Ranging from 10m to 15m in length, a fleet of relatively low-powered pocket trawlers/scallopers continues to grow among the South West fishing industry.

Described as ‘capable boats’ by their designer Ian Paton of SC McAllister & Co Ltd, many are twin-riggers, some are scallopers, and others are built as multi-purpose boats, yet all are ‘good towing boats’, explained Ian Paton.

His aim of producing good towing boats began on the lines he drew for Emily J E 123, built at Noble’s of Girvan in 2004.

It became a popular craft, and later triggered an order for Betty G II E 316, built by C Toms & Son at Polruan in Cornwall in 2010. Launched the following year, New Seeker E 12 heralded a 14m version from Newbury Engineering in Newhaven in 2012, first christened Lady L and now called J-Sea E 333.

However, the next boat to follow was Spirited Lady III SU 516. Launched five years ago from Newbury Engineering, it began a trend that brought orders (so far) for 10 further craft; two were launched recently from the yard of C Toms & Son – Saxon Spirit LT 1052 and Joyful Spirit PH 29, built for Roger Klyne of Lowestoft.

Landing to the Westcountry fishmarkets of Brixham, Plymouth, Looe and Newlyn, an impressive amount of prime fish and cuttlefish comes from the ‘capable boat’ fleet.

Such craft undertake a nomadic lifestyle, described by Spirited Lady III’s skipper Brackan Pearce as being one ‘of no fixed abode’. “We cannot be held to just one region, the boats are not designed for that,” he said.

Kindred Spirit, a vessel also built with a propeller tunnel.

Kindred Spirit, a vessel also built with a propeller tunnel.

Constantly on the move between the grounds around Brixham, Plymouth, Newlyn and North Devon, the present fleet of ‘capable boats’ provides added work for the region’s shore firms.

Initially built to work within the constraints of the Cornish tidal harbour at Polperro, Spirited Lady III became a special build where the propeller works in a tunnel, instead of the propulsion on a traditional deeper-drafted hull. The ‘tunnel propulsion’ has become popular, enabling a ‘capable boat’ to work from a larger number of ports.

Although Spirited Lady III didn’t end up at Polperro – and presently works from Newlyn – its design is admired by so many and draws attention wherever it goes.

Initially built for Terry Lankford of Lankford & Sons (Fishing) Ltd, Spirited Lady III later changed ownership to Roger Klyne from Lowestoft. However, a firm of three investors, including skipper Brackan Pearce, recently purchased Spirited Lady III, which is the first vessel owned by Spirited Trawlers Ltd.

After Spirited Lady III came boats like Kindred Spirit, the first to have fins fitted to the rudder for better manoeuvrability in confined spaces.

After Spirited Lady III came boats like Kindred Spirit, the first to have fins fitted to the rudder for better manoeuvrability in confined spaces.

Scott Wharton from North Devon, the owner of several other fishing boats, and Jamie Newton, the boss at Marine Engineering (Looe) Ltd, complete the team of directors at Spirited Trawlers Ltd.

Fishing News reports on how Spirited Lady III became a template from which others followed.

Efficient, but not that efficient

Twin-rigging is now the main choice of boats built in the style of Spirited Lady III. And while there are opponents of the use of twin-rigging – saying that the method is so efficient that areas can be ‘cleaned out’ in a matter of hours – twin-rig skippers such as Brackan question that claim.

He said that if the claim ‘held water’, then in the regions that get heavily fished – like Lyme Bay and off Brixham during the cuttlefish season – the fishery would not last the five months it does, but would end in a few days.

He said, “That is just not the case, because each year so far, there has been profitable fishing throughout. I know that some may criticise twin-rigging, but if you look at the amount of pressure in terms of ground covered, yes, in some areas that is high, and according to the opponents there shouldn’t be anything left. But there is still a good fishery, so if twin-rigging was as efficient as some claim it is, there wouldn’t be anything left.”

