Barnabas

Barnabas is the only survivor from St Ives of the thousand-strong fleet of lug rigged seine and drift net fishing boats registered at Cornish ports at the end of the 19th century. She was built for Barnabas Thomas by Henry Trevorrow above Porthgwidden beach, St.Ives.

 

History

Barnabas was first registered on 28th October 1881 as a Class 2 pilchard boat, with the number 634 SS. Later, she was re-registered as a Class 1 mackerel driver and her number switched to SS 634. The number is said to have been chosen as it corresponded to the hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold” in the Methodist hymn book used at the time.

What is a Dipping Lugger?

She is known as a dipping lugger because of the way in which the lug sail on her foremast is partly lowered to tack, and the whole of the foresail is passed around the front of the mast. The sheet on the new tack is attached to the sail and the lug, or yard, from which the sail hangs is raised on the appropriate side of the mast. This method means that the foresail sets efficiently on both tacks for faster sailing, although she needs a more numerous and skilful crew to sail her.

How did she fish?

Barnabas is a mackerel driver, so called as the boats were driven by the effect of the tide on their nets. Her year began in March, fishing for mackerel, sometimes as far as west of the Isles of Scilly. In mid-summer the catch switched to herring, often fishing out of Howth, near Dublin, with her crew of five men and a boy. They would have all slept in the cramped foc’sle.

The drift nets were like a curtain hanging in the water with floats at the top. The fish swam into them and were caught by their gills. As the nets were pulled in and restowed in the net room the fish were shaken out into the hold. The drift nets were made up of sections joined together vertically, their total length extending for up to a mile and a quarter.

The boats left port early in the morning and set all to get to the fishing grounds by early evening. Both mackerel and herring are nearest to the surface at night so this is when the nets were shot. To recover the net, the footrope, the only connection to the nets, was hauled in over a hand cranked flywheel capstan on the starboard (right) side and flaked down by the boy – and this was the wettest,dirtiest job! Later a steam capstan was used. Once the fish hold was full it was back to port as fast as possible to make the first landing and get the best price for the catch or to make the train for London or other main town, as this would also give an improved price.

Barnabas is similar to the double-ended lugger Mystery Spirit of Mystery, sailed to Australia by Pete Goss and crew in 2008, a testament to the seaworthiness of these craft. She is an important part of our national maritime heritage, mentioned in the Historic Small Ships Register as well as many accounts of coastal and fishing vessels from the age of sail.

 

Restoration

By the early 2000s, surveys revealed that the fabric of the vessel had deteriorated and she lay on a mud berth in Penryn and at Mylor while the Trust sought funding to restore her again. In 2005 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a substantial sum, and in October of that year, aged 123, Barnabas returned to West Cornwall where restoration began in Penzance Dry Dock. Click here for images of her restoration.

By July 2006, Barnabas was back in the water and had her first sea trials in August. Since then, she has sailed regularly to maritime festivals in France and the Isles of Scilly. She was the oldest vessel in the Jubilee Pageant in 2012, and in 2015 she followed in the wake of the sailing luggers by sailing round Britain via Ireland, the Isle of Man, Fort William and the Caledonian Canal, Orkney, Shetland, the east coast of Britain and the Channel.

To survive to a great age, any wooden boat needs to make friends with people – to inspire the sort of love and dedication that means the difference between rotting quietly up a creek somewhere, and being sailed and looked after for future generations.

Barnabas certainly is a special boat. I put it down to the fact that luggers of her type are not really the result of design, but an evolutionary process, where greatly skilled and experienced (and largely ‘uneducated’) people, created over a hundred generations a rig and hull form that was efficient, rode the long western swell, dried out safely in harbour, and preserved as far as possible her crew and cargo from a watery end. It has the strange effect that to go sailing on her means encountering the wilderness of the sea in a much more immediate way.

I don’t know how many people’s lives she has bettered – she has certainly changed mine. When I first went aboard, I knew how to sail small boats, but I had never really had the opportunity to sail anything big enough to cross the channel. I was fascinated by the dipping lug rig. It has a power, elegance and simplicity that needs everything a crew can give it, and it gives it all back.

Another bit of fortune for me was to sail with Adam Kerr, a master mariner, Barnabas skipper and CMT Chair. He became a mentor in my own journey, and having sailed thousands of miles with Barnabas I can say that she offers such an amazing opportunity: to understand what it means to go to sea.
Toby Floyer
Trustee and Skipper

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By becoming a member of the Cornish Maritime Trust, you will be helping to preserve Cornwall’s extraordinary maritime heritage. Joining the Trust will also give you many benefits: the opportunity to sail on our boats, the chance to develop skills of sailing and maintenance, the chance to contribute your own skills, and membership of a diverse community of people.

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