Mike Smylie begins a new series on vessels in the UK fleet that were launched over half a century ago – and are still going strong

Jann Denise working off Peel in 2021.

A couple of years ago, when I started writing my book about the Noble boatbuilders of Fraserburgh, I asked the members of the Noble boats Facebook group which they considered to be their favourite James Noble-built vessel. The most popular response was Jann Denise – so that seemed like a good place to start this series on 50-year-old vessels.

Launched in Fraserburgh in 1971, Jann Denise FR 80 was Jimmy Noble’s last but one cruiser-sterned vessel. She was commissioned by Scarborough fisherman Gordon Pickering – but tragically, Gordon was then lost at sea in an accident aboard Ocean Gift PZ 16, another Jimmy Noble boat.

Gordon had intended that she be called Mary Ellen after his daughter, but when he was lost, his good friend Bob Walker was offered the vessel. He took her on and named her Jann Denise after his own young daughter.

The vessel on launch day in March 1971…

… and being named, with skipper Bob Walker and his family
looking on.

Alongside at Scarborough in the late 1970s










It is thanks to George Westwood that I first discovered a little bit more about this boat. George told me that she was the sistership to the Noble’s boat Eastern Dawn FR 82, and was launched on 3 March, 1971. It appears that she was meant to have been launched on 1 March, but that Jimmy Noble was opposed to launching a vessel on St David’s Day.

George Westwood told me: “She was kept in immaculate condition during her time at Scarborough, and looked as if she had just left Noble’s yard when she left Scarborough 26 years later. She worked the trawl throughout Bob’s ownership, both side trawl and pair trawl.”

The vessel in Scarborough in 1975, with repairs to her starboard side after the first of two collisions.

The vessel suffered a collision in about 1975, but the damage to the starboard forward quarter was soon repaired in Scarborough. Then a second collision happened at night with a German coaster from Brake, damaging the stem so severely that she had to be repaired in Grimsby.

Bob Walker and Mick Anderson, the owner of another Jimmy Noble vessel, the 1974-built Nicola Suzanne FR 141, were founder members of the West Pier Britannia football team, and the sign hanging over the Britannia pub in Scarborough at that time included paintings of the two boats.

Bob told me that his memories of the Jann Denise were of an ‘absolutely lovely’ boat. “You could go anywhere in her, and I was never frightened at any time with her. Her frames were so close that if they’d put another in between she’d have been solid. That was why she stayed afloat after being hit. Most boats would have gone down.”

Jann Denise was one of only a few among the Scarborough Noble’s boats to have an aft cabin – something Bob insisted on, even though most of the others had forward cabins. For her original purchase, Bob was financed by Johnathan Watson-Hall, who had shares in many of the other local boats.

Jann Denise working from Scarborough.

From Scarborough, Jann Denise went to Mallaig, to brothers Thomas and Billy Simmonds, albeit very briefly – for within a year she was sold again to John McKerral of Campbeltown, around 1998.

In 2004, she was bought by Domhnall MacLachlainn, who has skippered her ever since. His previous vessel was Jacqueline Anne OB 555, the first Parkol Marine build back in 1997, which was designed as a scalloper and prawn trawler – an innovative build that measured just under 10m but was considered to have the capability of a 12m vessel.

The crew on World Cup day 1986, when they were given the day off to watch the match. Left to right: Ray Thorpe, Duncan Smith, Steve Swalwell and John Binnie.

Jann Denise worked the west coast until Domhnall moved over to Peel in the Isle of Man – after which, in April last year, he sold the vessel to Isle of Man Seafood Products Ltd, with him remaining as skipper until he retires in a few years. “I’ve been fishing for over 40 years,” he said when I spoke to him recently, “so only have four or five years left at it.” The vessel is now registered as PL 206.

I asked what he’d done to the vessel. There was a brief intake of breath as he considered. “Both garboards renewed, new keel and stem, capping rail, refixed all the beltings, all at the Mallaig boatyard. A new Caterpillar 260hp engine in 2008.

“The original Gardner? John McKerral took that out in Campbeltown and replaced it with a second-hand unit, but with an electrical meltdown, that ended up throwing a piston through a liner. Insurance paid for a new one.”

Ashore at Grimsby for repairs after the second collision with a German coaster.

Alongside at Mallaig after her sale to Domhnall MacLachlainn in 2004.

On the slip at Mallaig having a new keel fitted, and other work done, in 2017.











Approaching half a century, and at work off Peel.


Since owning the vessel Domhnall has been, amongst other things, prawning in the Minch and working the squid off Buckie. “That was really enjoyable,” he said. But these days it’s the scallops in the season, and when I spoke to him at the start of August, he was working the queenie trawl around the north end of the island and over into the UK’s 12-mile limit.

Comparing the photos of Jann Denise at launch and those of her today, it’s wonderful to see little change. Of course the steelwork of the scallop poles and protection on her sides are a sign of her changing roles, as is the powerblock on the back end, and the loss of the trawl gallows.

Alongside at Peel in 2021, now reregistered PL 206.

But apart from the colour scheme, much remains as it was back in March 1971: the same wheelhouse, the same unadulterated hull, the same spirit of nobleness. As one person told me: “She was a bonny ship. Always seemed to sit better in the water than the other Noble boats of her size.” No wonder so many other people responded by saying she was their favourite Jimmy Noble boat!


Thanks to Darren Purves, George Westwood, Finlay Oman, Domhnall MacLachlainn, Willie Garnett, Kenneth Watkinson, Duncan Smith, Bob Walker and Jann Braviner for permission to use their photographs, and for their input to the story.

Mike Smylie’s latest book, The Noble Boatbuilders of Fraserburgh, is out now.

Published by The History Press, it costs £16.49. A review will appear in Fishing News soon!


This story was taken from the latest issue 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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