Not all are identical

Marine architect Ian Paton considers where the current trend in these inshore towing-boats is heading

Following the Saxon Spirit and the Joyful Spirit, the Judi G will be the next Ian Paton-designed boat to be launched at C Toms & Son.

Following the Saxon Spirit and the Joyful Spirit, the Judi G will be the next Ian Paton-designed boat to be launched at C Toms & Son.

“Some may say that boats within the range look almost identical. In some ways they might, but there are differences between all, and they are spread over quite a range of overall lengths.

“One under completion, Saxon Spirit, is just under 10m LOA, but all others are between 12m and 15m in length. Saxon Spirit, in truth, represents a shortened 12m version; however, it may not be the only one of its type to be built.

Fins to prevent pitching when hauling are now standard-fit on the Ian Paton ‘capability boats’.

Fins to prevent pitching when hauling are now standard-fit on the Ian Paton ‘capability boats’.

“The most similar issue between all of the boats is their capability. They are designed to tow efficiently, and we know that they tow very well, and if we look at Spirited Lady III the bollard pull isn’t far under 7t, even though, under working conditions, it doesn’t need to use that degree of pull. All such boats that I have designed are boats able to tow a considerable amount of gear in respect of their size and power.

“When Terry Lankford came to me and asked for a 13m boat to be built, the boat was planned to work from the tidal harbour of Polperro. In the end, some way off completion, the intended skipper changed his mind, and Brackan (Pearce) was chosen to run the boat. I believe that the boat never went to Polperro.

“However, to operate from a tidal harbour was the criteria I was given, and to maximise a 13m trawler, and design one that could take the ground easily. Both its length and draft were restricted, and as for draft, the propeller had to work in a tunnel, and it worked very efficiently. The boat not only pulls well, but its steaming speed is also excellent, over eight knots. The hull is particularly efficient, and as far as fuel consumption is concerned, is economical and impressive.

“Terry (Lankford) regularly spent time in France, and he brought back ideas that he saw on the French boats of that size. He was influenced by that, and wanted three raised net drums aft. And with his previous bigger boat – the 15m Charity and Liberty – some of those ideas were scaled down for use on that boat.

“One of my ideas was to have a fully formed bulbous bow, not one developed as an afterthought. It had to be a double curvature bulbous bow that required specialist plate forming. It was so successful that he wanted the same full-profile bulbous bow on the Spirited Lady III.

Our David George has another string to its bow with a beam trawl entitlement, and has used that facility this year when returns from twin-rigging drop.

Our David George has another string to its bow with a beam trawl entitlement, and has used that facility this year when returns from twin-rigging drop.

“Following the Spirited Lady III, at the request of some skippers – to reduce pitching – they chose to have fins attached to the bulbous bow. Nowadays, all of that style of boat have fins fitted, because these boats are ‘small and fat’ and there’s no getting away from it – so to reduce pitching, particularly while hauling, it is a great advantage.

“On earlier designs like the gill-netter Berlewen (now rigged for potting), fins were necessary because most of its working life is spent hauling.

“At the time of Spirited Lady III, I had moved away from the idea of using fins, but on future boats and at the skippers’ request, I came back to including fins, which are now standard.

“Also, Spirited Lady III doesn’t have fins on its rudder (to improve steerage in restricted spaces), yet those fins can easily be fitted if required, but according to Brackan, it doesn’t seem necessary.

“Looking back over the boats built from the lines of Spirited Lady III – right through to Our David George, Saxon Spirit, Joyful Spirit, and the ones still in-build – the water flow over the hull is clean and efficient, which is the common factor of all boats of that style.

“From the intended constraints in draft and overall length of Spirited Lady III, one of the biggest steps was to have its propeller in a tunnel effect, in which we found that the propeller worked very well. It can tow as well as a deeper-drafted boat with no tunnel can, so having a tunnel shouldn’t be thought of as a last option – it can be an advantage and not a disadvantage.

