Ocean Pearl – zulu, fifie or baldie? Scots fishing boat expert Jay Cresswell explains

Regular visitors will remember I recently put up a photo of Nick Gates’ boat Ocean Pearl, which he believed to be a zulu skiff because of her vertical stem and raked stern. I must say that I thought the same – and was very pleased to be able to publish a photo of her.

Nick acquired her as a motor-powered fishing boat some years ago, brought her back to a condition where she could again put to sea, and added a sailing rig. The result is that she’s a handsome vessel, as the earlier photo shows.

However, the ex-trawler skipper and authority on marine history Jay Cresswell, who has for many years lived near Aberdeen, recently saw the photos and got in touch to put the matter right.

It seems that Ocean Pearl’s stern is not sufficiently raked and that she was built too late to allow her to be called a zulu. In support of his point, Jay sent us a fistful of photos of zulus shot while he was trawling in the ’70s and ’80s.

I’ll let him explain.

‘If Ocean Pearl was berthed up here in the North-East of Scotland, there is little or no doubt that she would be regarded as a fifie and, to confuse the issue further, a yawl too.

‘The boat below is a case in point – a fifie called Poppy on the Caledonian Canal, and one with the same rake to her sternpost, give or take a degree.

Fifie in the Caledonian Canal

Fifie Poppy on the Caledonian Canal

‘The next photo shows clearly how, even on a fifie, the sternpost could be modified to reduce the rake by adding to it. This is the fifie Harvest Reaper at Burghhead; she was a smart boat just a few years back.

‘Both have the same rake between waterline and post as the Pearl.

Fifie Harvest Reaper

Fifie Harvest Reaper

‘The rule is that for the classic zulu, the angle between keel and sternpost is around 135degrees, but if you add in further keel “drag” due to the boat being trimmed down aft, the resulting angle could be quite dramatic.

‘Many of the boats that were motorised required major surgery aft to create an acceptable propeller aperture, or were fitted with twin screws.

‘Later intermediate (45-50ft class) zulus like Spindrift were built as motorboats and had a less pronounced rake in their sternposts, but still had much more than Pearl.

‘A sailing zulu that worked very successfully as a motor boat for many years was Violet, and another was True Love, which had some very neat surgery carried out to give her a semi-balance rudder.

Zulu True Love

Zulu True Love

Vesper and Evangeline lasted a long time too. Both had classic rakes to their sternposts, but were extensively modified below the waterline with false deadwoods to accommodate a shaft and screw.

‘An another that lasted into the 1970s at least was St Vincent (another zulu, Spray, is on inside.)

Motorised Zulu St Vincent

St Vincent

‘And here’s the big zulu Springwell.

Zulu Springwell

Zulu Springwell

‘The angle between the keel and sternpost of a fifie varied in a range between 90 and 110 degrees approximately – and that rake made the difference between a bog ordinary fifie and a jaunty boat like Pearl.’

For the record, Nick reports that Ocean Pearl’s sternpost is set at 115 degrees, which would presumably make her very jaunty indeed – but not a zulu.

Jay asked the members of a fishing industry website forum what they thought Ocean Pearl’s true identity might be. He reported:

‘The firm view is that this is a fifie, more particularly a motor fifie or baldie. I hadn’t twigged the build date, but it’s 1933, which puts the boat squarely in baldie land, moreover Fraserburgh baldie land.

‘A few intermediate zulus were built as late as the early 1920s but that was the end, save for a few tiny yawls that worked handlines, one of which was near here until recently.

‘One of the guys on the forum (many are retired fishermen of considerable age) who responded to my post suggested a hybrid … or bastard … but, as I said, the generaly view is that she’s a fifie.

‘I live just south of Peterhead, which is where Ocean Pearl fished until the 1960s. Pound to a penny I’ll be able to track down the family that owned her, especially since Nick has a nice pic on his yard website of her working as a seiner.’

Finally, I asked whether any other zulus that might still be around.

Research is at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, a sad carcass of what was, even as late as the 1980s, a salvable example of her type.

‘The only other big zulu I knew was Radium. She lay for a long time at Bowling Basin at the Clyde end of the Forth-Clyde Canal, but, if my memory serves me, it eventually sank.

‘There are a couple or so big hulls lying in Loch Dochfour on the Caledonian Canal, but that’s about it.

