Pictures and text courtesy of Chris Carey
She was the Buzzard FD109
Official Number: 187847
IMO Number: 5049350
She was built for Brixham Trawlers Ltd in 1956 by Henry Scarr Ltd, Yard no. 736, at Hessle near those two famous Humber river ports of Grimsby and Hull. On the 1st August 1959 she was sold to the Boston Deep-Sea Fishing and Ice Co. Ltd of Fleetwood, a fishing port on the Irish Sea coast of England and in 1961 renamed the Boston Seafire FD 109.
The Boston Deep-Sea Fishing Company soon became one of the largest operators of trawlers out of Fleetwood with 82 boats or one third of the boats working out of that port as well as a large number of other vessels jointly owned with other companies out of Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft and Aberdeen. At 314 gross tons (104net), drawing 12.3ft with a LOA of 127.5 ft (or 38.87m)* the Boston Seafire was built as a ‘middle distance’ or ‘middle water’ trawler. Fleetwood was ideally placed to exploit the Irish Sea catching Cod, Plaice Hake, Monkfish, Soles and a few other bits and pieces found there, as well as the Hake fishery off northwest Scotland and the west of Ireland and the traditional Rockall, Faroe Islands and Icelandic Cod, Haddock and Plaice fisheries.
In 1969 the Boston Seafire came out to New Zealand under a charter agreement to fish for Wondefoods of Nelson. The Seafire broke down on the delivery trip stopped at the Azores for repairs. Charles Hufflet was the manager at the time and told me “I got cold feet and cancelled the contract to bring her sister ship, the Hawfinch, out here”. At that time there was a penalty payable on the importation of fishing vessels; a way to protect the local ship building industry by discouraging imports. So when Wonderfoods eventually bought her for $25,000 pound sterling they were lumped with an extra 25% duty.
“I recall when she arrived” said Skipper Mike Baker. “Richard Hoarder and I were standing on the wharfe and I commented that she’ll never make it. How wrong was I?” She still had a plaque that “looked a bit like a rooster on her funnel when she arrived here” according to Gary Courtenay, skipper.
The Boston Seafire began fishing for ‘couta and other species with Bob Ford from Hull, one of two ex-British skippers. For one reason and another, their turn at the wheel didn’t last long.
John Mansell, now with MSA recalled spending most of his time hanging over the side untangling the warps. “I joined the Seafire in early 1970 as a deckhand and did four trips on her. I forget the skippers name; he was ex Navy and had brought one of the Sea Harvester ships to NZ.” said John. Gary Courtenay was the Bosun and there was a total crew of nine and John had no experience at all of fishing vessels. “I’d never worked so hard in my life or been so dirty. The boiler was only flashed up once a week to conserve fuel.” Doing ten day trips and fishing 24 hours with three hour tows normally there was one six hour tow after midnight
to give the crew a chance to sleep.
They were trying times as Gary put it. “It was a right f@&%-up”, said Gary “The officers were all ex-navy or merchant men and hadn’t a f@&%-ing clue how to catch fish or work a side winder. I was on deck but I had the knowledge and was always going up top telling the old man what the F&@k to do. Like shooting the gear away on the turn otherwise the inboard Danleno rips out the other side wing which they did a lot ’till they f@&%-ing listened”. Once the doors were shot away the warps are then bought together into the towing block on the starboard quarter. Doing this puts a turn in the warps and depending on which way the turn was the skipper had to put the wheel hard over against the gear or turn away from it before he started to haul back. “The warps would be chattering away then they’d dip and the twist would come out” Gary described in detail. “I remember going below to shovel ice and one of the crew asked me what’s wrong? He’s turned the wrong f@&%-ing way I said. You wait, I said in 30 minutes we’ll have the biggest f@&%-up you’ve seen.” he laughed. “And we did!” The first landing return for the Seafire was the 20th December 1969:
TAR 18585 : GUR 8616 : BAR 8105 : WAR 3138
SPO 2211 : ELE 1905 : SKI 1099 : STA 888
SCH 850 : SQU 312 : LIN 268 : RCO 253
SKA 210 : KAH 36 : ESO 18
“We had good catches of Terakihi on Rogers Tongue off the Motunau and Treadwells Bank down the West Coast off the Haast.” said Gary.