“In the end, the design parameters of this class of vessel are taken from experience gained in designing much bigger boats. Understandably, skippers of the smaller boats want to get the ‘bigger boat’ advantages in their boats. And throughout the development, the skippers have called for bigger winches, more beam and so on, so we seem to be leap-frogging on each design. Skippers want to add on more, but there has to be a cut-off point, and we are now very close to that.

“Rules laid by the authorities upon the fishing industry are forever making boats smaller, but skippers want the most they can get from a given size of craft, and that’s not new – it has been the case ever since I began designing fishing boats.”

Twin-rigging most of the time

For over 90% of each year, Spirited Lady III stays with twin-rig fishing. However, at times when the fishing is poor, the team might change to a single net.

Skipper Brackan Pearce explained: “From mid-July to the end of August, we might put on a single net. This year, the catches so far have been OK, so we have stayed with twin-rigging, and we use just simple 12-fathom nets – relatively small gear for the power. At present we’re using gear that came from Clive Palfrey (MarineCo), but we have a new rig coming for the end of this year from Darren Edwards (Edd) at Brixham Trawl Makers. Both firms are very good, but it’s nice to change suppliers to compare.

 The Spirited Lady III is a 13m compact twin-rigger, with a deck layout based on common sense, allowing a team of just two men to carry out daily duties.

The Spirited Lady III is a 13m compact twin-rigger, with a deck layout based on common sense, allowing a team of just two men to carry out daily duties.

“We use Polar doors from the Hercules range. I think we were one of the first twin-riggers in the South West to work Polar Hercules doors. A couple of single-net boats used them before, like Peter Green at St Mawes, and the results were good, so we tried a set.

“The Hercules doors are getting more popular now, and I can only speak as I find, but on the Spirited Lady III we always ask as much from a door as it can give; we push it to the limits, and the Hercules are very good. At first we started with Polar Neptune doors, and 12 months ago we upgraded to the 2.5m Hercules, a squarer version. Weights of the 2.5m vary between 400kg and 600kg. On the Spirited Lady III we use 400kg doors.

“We are working a lot of wire in relatively shallow water, so the lower end of the 2.5s provides enough weight, yet is light enough to give us the performance we require. Our clump weighs just under 700kg, and in my opinion that’s heavy enough.

Spirited Lady III was one of the first South West twin-riggers to switch to Polar Hercules doors – here is the present set of Hercules 1.2r doors of 2.5m.

Spirited Lady III was one of the first South West twin-riggers to switch to Polar Hercules doors – here is the present set of Hercules 1.2r doors of 2.5m.

“Considering the water depth /wire length ratio – throughout, we use 175 fathoms of wire – whether in the shallower water in Devon and/or Dorset, or fishing in the deeper ground some distance off Newlyn, a wire length of 175 fathoms seems suitable for both. We work anywhere from six miles off Chesil Beach in Dorset, to 25 miles SW off the Isles of Scilly. The depths of operation vary from 18 fathoms to over 45 fathoms.

“Also, we shoot the same rig wherever we go, and we are pleased with the catch rate; we have tried different variations, but decided to stay with the same rig. We have thought long and hard about using Dyneema warps, and perhaps one day we will change to Dyneema, but at the minute we are doing OK with the wires and will stick with that (13mm diameter on the outside wires, 14mm diameter on the clump wire).

“We do use a different lay of wire on one side. At first, we were getting a lot of stretch and twists on the port wire. After advice on swapping that wire for a left-hand lay, it did solve the problem. The clump wire and starboard wire remain right-hand lay. It really works.

“Before – using right-hand lay wires for all three – we used to get bad twisting and anything from one and a half fathoms to even two fathoms of stretch (on the port wire). Since deciding to use a different lay on the portside wire, we’ve used five or more sets of Ymuiden wires, and have had the same result each time. If we get any stretch at all in the port wire, it’s no more than a foot.

Ian Paton told how the Spirited Lady III’s first owner, Terry Lankford, spent a lot of time in France with his shellfish business, and there studied the pros and cons seen aboard French boats of that size.