‘The one pictured below was captured here in the North East in the mid 1960s. She’s the Fisher Lassie, and in the photo she is still rigged for herring drift netting, which is what these boats were conceived to do.

Zulu Fisher Lassie

Zulu Fisher Lassie

‘There are at least two large
fifies extant, Reaper and Swan, and there are several intermediate examples, such as Family’s Pride, which is at the big end of intermediate. She worked out of Arbroath as late as the 1980s, but was converted to a charter ketch, painted red and based at Skye. I don’t know where she is now.

‘I rather think there are further large fifie hulls lying in muddy creeks in the South-East of England. Fifies lasted longer than zulus, partly because they were easier to motorise, and plenty of intermediate fifies were scratch-built as motorboats right up to World War 2, and a fair number of small motor yawls were built well into the 1950s, even early 60s.’

Thanks Jay – I think that ranks as one of the most interesting and informative intheboatshed.net posts I’ve read. Please don’t hold back from making contact whenever you have something you’d like to tell us!

Also see Nick’s website at http://www.nickgates.co.uk.

39 thoughts on “Ocean Pearl – zulu, fifie or baldie? Scots fishing boat expert Jay Cresswell explains”

  1. It was most interesting to read Mr Cresswells views on Ocean Pearls 'type'. Being built in the early thirties to work under power with a 70 H.P. diesel she was quite obviously not built as a sailing boat. She obviously does not have the extremely raked sternpost of a pure Zulu. Our reason for describing her as a half Zulu, or Zulu Skiff, has as much to do with her shape than her build date. Apart from her previous owner, who described her as a Zulu skiff, the most accurate description and photographs available to most are from Edgar Marchs'

    Sailing Drifters, written in 1952. March realised that post war, the age of working sail was at an end, and scoured the coasts for details from fishermen who had fished before the advent of power. His works contain excellent drawings, photographs and descriptions from builders, sailmakers and fishermen. In his book he describes Fifies as having a plumb stem and a plumb sternpost. This description is also repeated by contemporary marine historians.

    Back to Ocean Pearl, built by Nobles of Fraserbugh, her shape is of a full but easily driven hull. Who knows how the conversation went between her first owner and the builders. A beamy hull of 14', a smidge under 40' to fish within the 3 mile limit, easily driven, achieved by a fine entry running through to hollow floors and a fine exit aft. A shape maybe influenced by a Fathers or Grandfathers boat. Who knows. However I find it hard to imagine that either party were describing the rake of the stern post in degrees, or deciding whether the hull was this class or that. More likely that she should look just so, like the boat he had always wanted, or seen as a child thirty years ago? Couple that with a conservative builder and you have a hull with many influences of the past.

    Now I am the last person to want to skew history, but unless we tilt the planet, plumb is plumb!

  2. ps

    Mr Cresswell mentions Violet, which incidentally, was also built at Nobles in 1911. Defiantly a Zulu, her rebuild was well documented in wooden boat magazine. Her scantlings being almost identical to Ocean Pearls, as was the work involved in the rebuild, as were our solutions to the same problems!

    She does however have a lovely deep forefoot, which OP does not.

  3. Has anyone ever come across old photos of Violet? I only have one, from around 1975 in Fraserburgh. Her numbers were FR451. Thanks.

  4. We have owned a "1951" fifie m/s named Trilleen for 27 years she was built by Stephens of Banff and I was told that Stephens produced Zulu`s. Have been unable to dig up any info on Stephens I wonder if anybody can help..Thanks Gareth

  5. Violet is undergoing some major surgery again. She is approaching her 100th year and it is now 18 years since she was rebuilt. We removed the garboard planks and the next four strakes from stem to sternpost. The 18 year old galvanized steel keel bolts were found to be completely wasted away. Instead of screwing around with old iron and old timber, we have replaced the entire keel and kelson assembly, this time with a single piece of angelique. We have renewed many of the floors as well, and this time have used silicon bronze to bolt it all together. This one area of the boat that was not completely rebuilt in 1987-1991, so now she'll be good for another 100 years.

    For the record, Violet's sternpost is raked about 140 degrees. She looks similar to True Love in many ways.

    What's going on with Vesper?

    I'm still looking for old photos of Violet.

    1. Gary –

      What do you think about the galvanic corrision issue please? I don't know enough to comment, but I hope you don't mind if I ask the question. Was it galvanic corrosion that ate the keel bolts, and what will be the effect of changing them for silicon bronze?