“I never made any money. We were on a share basis and had to catch 1000 cases to meet costs first. Something went wrong every trip and we never caught more than the 1000 cases.” John told me. “The company eventually had to pay everyone a retainer of (I think) ten dollars a day to attract crew.” After three trips John was the most experienced fisherman on deck and went as Mate (as he had a foreign going masters ticket). “I left her after the fourth trip and joined the seventy foot stern trawler Phoenix which was like daddy’s yacht by comparison”.
Ron Blackman skippered her for a while but as Charles Hufflet pointed out, she was never really successful until they changed the way they worked her.
“We got rid of the Granton gear, switched to a trawl that was more suited to our fisheries and began towing off the stern. But we still had to bring the bags alongside to split them over the rail”.
Rising from a deckhand to skipper Gary Courtenay took the wheel later in 1970 and along with fellow Cornishmen Colin Nunn and Sean Orchard they fished her successfully until 1972 when the winch engine died. “It was a rattling old Crosley 2-stroke and she was tied up for a while for repairs so I went and did my own thing on other boats” said Gary. Johnny Gay, Glen ‘Shorty’ Duggan and Brin Reid are names well known to all of us of maturing years. “With a crew of 12, good buggers and bad we were known as the Dirty Dozen”.
“Johnny Gay had chronic emphysema and e’d smoke like a bleedin’ chimney too, coughin’ and wheezing his way up to the bridge. It was so f@&%-ing bad that one trip before they sailed the crew went to the company and said they weren’t sailing ’cause they were scared of old Johnny f@&%-ing dying on them. Well it turned out he out lived the lot of ‘em, didn’t he!” laughed Gary. “And he was still coughing!”
Unlike modern stern trawlers, sidewinders had their accommodation/wheelhouse amidships extending aft. This allowed a large open working foredeck. While hauling, the boat would have fall off the wind and lay beam on to the sea. The doors would appear first to be shackled onto the gallows by their chain preventers. The crew then had to bring the ground rope aboard. Low bulwarks made the job of hauling the “Granton” gear with its heavy bobbins over the rail relatively easy but it also meant the crew was fully exposed to everything that Ol’ Huey could throw at them. Often working waist deep in water as the rails dipped and exposed to every puff of wind, it wasn’t a job for the faint hearted, limp wrested or politically correct. Hazardous at best it was just part of the job. A gilson winch would lift bobbin rig clear of the water over the rail which swinging wildly with the roll the deckies would do what they could to guide it inboard and hard up against the bulwarks. The net would be fleeted aboard over the rail; in the early days hauled in by hand but now-a-days with the use of lifting gear. The cod end, now floating alongside would be ‘split’ and ‘lifts’ of 1 – 2 tons brought inboard to hang, dripping, over the deck. The cod end knot was then let go which allowed the catch to cascade out between the pound boards to be sorted, cleaned then cased or bulked below in ice. Retying the cod end knot, the bag end would be heaved over the side again, the vessel would make way slowly washing the fish back and filling the bag end before another ‘spilt’ could be taken.
Hoki, Orange Roughy and Barracouta made up much of her catch plan. Fishing the ‘Wall of Death’ and ‘Tora’ up the East Coast of the North Island for Southern Kingfish (Gemfish) another fishery she did well in. At some stage she even went squid jigging; though who ran her then I haven’t a clue but the accompanying photo shows her with squid jigging machines and a steadying mizzen sail. Brian Hardcastle ran her at some stage as did John Gardner before joining the Amaltal Voyager.
“I think it was about 1990-91 that Sealord sold the Seafire to Seafresh Fisheries of Wellington.” said Steve Bailey former Seafresh skipper. Jim Cunliff skippered her for the first trip with a Sealord crew off Banks chasing Barracouta and Red Cod. “Then Greg Clifford took over doing trip on, trip off”. Steve Paku, Lindsay Elkington and Andy Karatea; other well known names to also have skippered her.
The Seafire was powered by a 5-cylinder 2-stroke diesel built by British Polar Engines Ltd of Glasgow developing 740bhp. “She was a beautiful sea boat. Her top speed was about 11 knots but she’d cruise comfortably at 9 to 10.” Punching when empty wasn’t much fun Steve told me but get a load in her and she was really good. “Laying to splitting bags aboard was no trouble” added Steve. “She rode over the swells just fine and even when we were fishing Roughy off Puysegur taking waves over the deck, she felt as safe as houses. The crew just got wet though.”
