LOA 24’ 3”, beam 8’, draft 4’ 3”, tons 4.3
Soft Wing is a 24ft Truro River Oyster Dredger, registration number TO 4. She was designed in 1899 and completed in 1900 by Frank Hitchens and his son Tom, at Yard Point on Penpol Creek in Falmouth Harbour. She was the last boat built by Hitchens for Edward Green who used her to dredge the oyster beds at the northern end of the harbour in the part controlled by Truro. In 1930 she was sold to Pyman Ellis of Pill. The last fisherman to use her as a working boat was Robin Vinnicombe between 1956 and 1958 when she was fitted with a mizzen mast and a portable cabin and was used to dredge for oysters and for shark fishing. In 1973 she was sold to the Maritime Trust.
She is the smallest of Hitchens’ boats, very full in the bilge with a rounded forefoot and is considered by many to have the ultimate hull form for her trade. She is the only Falmouth “working boat” to have retained her original rig, as those remaining have had their rigs increased for racing in the summer when the fishery is closed. She is an open boat with a foredeck to the mast, narrow side decks outboard of the coaming and a narrow deck across the transom. She is a gaff cutter with a bowsprit and was designed to be worked by one man. Two dredges were towed over the sides, rather than the stern. She was sailed at the right speed for working, using a combination of wind on partially set sails and the tide. The helm was held by a lash. She worked for sixty years of her life.
The oyster beds in Carrick Roads have, for years, been worked under licence by sail and oars alone. The oysters have survived because a bye-law orders that oyster dredging in the Carrick Roads may not take place under power and, even then, only during specified hours on weekdays and Saturdays between November and March. This bye-law has effectively protected both the oysters and the working craft that have fished them.
The Cornish Maritime Trust acquired Softwing from The Maritime Trust in 1994 for the nominal sum of £1. She was not in good condition having been laid up since 1987 and although under a covered berth ashore she continued to deteriorate over the ensuing years. In 2002 a successful application for Heritage Lottery Funding, together with funds raised from Cornwall County Council, the Cornwall Heritage Trust and other funds raised by the Cornish Maritime Trust, meant she would be restored and equipped to full sailing condition. The restoration was completed in 2003 and she now sails with members of the Trust weekly from her mooring in Falmouth between April and October.