Whitstable Oyster Yawls & Tenders - Moorings and their Impact on Boat Construction

Mooring the Yawls

Some oyster yawls were berthed at Faversham creek but, in the early days, few if any were moored in Whitstable harbour. Most fishermen used an offshore mooring.... as John Harman explains....

Back in the days when it was said that there were as many as a hundred smacks / yawls moored in the bay, our harbour was pretty much jammed with large sailing ships and barges which needed a lot of room to manouver. Ships without motors had to be winched around! This was one reason that fishermen of all kinds moored their boats off shore.

Convenience and economics also played a part. A sailing smack would also have had to be rowed out of the harbour by towing it with the tender (a heavy rowing boat). This would have been more effort than slipping an off shore mooring and sailing away!

Another factor was the fishermen's gear and supplies. This was kept at their stores which were on the beach. That is where their tenders would be beached or moored, nets hung out to dry and other maintenance work done. These stores stretched all along the shore line at one time.

John Harman

The Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company boats were usually moored off the Horsebridge area - to the west of the harbour. Here, they were neatly wedged between Whitstable beach and the company's oyster beds a short distance off shore. In this locality, both the beach and foreshore were (and still are) owned by the company. I won't go into detail about this... other than to mention that ownership is a legacy of historical fishing rights. (NB Private ownership is a little unusual in the UK where beaches are usually public land. Of course, in practice, the oyster company beaches remain open to the public but it is a 'seemingly quaint' legacy that has caused quite a few mutterings and disputes in modern times).

Arrangements were a little less compact for the Seasalter & Ham Oyster Company. Whilst their oyster beds lay further west than those of the WOFC, their main store building was actually located to the east - alongside the harbour's east quay at Long Beach.....

I think that the Seasalter & Ham boats were all pretty much moored together to the east, directly off Long Beach.

In later times, this included the company's last two vessels - Speed Well and the Rosa & Ada (pronounced Rose'n Ada). These were moored on two of the company's long standing moorings in deeper water.

John Harman

Below, John Harman explains some of the considerations behind the moorings....

Not all the yawls in the bay floated free in deep water. In earlier days, when Whitstable Bay was full of moored fishing smacks that fished under sail, it could be likened today to a crowded parking lot. The boats were not anchored but were on a permanent mooring. When unattended, this had it's marker buoy which claimed the spot.... but don't try it in a car park lot!

Unlike an anchor, a mooring did not carry the anxiety of it 'dragging'. Also, it did not need to be raised or lowered. It was just picked up and attached, or slipped to let go.

Installing a mooring in deeper water involved two boats. The mooring was like an inverted mushroom that was screwed down into the sea bed. First attached to this was a long length of very heavy chain followed by a longer length of mooring chain.

This type of mooring was locally know as a 'frap'. The heavy chain lay on the bottom and served to lessen the snatching action of the moored boat in rough weather. It also gave a longer length to the mooring line, lowering the angle.

Moored boats need a lot of room to swing with the changing tide and to be clear of each other. We always looked towards the yawls to see which way they were pointing to tell if the tide was coming in or going out, or if it was on the turn.

John Harman

Mooring or Beaching the Tenders..

Mooring the yawl wasn't the only issue. The oyster dredgers also needed to accommodate those heavy wooden tenders.

Tenders were not always hauled up on the beach, but would be anchored close in to shore where they could be waded out to on the ebbing tide. This would give some leeway on the time of departure in the morning depending on where the tender was anchored the previous day.

The oyster companies had many tenders. They could leave most of them anchored and use one to come and go from the beach.

John Harman

Moorings and Boat Construction...

Mooring yawls in the bay didn't just present problems for fishermen. It also caused some head scratching at the boatyards along Island Wall....

Not all the boats in the bay were in deep enough water to float freely all the time and some did "take the ground"

(ie settled on the bottom or left 'dry'). For this reason, the Whitstable yawls were built very heavily with their frames close together to take the heavy pounding when this happened.

Being sailing work boats, they carried a lot of ballast inside - along the keel line and garboards (the first lower planks). This ballast often took the form of concrete poured between the frames and also quantities of pig iron.

During a gale, an incoming tide was brutal on a boat that was not fully afloat. Not only did the ballast want to go through the bottom, but the heavy Douglas Fir mast was a battering ram hammering downwards.

John Harman


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