Seafresh crewed her with 9 comfortably. “We had a Skipper and Mate, Chief Engineer and Motorman and 4 to 5 deckies”. However, maneuvering her alongside was a bit of an act. “Like Fred Flintstone and his Brontosaurus” Steve smiled. “She has a great big wheel mid-ships with the engine telegraph across the wheelhouse. You found yourself running back and forwards ringing for slow ahead, half astern, what ever and hoping the engineer acknowledged the bells of the telegraph”.
When TACC cuts bit the Seafire found herself hamstrung for quota and had to resort to chasing Leatherjackets in the South Taranaki Bight or Roughy outside the EEZ on the Louieville Ridge and Lord Howe Rise.
“An Aussi company owns her now” said Steve. “It must have been about 2002 when they bought her and she’s been lying alongside dying a slow and sad death ever since. It’s a crying shame”.
The Boston Kestrel was the last sidewinder ordered for Fleetwood. She was broken up in 1993 ending a line of boats, like the (Boston) Seafire, that built the British trawl fishery and provided a livelihood for generations of Fleetwood families. The Seafire has contributed much to the New Zealand trawl fishery as well; the port of Nelson in particular. She has played an integral part in the lives of many, many New Zealand fishermen.
I’ll leave the last words to Quentin Bates, a good friend and features editor for Fishing News International. “There are lots of these old ships lying about here and there, waiting to be scrapped or just mouldering away. Some of them get looked after occasionally, but it’s not often.
There are a couple in England that have been preserved as museums, plus one in Belgium and a couple in France. Last year I saw the old Icelandic gunboat Thor at the quayside in Reykjavik, a very sad old lady now and painted gold as she was supposed to become a floating disco. I suppose she’ll be scrapped sooner or later, which is terrible considering what a huge part she played in the cod wars and is such a central part of their history in the 20th century. They’ll miss her when she’s gone, but it’ll be too late by then.”
As of 2006, the registered owner of the Seafire is Duesouth Trawlers (NZ) ltd. I have been unable to contact them about the Seafire’s future.
* According to Robbie Bloomfield it was the Waipouri not the Seafire that the 43m rule was introduced.
For full history and technical details of the Boston Seafire FD109 please click here.
A Collection of Images of the Boston Seafire throughout here career.
I did my first trip in Fleetwood as a galley boy on the Wyre Vanguard. It was unusual in those days (1961/2) for an out of towner to be a fisherman. I was from Radcliffe north of Manchester, and ran away to sea at 15 years of age. I had to first do my deep sea fishing training with Bill Carruthers at the fishing school on the docks. The training was mainly for non Fleetwood people, and they came from all over Lancashire. I do have a photo from within the school when we were learning knots.
We lived in the deep sea fishermans mission on dock st. Thats where I got my first tattoo, and had to have a gold earring in my right ear before going to sea. It was good luck for the ship to have its youngest member wear an earring in the right ear (so I was told???)
After a couple of trips as Galley boy, i went through the ropes as Brassy, quarter half and into full decky. This was a bit unusual for a none Fleety…and bloody hard going. I lasted for a couple of years at this, eventually the sea sickness got the better of me, and I joined the merchant Navy out of Manchester.
I wonder if anyone remembers the training school on the docks, and Bill Carruthers?
Many years later, I look back on the discipline and lessons I learned at sea, especially on the different trawlers, and never regretted a minute of it (apart from sea sickness of course, always fixed up with cooks greasy bacon butty)
I hope my memories come in handy. I also have a half model of the Boston Seafoam, which I commissioned later in life. Its travelled round the world with me, and is now in my office in Australia!!
Below are some images John has been kind enough to send to me including 2 images of the half model of the Boston Seafoam.
My name is Neville McCrindle and I was fortunate to experience fishing for hoki in the Cook Strait in New Zealand, on the Sarfaq. Ex – Argo of Pembroke M74.
I had been beam trawling from Newlyn and was thoroughly disenchanted with the job. It was more like farming than fishing, I was used to bottom, pelagic and pair trawling in my native Firth of Clyde and missed the excitement of big hauls.
The hoki fishery in the Cook Straits was awesome. The Sarfaq was well equipped with modern integrated Furuno equipment. You could overlay the radar onto the plotter etc.
