Fleetwood Smack, FD 27 By Roger Jones


You can get a clue as to the origin or present home port of a fishing boat by decoding its official registration number, usually painted somewhere visible on stern or bow. Taken from first and last letter, PE declares Penzance, FY Fowey and so on.

What it doesn’t tell you is that it has another real name, not just a number, given to it by its maker, as was their way. The fishing smack FD 27 clearly comes from Fleetwood. But that is not its whole story.
There has always been a fondness of sailors to think and speak of their boat as a she, a ‘her’. And similar sentiments extended to the people who made them. So while ‘FD 27’ was good enough for rapid identification at sea, it does not reveal its longer, original name, given to it by the family man who made this boat way back in 1867, in Hull. It was not unusual for trawler builders to memorialise their boats with family names. So in 1867 FD 27 was born as ‘Betsy and Sarah’. Perhaps new arrivals in the family?

It remained in Hull working in the North Sea, and can then be traced to Belfast; a long journey whichever way you go. Only later did it end up in Fleetwood, to be given its present registration number of 27. One can only wonder how many captains and crew ‘Betsy and Sarah’ bore safely over calm or rough seas- the miles travelled, the fish caught, the storms surmounted, the home comings, and the leavings.

Having now ended up in Abersoch, North Wales, it is obvious that its trawling days are over- looking very dilapidated, only kept from sinking at its moorings by a cat’s cradle of ropes and hawsers. It is literally falling apart, a sad end for such a long-lived survivor of the once thriving industry in its last home port of Fleetwood, a port I have much affection for. In the shake of a halibut’s tail I can conjure up crystal memories: crossing in the small ferry from Knott End to Fleetwood; the gateway to ice cream cones, Punch and Judy shows and fortune tellers on the prom and a ride on a tram. Once we all played truant from school on a trip to the Isle of Man. And then there was the Tower Ballroom in nearby Blackpool, the Illuminations, the Tower Circus with Charlie Caroli and Paul, and the Wurlitzer organ that rose magically out of the stage, when my mum had her request played on it.

Meanwhile the trawlers kept coming and going, deep set in the waves, black smoke billowing from smoke stacks, their holds either full of fish on the home run or fuel on the out, Arctic bound.
We would watch them sinking below the horizon beyond the Wyre lighthouse, as if falling off the edge world, which it was for me. A child’s whole world then was as far as one could see, no more. A simple innocence.

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