Exhibit of the Week: Sidewinder trawler, Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre

Model of a sidewinder trawler on display at Scarborough Maritime Heritage Museum.
Model of a sidewinder trawler on display at Scarborough Maritime Heritage Museum.

This model of the ‘Kingston Amber’, sidewinder trawler, port registration H326, reminds us of the North Sea’s fishing heydays. Until recently, Scarborough was home to a similar vessel, ‘Hatherleigh’. She was originally named ‘Suffolk Punch’, built in Lowestoft and launched in 1961. She had five sister ships. Small and Co. built her and were renowned for the quality of their vessels with riveted hulls designed for bad weather. The ships fished around the UK, though larger sidewinder trawlers went as far as Iceland, Russia and Newfoundland.

The crew could work eighteen hours a day or more if there was a big catch. They would be at sea for three weeks then in dock for three days. The crew would cram in three week’s worth of nightlife and were called three-day millionaires. Their wages were dependent on the fish sold and it was a race between trawlers to get to market. If the cod and haddock sold for a good price the fishermen would get a good wage. However, it was not unheard of for the crew to be in debt to the trawler owners for a poor catch or low price. The skipper and mate were paid a higher percentage so there was an incentive to get promotion. If a ‘deckie’ learner started at fifteen-years-old and worked hard he could be a skipper by age twenty-one.

The crew worked in all weathers and even went on deck to knock ice off the superstructure with hammers or axes as the weight could cause the ship to capsize. The sidewinders pulled their catch in from the side of the ship whilst modern trawlers use the stern as it is easier and the crew are less exposed to waves and wind. In 1974, the Suffolk Punch and her sister ships were put up for sale. The Cod Wars and European Union quotas took their toll and large trawlers were badly hit with rules and regulations limiting their catches and so they started to be decommissioned.

The Hatherleigh began work as a Service Support Vessel in 1983, working with oilrigs, crew transfers, transporting supplies etc. However, vessels built specifically for the job were later commissioned and were superior. In 1993 she was sold to Pindar PLC, a Scarborough based printing company. After thirty-two years of sailing from Lowestoft, Hatherleigh came to Scarborough. Her fish hold was converted into a bar and dance floor. Pindar sold her in 2009 to a member of the Scarborough Sub-Aqua Club and she was used as a diving expedition vessel. In November 2013, she was sold again and is now working in the Mediterranean.

There are five surviving sidewinder trawlers used as museum pieces. ‘Ross Revenge’ is famous for being the base of Radio Caroline; ‘Arctic Corsair’ rammed an Icelandic gunboat during the Cod Wars; ‘Ross Tiger’ is run by the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum; ‘Mincarlo’ is in Lowestoft; ‘S.S. Explorer’ is the only known steam sidewinder trawler left and is in Leith. ‘Kingston Amber’ was scrapped in 1980.

We give credit to the crews of these vessels who braved hurricane force winds, temperatures well below freezing and waves the size of houses to bring us fish on our plates.

l The Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre is run entirely by volunteers and public donations. We are open 11am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday and entrance is free at 45 Eastborough, Scarborough.