Falmouth Working Boats
The Falmouth Working Boats have survived as a class because of the nature of the oyster fishing which has continued in the Roseland and in the river Fal for hundreds of years. The native oysters grow freely in the shallow waters of the upper reaches of the Carrick Roads from which they must be dredged under sail or oar. This restriction has had the effect of preserving the fishery although stocks are prone to pollution and disease. Local fishermen have dredged for oysters using any craft suitable for the purpose and they believe the ideal dimensions are a waterline of some 24ft and a draft of no more than 4ft 6ins. The Working Boat fleet has therefore always been somewhat diverse with boats from all over the County being pressed into service. Nearly every fishing village around the Cornish coast has at one time provided working boats for the fleet.
The key to the success of a particular boat was whether it was practical to work the beds under sail and be operated by one man, and what other tasks it could be used for in the summer months when the fishery was closed. When working in the winter the main controls for regulating the towing speed of the dredges is the scandalizing of both the mainsail and foresails of the gaff rig which all Working Boats carry. Obviously sail area is minimal, usually no more than 300 sq ft, and there is no need for any topsail. In the summer however, with the advent of the village regattas and Falmouth Week, the sail area is dramatically increased with a voluntary limit of 1000 sq ft.
This is how most visitors to St Mawes remember the Working Boat fleet with massive sail areas and brightly coloured topsails adding colour and spectacle to summer days racing. Forgotten is their more functional winter activity. Not all the fleet are active in the winter as the fishing industry as a whole has declined, but with well known Cornish fishing families such as the Vinicombes, Laitys, and Treneers still owning boats the tradition of working in the winter and racing in the summer still continues.
A final cautionary note to add is that most Working Boats carry no engine and under full racing sail they are a handful for even the most experienced sailor. A long keel and limited visibility to leeward for the helmsman means that manoeuvrability is limited especially on crowded start lines or amongst moorings. I would recommend viewing from a distance and marvel at the skill of the top skippers as they navigate their way through the obstacle course that is the Carrick Roads on a summer's day.
For more details please contact the Class Captain, Charlie Pridmore
Last updated 16:24 on 19 January 2024