BM45 Blog

After a stunning summer and a hectic sailing season our skipper and volunteers have been derigging Pilgrim for winter maintenance over the last couple of days. We’ve been really lucky with the weather.

De-rig involves taking down the working rigging and all the blocks so that everything can be checked, maintained and replaced as needed. We will transfer the rigging to our workshop so our volunteers can get on with the maintenance work whatever the weather.

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Pilgrim’s Skipper Brendan up the mizzen mast for de-rig

The wooden spars will be lowered into the water and floated across the harbour in Brixham to the Old Fish Quay. That’s where we do any necessary maintenance and treatment under cover. During the colder winter months we very much appreciate the adjacent coffee shop as well!

Today, we were also delighted to welcome National Historic Ships Director Hannah Cunliffe and their Shipshape Network Coordinator Victoria Wallworth on board. They were visiting the members of the National Historic Fleet in Brixham. Their visit gave us the opportunity to bring them up to speed on Pilgrim’s activities and the issues we are tackling. It was good for us to hear more about the national programmes being delivered for heritage vessels around the UK.

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Guests from National Historic Ships on board Pilgrim with some of our volunteers

Next week Pilgrim goes ‘on the beach’ to dry out against the harbour wall in Brixham for a ‘below the waterline inspection’ so we can see what maintenance work needs to be scheduled over the winter months.

Sailing trawlers, like Pilgrim typically carried a crew of four or five. There was a skipper, a mate, an apprentice and a boy or ‘fisher lad’. Sometimes there was a third hand as well. In the mid-Victorian period the boy could be as young as ten but towards the end of the nineteenth century he was more likely to be twelve or thirteen. Going to sea at that age meant “Growing Up Fast!”

Pilgrim’s skipper, Silas Pine, although brought up in Brixham, is reported as having gone to sea on the East Coast at the age of nine! Boys often came from workhouses up country or from the local orphanage, Grenville House. Others came from Brixham fishing families, although it was more common for them to start as apprentices at about the age of fourteen as had been the case with Silas Pine’s younger brother Bertie.

The boy had to cook for the whole crew and keep the cabin and kettle and utensils clean. He was expected to keep hot tea on the stove in winter and water in the summer months. That was only the start of it though….boys had to keep the tools, fenders and other boat gear tidied away. They had to help make and mend nets and were responsible for taking the helm when the trawl was being shot. Later, as the warp was winched in, the boy had to be below decks to coil, or flake, the warp as it came in. It was six or seven inches in diameter and up to nine hundred feet long. In rough weather it could take two or three hours to haul it in and all that time the boy had to coil the wet, heavy warp below decks in a pitching boat often on a rough sea. Together with the deck hand or apprentice the boy would also see to the trimming and placement of lamps and also deal with flares and the foghorn. Finally, the boy was responsible for clearing the deck of all fish scales and the fish ‘brash’ brought up in the trawl.

Boys and apprentices were not paid as such and just got their keep. Some were given ‘stocker money’ where they were allowed to keep the proceeds of the sale of the female crabs, oysters and squids caught in the trawl up to a maximum of two shillings and sixpence. The boy was often limited to one shilling and sixpence.

In this day and age, it’s difficult to conceive of boys starting at such a young age. We recently had a group of school children aged ten and eleven on board and they were stunned to imagine they might have been going to sea on Pilgrim as cook!

References:

Grenville House, Brixham built in 1863 and founded by the ‘British Seaman’s Boys’ Home’ charity as an orphanage

Sailing Trawlers  –  Edgar J March M.S. N.R. 1953

BM45 Pilgrim  –  Bridget Cusack 2013

 

Pilgrim had a delightful encounter during the first weekend in June. On arrival in Dartmouth she was faced with ML1387 on the Town Pontoon.

Although it may seem unlikely both vessels have quite a bit in common. They are both historic wooden vessels proud to feature in the National Historic Fleet. They have also both benefitted from Heritage Lottery Funding to enable them to have major restorations. Both are now in superb condition and are operated by charities to  ensure their long term operation and preservation for public benefit.

Medusa had Pilgrim in her sights
Pilgrim entering Dartmouth Harbour with Medusa on the Town Pontoon

ML1387, HMS Medusa, is a Harbour Defence Motor Launch built in Poole in 1943, one of 480 vessels designed to provide an offshore anti-submarine screen for harbours. Entirely built of wood, and powered by diesel engines, they were not fast but had huge endurance. The original concept was for them to be transported to where they were needed as deck cargo but soon they were making the passages themselves from the UK to the Mediterranean, West Indies, South Africa and the Far East.

The Medusa Trust, a registered charity, exists to preserve HMS Medusa, ML1387, for future generations. Their mission is to keep Medusa operational and at sea for as long as possible as a tribute to the veterans, for education of the public and as an inspiration for the young.

There is a further local connection as Medusa participated in Operation Fabius on nearby Slapton Sands in early May 1944. This was a follow up exercise to the ill-fated Operation Tiger the previous month. The objective was to provide realistic practice D-Day landings including a similar length sea passage for troops based in Dorset.

So, on a gorgeous sunny day 75 years after her launch, Medusa finds kindred spirits with Pilgrim. She’s a bit longer in the tooth at 123 years young and on her restoration in 2009 they removed bullets from her planks and frames from incidents in her distant past.

Medusa made passage onwards to Alderney and Cherbourg. Pilgrim returned home to Brixham prior to making passage to Falmouth and onto the Scillies and Brittany for her summer adventures.

For further details of Medusa, her history, war service and restoration visit: www.hmsmedusa.org.uk

 

Over the Spring Bank holiday weekend, Brixham hosted its annual Heritage Sailing Regatta. One of the highlights of the event is the race to compete for the King George V Perpetual Cup.

Originally gifted by King George V in 1914 for races between working trawlers, the cup was first presented in 1919 by Lord Churston on behalf of the King after races were suspended during the First World War.

Today the thriving local heritage sailing fleet race for the trophy just as they did all those years ago. Competing over a 5 mile course in Torbay, the race is demanding on the crews that take part as they are sailing these traditional gaff rigged heavy working boats. Pilgrim is over seventy feet in length and weighs more than ninety tons.

Pilgrim won again this year for the sixth time out of the last seven years!  At the prize giving at Brixham Yacht Club, Pilgrim’s Sailing Director Lynda Davison said, “we won this by having a great volunteer crew on board led by our very capable professional skipper Brendan Stewart.”

Pilgrim wins the King George V Cup
Pilgrim’s 2018 crew for the Heritage Regatta