Ellen

Ellen, a Gorran Haven crabber is reputed to be the fastest Gorran Haven Crabber ever built.

History

Launched in 1882, Ellen is a 17ft Gorran Haven Crabber owned by the Cornish Maritime Trust. She was built by Dick Pill for the Willmott Family and is reputed to be the fastest Gorran Haven Crabber ever built. Her lines and spritsail rig are specific to Gorran Haven. They were designed to fish off the beach and kept inside the small tidal harbour on the south coast of Cornwall. By 1900, she was being fished by the Billings brothers, Dick and Andrew, who consequently moved her to Flushing as there were too many crabbers working out of Gorran Haven!

For the next few seasons, Ellen will sail again from Falmouth. There may be opportunities of trailering her to Mounts Bay or further afield, should members wish it. From Mousehole, she’s a joy to sail and a real head turner, especially sailing her through ‘the gaps’ or scullying her off or back onto moorings. She’s engineless, so skippers need some experience, though perfect for a small crew working together.

What makes ellen special?

To our knowledge, Ellen has never been totally rebuilt and is still rigged in her original format – she’s the last of her kind still sailing. However, two new replicas have recently been launched in Cornwall, so we’re excited about the future and the possibly of all sailing together.

How did she fish?

The sprit rig, which provides a simple quick system for de-powering the mainsail, allows the vessel to lie efficiently to anchor or a laid out net – once mizzen is set, as the steadying sail keeping her bow to windward. With an extremely well-pronounced hull shape and a generous beam, she has very full bilges in the midships. This provides a good volume to stow ‘working gear’ and makes the boat extremely stable.

When working, there are three key sail elements to consider:

  • The sprit rigged mainsail is ‘brailed’ (or de-powered). For this to happen, a brailing line is attached near the peak of the sprit, which then runs through a block at the top of the mast and attaches to the thwart at the foot of the mast. By pulling down on the brailing line and then making it off, the main sail draws up neatly against the main mast.
  • The foresail is then lowered and made safe.
  • The mizzen sail is then set tight. This would enable Ellen to lie head to wind

Netting or crabbing techniques:

  • Once head to wind, a sinker line is paid out over the bow, the first stage to working a string of pots. The sinker was nicknamed the ‘Menace’ (a corruption of the Cornish word for a stone ‘maen’). The sinker line (or riser) was supported at the surface by a bladder float and the pots linked by lanyards, were spaced along the bottom. At the end of the string, a second ‘menace’, riser and float marked the downwind (or down tide) end of the string.
  • Slowly drifting astern, each of the pots could be passed out over the side. Then keeping tension on the lanyard, the string would be set.
  • Once all the pots were laid, the centre thwart was refitted so that she could potentially be rowed from a central position. When checking the pots, a similar system was used. The centre thwart was removed to provide a working space mid-ships, mainsail would be brailed and foresail lowered. The downwind (or down tide) riser would be brought in over the bow and when the lanyard knot was reached, crew would flick the lanyard off to the side so that the pot could be recovered (and checked) and the next lanyard put in the fairlead, so keeping her head to wind.
  • When not ‘crabbing’, these boats would fish using hand lines, long lines or drift nets.

Restoration

To our knowledge, Ellen has never been totally rebuilt and is still rigged in her original format – she’s the last of her kind still sailing. However, two new replicas have recently been launched in Cornwall, so we’re excited about the future and the possibly of all sailing together.

Join the Trust

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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