Rapp Hydema Auto trawl was fitted and this proved invaluable whist trawling up and down the two main “Canyons” in the Straits, the Cook and the Nicholson.
The Hoki used to frequent the edges of peaks and to see the individual winches paying out and hauling in at the same time was very strange to see.
The overly large forward superstructure was a nightmare when getting alongside in Wellington, once the wind took her it was frightening. She rolled like a pig in the unforgiving seas in the Straits as well !!
We did make headline news once, in the Wellington newspapers when we caught a Greenland “Sleeper” shark among a haul of Hoki, very rare in Southern Hemisphere.
It’s rather sad to see that she is now an artificial reef, but she had a long and varied career.
Images of the Sarfaq
I would like to thank Neville McCrindle for sharing his memories of the Sarfaq and his photos.
Hours before the launch of the Fleetwood Trawler Maretta FD245 it was noticed that the name painted on the bows was NARETTA not MARETTA, with time so short only the incorrect name facing the dignitaries was altered.
I’ve cut and enlarged both port and starboard names and blown them up, shows up well even the strange M.
Images and information courtesy of Bill Blow and Richard Winfield of Cleethorpes
The Boston Seafire has now been scuttled of Whale Island New zealand. She was scuttled to become a dive wreck for tourists and local dive enthusiasts.
You can view some images here of the Boston Seafire being scuttled.
Its a shame to see her go.
I would like to thank Phil and Steph van Dusschoten, Diveworks Charters, www.whaleislandtours.com for use of the images.
George Chambers of the Bay Artificial Reef Charitable Trust said the operation was costing about $100,000.
Greater Wellington regional council was helping but the trust was paying about $70,000 to buy the boat, tow it north, clean it up and sink it off Whale Island, about four kilometres off Whakatane.
Mr Chambers hoped the trawler would be towed out of Wellington tomorrow and, all going well, scuttled on October 19. He expects the Seafire to survive on the sea floor for at least 50 years, much longer than Wellington’s dive wreck, the former navy frigate Wellington.
Being an ice-strengthened trawler, it was more sturdy.
The trust is planning to sink the boat by opening its sea valves rather than using explosives. The wreck site is in a sheltered spot, 30 metres deep, just off Whale Island.
This original article can be found here.
This is especially true of the Scottish waters, with many Fleetwood trawlers foundering on the rocks and reefs as they ploughed their way through gales to reach home.
One such wreck is the Criscilla which was loaded with 2,500 stone of fish when she struck rocks at the entrance to Islay Sound – which separates Islay from Jura.
It was around 11pm on 3rd November 1931 that tragedy struck.
Ashore the first indication was when the local coastguard picked up a radio message, which read; “British steam trawler Criscilla two miles north by east of McArthurs Head ashore on rocks with stripped propeller.”
And this was the start of an epic battle to try to save the 135ft long vessel.
Owned by J Marr & Sons, Criscilla was one of Fleetwood’s latest, largest and best equipped trawlers.
Under the command of Skipper C Walter of Hesketh Place the vessel had a crew of 12.
And for three days and three nights the crew battled the elements in efforts to save their ship from the deadly rocks.
Despite gales and rough seas the men stuck to their posts until they were ordered to abandon her.
Luckily in this disaster no lives were lost and today Criscilla lies in two sections in about 45 feet of water – with her anchors and chain nearby.
But let us return to that dark Tuesday night when most of the crew were asleep in their bunks.
The shock of the impact as Criscilla hit the rocks awoke the men who rushed on deck.
One member described the scene; For three days and three nights we remained on board. She had gone on the rocks as we were going through the Sound and she seemed to be resting on a table of rock out of the water.
“Until teatime on Thursday we had been fairly comfortable, But it started to blow and it was terrible.
“The trawler was being pounded. We couldn’t stand up and had difficulty in keeping our feet.
“Every time the boat shuddered we had to hang on grimly with both hands.
“It was a nightmare. We kept the water under for 4 hours but it started to rise.
“The coal began to wash about in the end it put the fires out.”
With the Criscilla being pounded so much that she shivered from stem to stern the men were ordered to the bridge for safety.
