Yorkshire’s last coble may run aground...for good

Enthusiasts Ian Johnson and Ian Thompson on board the last sailing Bridlington coble, Three Brothers, in Bridlington harbour. Picture: Gerard Binks.
Enthusiasts Ian Johnson and Ian Thompson on board the last sailing Bridlington coble, Three Brothers, in Bridlington harbour. Picture: Gerard Binks.
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FOR nearly a century men sailed out to sea in her, pitting their wits against the wind and weather.

But now time and tide may be turning against Yorkshire’s last sailing coble.

Three Brothers, which first put to sea in 1912, is maintained by a dwindling band of enthusiasts and they now have serious concerns that she won’t see her centenary celebrations.

The coble was narrowly rescued from being destroyed a decade ago and still delights holidaymakers when she sails in the harbour during the summer, her huge brown sails flapping in the breeze.

But now her supporters fear she may go the same way as the last cobles in other East Coast ports.

All now depends on the results of a survey, which will be carried out in May.

Historian Mike Wilson, a member of the Bridlington Sailing Coble Preservation Society which looks after the vessel, said: “The coble will be taken out of the water onto the Harbour Commissioners’ hardstanding for cleaning and survey.

“The results of this survey may well determine the future of the coble and whether, in fact, she will last long enough to celebrate her centenary next year.

“It will be a major disappointment if this sole example of a Yorkshire sailing coble should be lost.”

Members of the society man the Harbour Heritage Museum, where ticket sales – just 30p a visit – represent their main source of funding to cover maintenance and repairs.

But they are concerned that if the survey throws up major issues, it may not be possible to fund repairs.

Insurance payments for the year are in excess of £600 alone, and these have to be paid before considering carrying out work.

Mr Wilson said he hopes people in the town will realise when the doors to the museum open again for the season on Good Friday, locals realise that this could be the last year the Three Brothers will be seen in the bay.

He said: “I don’t think people appreciate it. If there was a 100-year-old aeroplane or steam engine or car we’d have lots of visitors but just because it’s a boat no one seems to bother – perhaps because it’s just one old boat among lots of others, and maybe we are not highlighting it sufficiently.

“If we are faced with the survey and the results are severe it will be a very difficult situation and as a society we won’t be able to afford the necessary repairs without a grant.

“We haven’t skilled people to chase grants. We aren’t experts in that area and we are elderly and find it difficult to do things we are not familiar with.”

He added: “People come to us and ask if they can sail – and we say yes, but as members of the society, which costs just £5, but for some reason they don’t join.”

The Three Brothers was built in Bridlington by father and son Baker and Percy Siddall in 1912. In the early days she was used for commercial fishing and later on for angling in the bay.

These days she is towed out of the harbour to keep her out of the way of other harbour users and into open sea before the sails can be put up.

When built, the vessel cost its new owners £75, sails and metalwork being extra. She was built of timber from Boynton Woods, sawn and shaped in the Bow Street boathouse.

Three Brothers is 40ft long, and is built without a deep single keel. Flatter than usual she could be used for beam trawling as well as carrying passengers.

She has two bilge keels, capped with iron, so that she sits squarely on the beach. When on land, her hull is kept well clear of the ground by these keels.

Cobles like Three Brothers have a cuddy in the bow, used as a shelter and storage for a stove and supplies. This area is decked over, giving headroom of about four feet.

She is propelled by two sails, a dipping lug sail and a jib sail. Her rudder is unshipped at the end of sailing and in the past this was used as a gangplank.

During her long life, Three Brothers has had an engine fitted, and worked in Whitby and on the Tees.

Refurbished to her original condition by harbour staff some years ago, she is owned by the Harbour Commissioners, sparing the Society from the cost of berthing and lifting her from the water.

Membership of the society entitles members to sail whenever tide and weather are favourable.

Details can be found on the coble preservation society website (www.bscps.com) or application forms are available from the secretary, Harbour Heritage Museum, Harbour Road, Bridlington.

alex.wood@ypn.co.uk