      Gav

  6. I've just found an earlier message from Peter, which somehow I've missed along the way. Sorry for the delay Peter, but here it is:

    'Thank you gavin for your great blog,does anyone know what happened to the Lintie of Fowey, a small gaffer which my brother Stefan Prozsynski crewed to Gibraltar around 1968. also the botter clementine 49 in Alresford creek 1976, the 63 ft, A.S.R Helmsman I last heard of in Queenborough in 1970, the fifie Fajara in Reedham 1976, the 90ft trawler Platessa, 1976 in Lowestoft, & the baltic trader Dania in Wisbech 1977 all boats I worked on,

    pete radclyffe'

  7. Gavin:

    When we first re-built Violet, we used galvanized steel bolts throughout because we were poor and because a lot of original iron and steel remained in the keel timber and the plank fastenings and we thought that would work best. We re-fastened with 318 stainless steel screws, also because we thought they would mix in with the steel/iron fairly well.

    That said, we are now eliminating all the steel in the keel, the stem and sternpost below the waterline, and the bolts in the frame futtocks that are accessible. The SS screws all came out very nicely and are still very strong, but they do show some pitting and crevice corrosion, so we have decided to replace them with bronze. The five strakes we are replacing constitute about one-third of the bottom planking. Of the remaining planks, there are probably original nails in about one quarter of the frames. I anticipate that eventually the entire bottom will be replanked and then we will have only one metal. Violet has been rebuilt for the long term, and as long as she is cared for and not wrecked somewhere, she will be around indefinitely, so I figure it's worth the extra expense.

    I don't know how to attach photos here.

  8. you may need to tie all your keelbolts together with a metal strap, and connect them thru hull to an anode, you may have an electric current leaking, you could ask Mcduffs Anodes to advise you

  9. I am not a big believer in bonding. In my experience, it tends to make a boat into a giant battery and will eat things up quicker than anything else. The keelbolt corrosion on Violet did not appear to be electrolysis, as that is usually more localized in the area of stray current. Her keelbolts were all equally bad from stem to stern. However, I am sure there was some electrolytic action going on, because there was considerable delignification of two planks: one where the prop shaft penetrates the hull and one where the engine intake penetrates the hull. The engine, of course, is the ground for the 12-volt system in the boat.

  10. Gary Maynard,

    I would love to get in touch with you about the Violet. I'd love to get a chance to see the boat my great grandfather sailed in the 1920's.

  11. Kurt,

    You're welcome anytime. Violet is normally moored in Vineyard Haven in summer and Menemsha in winter, both here on the island of Martha's Vineyard. I don't know if I'm allowed to post contact info here.

  12. There is a Zulu still fishing to this day,for Lobster,Brown Crab and Velvets. She is Berthed in Ballywalter Harbour, Co.Down Northern Ireland. She is Named "Laura" and has been put to work by the Dorrian Family of Ballywalter, for as long as three generations of my family can remember. Admittedly she has seen better days and after a few attempts at modification and wheelhouse re-positioning etc,she is no longer fit for purpose and is due to be replaced shortly this summer. Unfortunately her fate may be a grim one,as local rumor has it, she is bound for the 11th of July celebratory Bonfire. Just passing through your site and thought i would inform you in case this information was of interest to any Zulu enthusiasts.

    1. Arthur –

      That's fascinating – do you have a photo to share and is there anyone in the
      area I could contact for more information please?

      Many, many thanks for getting in touch,

      Gavin

  13. interesting reading, hadn't looked in here for a year or so, nice to some new comments. For what its worth… the above boat 'poppy', actually its 'pansy' but near enough I guess! I Bought her last year and in the throes of gutting here and refitting, fifie/baldie/zulu… who knows!

    46' LOA, macduff 1937 and in reasonably fine fettle below the water line, one curiosity I've never satisfied is the arrangement aft of the prop, seen a few pics of other fifie/zulus in this area, and none have anything like what we have, steelwork running between prop and rudder, not 100% certain wether it should be there or not, would be interesting to hear others comments

    http://bf494.co.uk/media/users/mark/SNV10161.JPG

  14. Mark: a photo of your prop aperture/rudder configuration would be useful. It seems to me that there were some transitional years between power and sail when different things were tried. Of course, your boat built in 1937 most likely had an engine from the start rather than a complete cob-together arrangement that Violet had when she was converted to power. The raked sternpost of a zulu was not designed with a prop in mind.