Ian Paton told how the Spirited Lady III’s first owner, Terry Lankford, spent a lot of time in France with his shellfish business, and there studied the pros and cons seen aboard French boats of that size.

“We use four-strand Randers bridle, and in my opinion Randers cannot be beaten. You really would struggle to equal its performance; it’s very hard-wearing.

“Normally we would expect a spread of 600ft (100 fathoms). Design of the trawl is nothing special, and is of relatively low lift; we just use standard wing trawls (each with 12 fathoms of ground rope). I’m not sure of the exact bollard pull on the Spirited Lady III – near 7t, I think, but it’s far in excess of what we need.

“I can’t think of any serious changes that I would like to see on the Spirited Lady III. The boat is all in proportion, it has the right amount of power, and the right depth and breadth for its size, and is the right boat for low-cost two-handed twin-rig trawling around the South West.”

To provide time ashore, a team of three – skipper Brackan Pearce, mate ‘Scotty’ (Alan Wheeler-James) and crewman Kestutis Chmieliauskas rotate on trips.

While part-owner of the boat Jamie Newton is the local agent for Volvo Penta engines, it could be some years before Spirited Lady III has an engine change to Volvo Penta; its present DI13 Scandia is ‘doing very well’. Its fuel consumption averages around 35 litres per hour, and on steaming the boat can average over eight knots.

Brackan added, “The engine is relatively new and it’s impressive, a real clean-running engine. To have a bigger auxiliary generator may be a good move. At present, the generator/auxiliary set is a 90hp Beta, and although it is in perfect order, in time it will be exchanged for a bigger set from Volvo Penta. Other than that, I wouldn’t change anything major on Spirited Lady III. In electronics, we have a full Furuno package, and equally, it would be very difficult to beat that.”

Asked for his thoughts on Brexit, Brackan Pearce said, “Talking about the politics of fishing is a bit uncomfortable, but yes, I’m very concerned about where we as an industry might end up after Brexit.

“I would say ‘positively cautious’ is my present feeling about what our industry might become after Brexit. For us in the trawling sector, making the zero to 12-mile limit for British boats only is vital. At present we can’t – and shouldn’t have to – compete with the French trawlers that work within the 12-mile limit. Those boats have treble the power that our boats have, and are boats that fish alongside us; they don’t give the ground a rest.

“Perhaps boats like ours – 10m to 15m Ian Paton ‘capable boat’ designs – have become a separate sector of the UK fishing industry. At present, we on the Spirited Lady III spend most of the year working from Newlyn. But a couple of years ago we spent a lot of time in Plymouth; this type of fishing is nomadic. However, wherever we fish, our fish is always auctioned by Plymouth Trawler Agents.”

And according to Brackan, the Spirited Lady III was the first of its type to have a stainless steel transom.

He explained, “Having stainless steel at the transom (above the deck-line) and stainless steel gunwale cappings all around, was a wise choice made by Terry Lankford. After the Spirited Lady III was launched, most similar boats have had the same arrangement fitted.”

Ian Paton’s ‘capability fleet’

■ Emily J E 123 (Noble’s of Girvan, 2004)

■ Betty G II E 316 (C Toms & Son, 2010)

■ Marina Emiel BM 19 (James Tongue, 2010)

■ New Seeker E 12 (C Toms & Son, 2011)

■ J-Sea E 333 (Newbury Engineering, 2012)

■ Spirited Lady III SU 516 (Newbury Engineering, 2013)

■ Le Men Du FY 408 (C Toms & Son, 2014)

■ Our Dylan Ben BD 207 (C Toms & Son, 2015)

■ Kindred Spirit LT 1048 (C Toms & Son, 2017)

■ Diligent Jo LT 1045 (Arklow Marine Services, 2017)

■ Our David George BD 287 (C Toms & Son, 2018)

■ Saxon Spirit LT 1052 (C Toms & Son, 2018)

■ Joyful Spirit PH 29 (C Toms & Son, 2018)

■ Judi G E 535 (C Toms & Son, in build)

■ 15m scalloper for Roger Klyne (C Toms & Son, in build)

■ 15m scalloper for Konrad and Kamil Kosieradzki (C Toms & Son, in build)

‘Nine out of 10’

So far, the Cornish yard of C Toms & Son has built nine out of the 10 ‘capable boats’ built after Spirited Lady III.