Their efforts to lighten the trawler by dumping and moving coal had failed – as had the attempts by the engineers – working waist deep in water – to pump the vessel out. Water filled the engine room, lights went out and candles and paraffin lamps brought into use. The pumps were then out of action. Fleetwood trawlers Fyldea and Sea Sweeper had responded to the distress call and assisted in refloating attempts, as did a Glasgow tug.
But all was in vain and the crew were taken aboard Fyldea and later landed at Oban for the rail journey home.
During the weeks that followed Herculean efforts were made to salveage Criscilla.
The 350 ton ship eventually slid over and sank after a Liverpool tug had tried pumping the partially submerged vessel full of compressed air. As she had lifted, she bumped another rock and sank.
It was the first time this expensive method of salvage had been employed in efforts to save a trawler. It had been used to save larger craft.
Criscilla was built at Selby and launched in 1929. She was the first trawler built for Fleetwood since the first war. Her sister ship was Maretta.
Aboard Criscilla were; Skipper C Walter; Mate W E Gardner of Milton Street; Bosun M Elrick, Park Avenue; Deckhands F Welsh, Poulton Road; A Alger, Seamen’s Mission; J Rayworth, Peel Road; Cook J Fletcher of Liverpool; Chief Engineer T Hudson, Hamlet Road; Second Engineer J Salisbury, Addison Road; Trimmers C Daly, Blackpkool and W Hughes, Seabank Road and wireless operator J Quinn of Wyre Street.
Luckily no one was hurt – but the trawler Cevic was a total wreck. And part of her rusted hull can be seen at low tide near Port Lewaigne.
It all happened in June 1927 when the ship went to shelter in Ramsey Bay. The skipper (Dick Collinson) and 3 officers decided to go ashore at Ramsey. They were rowed ashore in the ship’s lifeboat.
The little craft was then returned to the Cevic and moored under the stern of the trawler. But later it began to fill with water and a crewman climbed in and started to bail out. Then fate took over and the lifeboat drifted away.
Cevic’s crew – with their officers ashore – decided to take action to save their shipmate. They got up steam and gave chase in the Cevic. But they got too close inshore and ran aground south of Ramsey. Meanwhile the small boat and its occupant had been carried ashore!
A report at the time stated that the Cevic put into IOM for shelter when the weather became “boisterous”.
As the little boat drifted away the 6 remaining crewmen decided to rescue their shipmate. But a strong North East wind got up and they abandoned their attempts. The Cevic was brought to anchor but the anchor would not hold.
Driven onto a bank the Cevic began to bump severely and it was feared she would break her back.
The crew put up a flare and the Ramsey lifeboat was launched. But they experienced considerable difficulties getting alongside the Cevic – on several occasions narrowing escaping being smashed to pieces through being driven against the trawler in the mountainous seas.
The 6 crew were eventually rescued and Cevic drifted onto rocks and became a total wreck.
Carrying out the gallant rescue was the Ramsey Lifeboat, Matthew Simpson – a sailing – pulling boat.
It was her first service since arriving at the RNLI station in February. And a short report of this rescue service is recorded in a new book – Ramsey Lifeboats 1829 – 1991 by W.N.Seybold.
Aboard the Cevic for her last voyage were:
Skipper Dick Collinson, mate J Bywater, bosun E Salthouse, deckhands J Kitchin and J Harrison, apprentices T Whiteside and W Holden, cook P Corrigan, Chief Engineer J Hobbs, second engineer J Dicks and fireman J Simms.
Does anyone recall a wartime film being made by Fleetwood fishermen? Our stories about the loss of the trawler Hondo off Scotland in 1943 have prompted an enquiry by Mrs Sally Norton.
Her father Charles Gregory had been Chief Engineer aboard the Hondo – right up to her last voyage.
With several other crew members he left the ship to help make a film about life of trawlermen. “Dad had a lot of mates aboard the Hondo and was devastated when she was lost with all hands,” explained Mrs Norton.
She added she was only 11 at the time but remembers appearing in the film. “Mother and I were filmed waving dad off and collecting wages from the Boston office in Dock Street.
“Dad and others had to go to London for some scenes. “I can remember the film being shown at the Regent Cinema and at school. I’d love to see it again and wondered if anyone else remembers it.”
Her father – a trawlerman all his life – lived in Cambridge Road, Fleetwood. He died in 1971.
This Trawler Tale is from the collection of Fleetwood man Mr Harold Colley.