Mike Smylie traces the long fishing career of a well-known Manx scalloper…

In 1940, during the upheaval of the Second World War, the firm of John Watt & Sons was founded. It proceeded to build lifeboats and motor boats in Gardenstown, and by the end of the war was building larger fishing boats, such as the Seafield in 1946.

Coral Strand II as BF 24, soon after her launch. (Photo: Willie Milne)

A decade later, John Watt & Sons took over Stephen’s of Banff and focused on building fishing vessels in the 55ft to 65ft range, turning out some eight vessels each year. Restricted to this size by the depth of Banff harbour, the firm then, in 1966, bought the premises – both yard and engineering – of the Macduff Engineering Company, which allowed it to build bigger vessels up to 80ft.

The firm’s name was then changed to the Macduff Boatbuilding & Engineering Company – the forerunner of today’s Macduff Shipyards.

In 1969, the yard launched the 54ft Coral Strand II for brothers Alexander (Zander) and William (Willie) Milne of Whitehills for the seine-net fishery. She had a 150hp Gardner in her, and was first registered as BF 24.

According to Phil Brown, who worked on her between 1975 and 1979, the Milne brothers would fish from Kinlochbervie from autumn through to about February, first on the whitefish and then the dogfish, before sailing around into the Moray Firth and landing into Whitehills, Macduff and Fraserburgh during the summer.

An aerial view of the vessel in her early days.

They were working three rope reels, which seems to have allowed them to work four crew instead of five, which was quite unusual for a vessel of her size.

This was around the time of the building of the new harbour at Kinlochbervie, when the boats were still mooring up in Loch Clash, which was renowned as being uncomfortable in certain conditions, being open to the west.

The vessel was always immaculate, painted black with a white flash along the top rail forward. Tragically, Zander Milne had a heart attack and died whilst at sea in 1982, and Willie put the vessel up for sale, with him later becoming a fishermen’s training provider.

Coming into Loch Clash in the 1970s. (Photo: Phil Brown)

John Mackinlay of Carradale bought Coral Strand II in 1983 and registered her as CN 267. Within weeks of the purchase, he’d had her converted for clam dredging at the Campbeltown Shipyard. He also neighboured with Shemanon CN 244 at the midwater trawl for herring and, later on, had a ring-net aboard for six weeks, tagging herring in the Clyde.

One comment I heard locally was that Zander Milne would be turning in his grave if he knew there were dredges on his boat! But John Mackinlay countered this by telling me he thought Zander need not worry, as they’d made an excellent job of protecting her hull.

John Mackinlay kept the Gardner in until about 1988, when he re-engined her with a Cummins 300hp, allowing him to haul seven dredges each side.

Kinlochbervie vessels berthed in Loch Clash in the 1970s – Coral Strand II is on the outside.

He told me: “She was a good boat in every way, and even better with the new Cummins engine and new winch. When surveyor Bruce Smith looked at the boat when I was going to buy her, he wrote in his report: ‘I am sure there must be something wrong somewhere with the boat, though I can’t find anything!’ It just shows you how well the Milne family kept the vessel. She was first-class.

“It was Charles McMillan Marine of Campbeltown that fitted the winch, and they did the job in six weeks. The yard also bored out the sternpost for the heavier shaft for the Cummins, and they made great job of the whole thing. Seems it was the first Cummins they’d fitted, being Volvo Penta agents!

Coral Strand II at Campbeltown Shipyard in the 1980s. (Photo: John Mackinlay)

“Campbeltown Shipyard then fitted the second winch, which I bought from David Chambers in Annalong from a boat he decommissioned. I cannot remember the name, but I also bought the tripod from him as well. Everything was in good condition. The winch had just come back from Spencer Carter after getting overhauled, and the vessel looked good with the tripod, as you will see in some of the photos.

“Probably one of the best times we had was when we were neighbouring the Shemaron at the ring-net for six weeks, tagging the herring for the department with a crew of six men aboard each boat – the last pair of ringers to catch herring in the Clyde.”

Alongside at Crinan – now converted for scalloping – in March 1993. (Photo: John Addison)

Sandy Galbraith was skippering the Shemaron, and they were using the ring-net as they had to catch live herring for the tagging project, which was researching the movement of herring in the Firth of Clyde for the government marine laboratory in Aberdeen. Trawling would have resulted in most of the catch being dead – the vital part was to keep the scales intact. Poor weather hampered their work, though they did manage to reach the Ballantrae Banks, where the herring spawn.

John’s parting comment was: “I bet the Milne family never thought the Coral Strand would ever be ring-netting for herring.”

In 1999, John decided to sell the boat. “I always had a good crew, and by then they were wanting to go ashore and work. So I made up my mind to pack it in as well. I had spent a good lot of money on the boat, though I did get it all back when I sold her.”

In Peel inner harbour in November 2002. (Photo: Darren Purves)

Coral Strand II was bought by Tony Jones of Holyhead, where she continued as a scalloper. John reckons Tony did OK with her, though he sold her after only three years. Tragically Tony drowned a few years later when his next vessel overturned off the south coast.

That sale was to Billy Caley from Peel, and the Coral Strand II was then registered PL 80. Her wheelhouse was refitted by Peel shipwright Bob Astick, and the vessel was painted green.

Skippered by John ‘John Boy’ Caley, Billy’s brother, she fished for scallops around the Isle of Man, and up the west coast of Scotland and around Jura, landing into Crinan. She also went up as far as Wick. In 2005, she was fitted with stainless steel scallop sheeting at the Ramsey Shipyard. She had been painted black by this time.

Turning to shoot a queenie net off Peel in 2011. (Photo: Darren Purves)

John Caley stayed with her until 2009 when he moved over to the Valonia PL 63. The Coral Strand II had a new set of scallop poles fitted in 2010, when John’s son Wayne Caley took her over, scalloping around the Manx coast as well as trawling for queenies. He also worked up the west coast of Scotland.

In 2013, the vessel had a new Cummins engine fitted at the Ramsey Steamship Company and, two years later, a new North Sea GF80 winch. Wayne Caley went over to the Lynn Marie PL 178 in mid-2017, and Craig Woodbridge took over the Coral Strand II, which was then repainted dark blue.

Wayne Caley and crew in 2011. (Photo: Darren Purves)

She remains in the Manx fleet under Craig’s skippership, and I’m reliably told she’s a well-fished vessel and a great sea boat.

As I completed this article, I was told that she’s fished throughout this year’s king scallop season, and that the fishing has been ‘as good as the quota will allow’. For sure, the days of big stacks of bags of clams are long gone!

Thanks to Darren Purves and John Mackinlay for help and photos, and to John Addison, Willie Milne, Phil Brown and David Jones for additional photos.

This story was taken from the archives of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.

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