At present, the yard is eager to promote that type of boat, and has space to build more, said its boss, Paul Toms. Two boats have recently passed sea trials, and are ready for handover. A further three similar boats are in the advanced stages of build.

Our Dylan Ben under sea trials – one of the nine ‘capability’ boats built at C Toms & Son after Spirited Lady III.

Our Dylan Ben under sea trials – one of the nine ‘capability’ boats built at C Toms & Son after Spirited Lady III.

Paul Toms explained: “Built for Roger Klyne, the smallest so far is the under-10m Saxon Spirit. We launched the boat a few weeks ago, and on the hoist it weighed 55t, but after taking fuel and water it wasn’t far off weighing 70t. It really is a very big small boat, and I’m sure that it will attract plenty of interest.

“To get into this sort of ‘big’ design, but stay under the 10m rule, all depends on finding the right fishing licence(s). It is virtually impossible to find a suitable single licence, so amalgamating licences means the total horsepower is capped. But that is what Roger Klyne wanted, a 10m boat, so Ian Paton had to produce an efficient, relatively low-powered towing boat capable of safely twin-rigging – which he has done.

Next to be launched at C Toms & Son is the Ian Paton-designed Judi G for Harry Green.

Next to be launched at C Toms & Son is the Ian Paton-designed Judi G for Harry Green.

“Saxon Spirit and Joyful Spirit are ready, and Harry Green’s 12m boat isn’t far behind. It is due to be launched quite soon. On schedule are the two 15m scallopers now under build – one for Konrad and Kamil Kosieradzki and one for Roger Klyne – and both are progressing well.

“Nowadays on this style of boat, having bow-fins fitted is standard practice; also, having wings on the top and bottom of the rudder, unless otherwise requested, is also standard.

“Also, on Saxon Spirit the bilge keel has a T-bar structure to cut down the rolling. The Saxon Spirit is a very big boat that is pushed into 10m in length. It will be very interesting to see how it performs when working. Prior to the trials, we watched it perform in plenty of wind, and it looked very able to ride a sea without too much pitching or rolling.

A 15m scalloper on schedule for Roger Klyne.

A 15m scalloper on schedule for Roger Klyne.

“Ian Paton’s designs are definitely a new sector of boats, and we have been lucky enough to build most of them. I’m sure we will see some slight changes in the ones ahead, but I don’t think Ian has much scope left to make anything ‘bigger’ within a given overall length. If I rang him now and said that I wanted another under-10m twin-rigger, I’m sure that, from the Saxon Spirit, Ian would tweak the design a little, because every skipper has his own preferences, but fundamentally there is not a lot he can, or should, do to the hull shape and dimensions of the 10m Saxon Spirit. All of the boats that have come from Ian Paton are of a proven design.

“I know that our yard, C Toms & Son, looks busy, but once those 15m scallopers are finished, so far we don’t have any firm orders to follow, so we are actively seeking orders. So if any potential customers are out there, who want to discuss having a boat built, we can be as competitive as anywhere else, and because of the experience we have in building Ian Paton’s design of vessels, our build-time will be less than at other yards.”

Twelve-month calendar

Rather than focusing on species like cuttlefish, the returns from Spirited Lady III are based upon a 12-month calendar by fishing for mixed species, mostly non-sector flatfish.

Skipper Brackan Pearce explained, “That’s not to say that we don’t take part in the cuttlefish fishery – it is a very welcome boost to the yearly returns if it becomes available – but I would worry about basing the biggest percentage of our grossing on a single species in a five-month period, like with the cuttlefish.”

