!
In 2015, the Trust decided to honour and replicate the voyages of the old luggers to the north of Scotland, Shetland and England’s east coast. This was a major trip, planned over ten weeks, with ten crew changes. Quite a logistical feat! She left Newlyn in June, returning again in September. This incredible journey proved a total success, due largely to the hard work and commitment of the crews and members of the CMT. She visited several ports in Ireland and Scotland, then followed the old route through the Clyde and Forth Canal to the east coast of England. Thus recreating the sights and evoking the romance of the golden age of these historic fishing vessels.
This year, following her journey to the Scillies for the world gig championships, her participation in Mousehole’s Sea, Salt and Sails festival, BARNABAS will represent Cornwall, in the major maritime festivals of Brest and Douarnanez in Brittany. France.
Mousehole, in Cornwall, is lucky enough to play host to this beautiful and historic vessel. Seeing her lie gracefully on her mooring against the south quay is to glimpse a rare sight of a bygone era. Visitors can observe the hustle and bustle of crews preparing for a passage, then watch her raise the tan sails and leave through the harbour gaps into the bay beyond. A sight to stir and enrich even the most hardened land lubber’s heart. BARNABAS completes the missing link from Mousehole’s hard won and fascinating maritime history, to today’s picture postcard village, keeping history alive for future generations. One can’t help but look, and stare and appreciate her beauty.
We feel we should all give thanks to the Cornish Maritime Trust. Thousands of visitors greatly appreciate your efforts and dedication in maintaining such an important vessel here, allowing us an insight into the rich heritage of our traditions, village and nation. Plus, when the tide and weather are fair, we can sail her!