Life in a Manx Nobby in C1900


Life in a Nobby - By Mike Craine


What was life really like for the fishermen who earned their living on vessels similar to the Manx Nobby seen at the Sea Festival?

The Peel festival is lucky to have on view some fine examples of the Manx Nobby.

The Manx built Nobbies not only for their own fleet but also for the Irish. A fleet of 33 lobbies was built for Ireland. It cost £188 to build a full rigged Nobby in Peel, compared with £208.00 in Ireland. At the time, a significant saving.

At the beginning of this century, as well as building new boats for Ireland, a number of the existing fleet were sold to Ireland. One of these Nobbies was the Manx Girl PL5. She was built 1913 as the White Heather P L5 (a replacement for the earlier White Heather now owned by Mike Clark and which can be seen in Peel during the Festival). In 1914 she was fitted with a Kelvin 15 / 20 horsepower engine and her owner George Gaskell changed her name to Manx Girl. In 1923 Mr Gaskell died and the boat was sold to John Garvey of Dingle in 1924 and subsequently re-registered in Tralee as T1.

The fishing port of the Dingle, on the south-west tip of Ireland, had a sizeable fleet of Manx Nobbies, both new and second-hand. This fleet included the St John Anthony T164, built in 1911 by a Neakle and Watterson. She was owned by Louis Graham who purchased the boat in 1940. She was 45 ft by 13 ft by 6 ft 6 inches and cost £150, this included everything: sales, nets, ballast, a fitted out a little cabin with a Jack tar stove, and even mugs and plates.

In the confined cabin there was no table, they used a sheet of newspaper on the floor instead. They brought fresh and salt meat for the week. The fresh meat was eaten first at this will meet later in the week. The salt meat taken or pigs head, was placed in a strong piece of trawl netting and towed behind the boat for hour or so. When I was hauled aboard all the salt had gone. The crew did not like the job of securing the salt meat in the netting because, if for some reason it was lost, it was their fault and the threat of being thrown overboard terrified them. The meat was eaten with potatoes boiled in sea water.

The Irish owned nobbies and fished for mackerel and Mr Graham recalls their fishing activities.

The spring mackerel were fished from Brandon Head to Skellig Rock. The next were shot about eight to ten miles off the coast, the boat had no radio contact of course so when a boat was about to shoot her nets, the mizzen sail was lowered to indicate her intentions. The other boats would keep clear. When the nets were all out the mizzen was reset.

The boats fished him with 35-40,34 fathom long drift nets. They usually started shooting about an hour before sundown. A couple of hours after darkness they hauled in a few fathom of net to see how the fishing was and, before re-shooting the cork line was marked. An hour later the net was hauled again see if more mackerel have been meshed. If so they would start hauling, if not they would return the net to the sea.

The boats did not carry a winch, instead they had what was called the ‘Iron Man’. The sole rope, which went along the bottom of the net, was placed around the big wheel and then around the smaller one. One of the crew turned the big wheel that brought the sole rope in and the rope was coiled as it came off the smaller wheel. In bad weather two men were needed to wind in the big wheel, this was a back-breaking job.

The boat carried a crew of five. One or two worked the Iron Man, two to three where in the fish hold hauling the net and the 5th man hauled in the cork line on the side deck. The only light they had was from an oil lamp.

Catches were discharged by rowing boat, which took boxes out to the boats anchored in Valencia Bay. Each box held a third of ‘buyers hundred’ or 14 ‘casts’ (a cast was three fish). The buyers hundred was 42 casts (126 fish). Often the buyers only paid two shillings (10 pence) to three shillings(15 pence) for a ‘hundred’ mackerel.


Originally written for the Peel Traditional Boat Weekend by Mike Craine