Spirited Lady III returning recently to Newlyn, with 67 boxes of fish (50 boxes prime) after a three-day trip.

Spirited Lady III returning recently to Newlyn, with 67 boxes of fish (50 boxes prime) after a three-day trip.

At just 25 years of age, Brackan Pearce is one of the youngest skippers in the ‘capable boat’ fleet.

He started full-time fishing at the age of 15. Brackan said that with his father being a successful fisherman – retired skipper Tony Pearce – Brackan’s wish to become a trawlerman was a far greater call than spending time at school.

He explained, “I didn’t really like school, so I used to go to sea a lot with Dad – school was important, but going with Dad was also important. I had seen what trawling was like, and I just wanted to be a trawlerman.

“But even though he’s my Dad, from day one I didn’t get an easy life at sea, and he used to say, ‘Just be up and ready at 4am, and don’t think you can sit down all day – if you want to fish, you will work.’ I remember a lot of Dad’s boats back to the Tudor Owen, but all I remember of the Tudor Owen is when it was decommissioned and we had the wood for the fire – sad, really.

Skipper Brackan Pearce.

Skipper Brackan Pearce.

“In the final year at school, the teachers found that the best route for me was to stay at sea; they called my work experience an ‘extended year’. It wasn’t long after that that I began to work as a crewman on the Mevagissey trawler Defiant.

“After a few years on Defiant, I heard that Spirited Lady III was being built, and that the intended skipper had changed his mind. I spoke to the owner, Terry Lankford, and he agreed to take me on. He gave me the opportunity to have some input into the deck layout, and other features of the boat too. Now, being a part-owner of Spirited Lady III is something I had wished for ever since it was launched. It is just a perfect boat for what we do.

“In my opinion the boat is faultless. Inshore twin-rig trawling with just two hands, from a team of three rotating on trips, keeps the crew cost down. The hull design gives us a very economic boat, one so easy to work on deck. And having a forward wheelhouse with the winch directly outside, and three raised net drums aft, with all of the hydraulic controls in the right places, the Spirited Lady III doesn’t need any improvements. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t like small changes on comfort and other things, but they are not major. I suppose a bow-thruster would be a nice gadget to have!”

Fishing News heard how early next year the Spirited Lady III may undergo a refit, where it will be brought back to ‘as new’. A new generator will be installed to give extra power to drive an ice machine, a further item on Brackan’s ‘wish list’.

He explained, “It won’t be a huge refit, and there is nothing to do as far as the deck machinery or main engine is concerned, but all the accommodation and a lot of the galley will be improved or renewed, flooring will be modified in places, new lighting will be installed using LEDs wherever possible, and a few things in the engineroom might also be improved. It is a massive engineroom, and that’s a really important point about this boat; engine maintenance is never a problem.

“Terry Lankford had the Spirited Lady III built to a budget, but no money was spared on its hull, winches and propulsion – they are all to the highest standard. Terry Lankford spent his money on the most important aspects of the Spirited Lady III.

“All of the boats built similarly to the Spirited Lady III have proven to be excellent, and one of the last, Our David George, is built way above what any skipper or crewman could ever have imagined to have as a workplace. But Our David George is a different class of boat – it has bigger winches, it has a beam trawl entitlement, and all sorts of things make it at the top of the fleet.

“For the foreseeable future, Spirited Lady III will remain as it is. We don’t need new winches; the Spencer Carter winch and net drums are as good as new, and in my opinion no one can beat Spencer Carter products.

“Our turnaround time on hauling/clearing/shooting is very quick. Like all boats of this style, we work quite a lot of gear – long bridles and long wires – but we can turn the gear around in 35 minutes. If we had an aft-wheelhouse boat, one where taking the bag in over the side was normal, turnaround would take 45 minutes at the least, possibly one hour. Although the saving on our style of boat isn’t huge, add it up over 48 hours and it’s the best part of an extra tow.”

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