Harriet Fishing Smack

Harriet Fishing Smack

Harriet is the last surviving fishing smack that was built and registered at Fleetwood. It’s being preserved for future generations at Fleetwood Museum.

The History of Harriet

Harriet is a unique example of a type of boat which evolved specifically for work in the difficult waters of the Irish Sea and North West coast.

Fishing smacks were sail driven craft. They were the forerunners of the modern deep sea Moretrawlers. Smacks, like Harriet helped to build Fleetwood’s huge fishing industry.

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She was built by the Singleton Bros. in 1893 for the sum of £1,200 – a lot of money in those days.

Harriet is a ketch rigged fishing smack, constructed of pitch pine planking on oak frames. She’s 64 feet long with a beam of 21 feet and from keel to deck level, and a height of 11 feet 9 inches. Her main mast was 45 feet high, the mizzen 27 feet and her gross tonnage 80 tons.

She made her maiden voyage on 22 September 1893.

Harriet fishing smack being built by Singleton Brothers. Old Fleetwood photos
Harriet fishing smack being built by Singleton Brothers in 1893. Seen here just before launching.

The Age of Wind Power

At this time Harriet had a full set of sails. These craft were dependent on the wind and tide and had no power, save that from a small steam boiler used mainly to operate a capstan which helped to haul the trawl gear. She towed a beam trawl, consisting of a trawl net held open by a heavy wooden beam with weighty iron shoes on each side.

In the 1930’s she was fitted with a semi-diesel auxiliary engine that gave her a top speed of 6 knots.

In 1942 when George Fletcher joined the crew, Harriet was still using full sails, paraffin lamps, lead line and compass. George said that she still had an open cockpit and tiller. In 1943, a 68 horsepower Gardner engine was fitted and some of her sails were subsequently removed and the masts shortened.

David Helm owned the Harriet until his death in 1969. By this time, George had come in with him as part owner as well as Skipper. In 1969, George became full owner. During thirty odd years on the Harriet, he made many improvements. A wheelhouse was added, as was a steering wheel, and a winch to replace the capstan.

Fishing for Sole and Hake

In 1962 the Harriet fishing smack was still sailing regularly from Fleetwood to Morecambe Bay, Manx, Scottish and Irish fishing grounds in search mainly of sole and hake. She’d been at sea almost continuously since the day she was launched.

Harriet survived many storms and groundings in her long career. Her robustness is a tribute to her sturdy construction and the “trunnel” (or tree nail) fixings which allow flexibility in the hull.

In 1977, after over 80 years of fishing Harriet made her final voyage. Skippered for the last time by George Fletcher she sailed to Borwick Rails near Millom. She was taken out of the water to be transformed into a day centre for handicapped children, run by the Harriet Trust.

Harriet Fishing Smack becomes a TV Star

In 1994, Harriet and another vessel Sulwath were dramatically altered to provide better facilities for the children in a project designed for the BBC television programme, “Challenge Anneka”. The project’s results proved to be short lived and just a year later, the boat was declared unsafe.

After discussion with the Harriet Trust, Lancashire County Museums Service made the decision to rescue the historically important Harriet.

The Friend’s of Fleetwood Museum and museum staff worked hard to ensure Harriet’s homecoming for conservation and display within the museum. The project was fraught with many obstacles, and her rescue is a testimony to those involved.

However, anyone who witnessed her return to Fleetwood on August 19, 1998 will know what she means to Fleetwood. On a floating pontoon, the Harriet fishing smack passed the Lower Lighthouse in fading light, to the sound of cheers and car horns.

Preservation of Harriet Fishing Smack

By 2009 some restoration work had been done under controlled supervision, alongside conservator, John Kearon from Liverpool.

She has been allowed to dry out slowly and some of her excess ballast has been removed, as it was too heavy for the boat out of water. Her rather patchy paintwork appearance is due to samples being taken to check the firmness of the wood underneath.

Harriet fishing smack, exhibited in the boat hall at Fleetwood Museum
Harriet fishing smack, exhibited in the boat hall at Fleetwood Museum

Harriet is now in a stable environment. Part of the long term strategy is to find funding for more expert conservation advice, to ensure that she gets the best possible treatment.

Harriet Fishing Smack in Fleetwood Museum boat hall
Harriet Fishing Smack in Fleetwood Museum boat hall

In April 2011, Harriet was added to Lancashire Historic Environment Record, PRN34997.

Source: Fleetwood Museum / National Historic Ships

Tours of the Harriet Fishing Smack

Tours of the Harriet and boat hall generally take place throughout the day (subject to availability of volunteers). Just ask at reception.

The huge volume of knowledge which the volunteer guides share is one of the outstanding features of the Museum. It’s something that’s frequently remarked on by visitors. The Harriet tours are no exception, with a number of local fishermen amongst the guides.

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