  15. Zulu VIOLET's keel bolts……….If you have stainless steel and mild steel (or galvanised mild steel) in proximity, the mild steel acts as an anode for the stainless steel.

    It is exactly the same mechanism as using an alumnium anode to protect a steel hull.

    Large ships have had steel plate eaten through in months because a relatively small stainless steel pump shaft was installed in a caisson. Joining a stainless shackle to a galv. steel chain can also have the reverse effect to that intended. But I guess you all know that.

    I am not sure how stainless steel screws in the planks could have come in galvanic contact with the galv steel keel bolts, but I guess it might be possible.

    Anyway – that is all academic now – since the new bolts should remove that concern.

    Zulu VESPER – she was burned at Buckie a few years ago.

    PANSY – rudder arrangement – the sister of PANSY is at Arbroath (was BETTY YORKE, now named ALEC HYDE). 99% certain she has the same rudder post arrangement as PANSY.

    Zulu LAURA – did she survive the 12th ? How big was she ?

  16. Gareth

    Stephens produced Zulus until about 1910 when the motor came in.

    They built the big Zulu RESEARCH whose hull is indoors at the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther. The SFM has pictures of Stephens and probably of your boat.

    By the time your boat was built I think Stephens were gone, or amalgamated with other yards in the sister towns of Banff/MacDuff like Clem Patterson's or Watt's.

    Anyway, there is still a yard there called MacDuff Shipyard, which you could say is the descendant of the Stephen's yard(s). They even have a website !

  17. Mr MacG:

    Thanks for the photo posts. We have another taken a minute before the B&W one, but have never seen the color photo. Still hoping gainst hope for a photo with her sailing rig.

  18. I see that "expert" Jay Cresswell has called me a Philistine on the Trawler Photos website. I invite him to come and see Violet, meet my wife and I and hear our story. Violet is most likely the most travelled zulu ever and is a proper vessel. True, she has a dandy rig rather than the lug, and she's not fishing for herring anymore. But she is well loved, properly cared for, and admired wherever she goes.

    Does Captain Cresswell have a notable old fishing vessel of his own that he has cared for with his own hands?

  19. Gary

    You deserve great credit for recognising the inherent beauty in the VIOLET at a time mwhen most people would have dismissed her as an ugly old hulk, and then for restoring her and preserving her for future.

    As you know, there are very few true Zulus remaining – and the preservation of VIOLET is a big contribution to keeping alive the memory of an iconic vessel type.

    I expect you are probably correct about VIOLET being the most travelled Zulu. The nearest competitor would likely be the Stephens built Zulu LEENANE HEAD which spent her working life in Ireland before being restored in France. She has made the return trip across the Atlantic at least twice in the last decade.

    1. The LEENANE HEAD belonged to my great grandfather Thomas Meenaghan (Iniskea South) I heard she was for sale recently.If anyone has any information on her i would like to hear from you.

  20. JR

    Thanks for the kind words. I knew when I rebuilt the old boat for my own needs (and dreams), I would face the possible scorn of those who loved the zulus the way they once were. I toyed with the idea of a true restoration, but although the rig was obviously simple and powerful, cruising a lugger her size was just not practical for two people. And the deck layout with the big scottle and fish hold hatch wouldn't make much of a home. Unfortunately, in my youthful enthusiasm, I overbuilt the deck framing and the cabin trunks and put a huge sailing rig in her. Consequently, Violet was always a little tender for a vessel as robust as she is. Hence, when it came time to replace her keel timbers, it seemed logical to move the bulk of the ballast outside and improve her ability to beat to weather in a good blow.

    We have sailed her as far south as the Marquesas Islands, as far west as Hawaii, and north to Glacier Bay, Alaska. She has always been a great sea boat and has made some fast passages, including 3000 miles from the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva in 21 days, leaving many more modern boats in our wake.

  21. Gary – you and Violet are an inspiration!

    An av speed of nearly 6 knots is very good, especially over 3k!

    Funnily enough, the keel is one bit of Ocean Pearl that I know will need more attention,sooner rather than later. I often joke to my partner that one day we will sail to the States where they 'have big trees' and replace the whole thing. Are you fitting a lead keel or iron? It will be a relief to get rid of some of that inf/ternal ballast. It is interesting to hear that the s/s screws lasted well. Were they passivated A4? How was the timber around the screws?

    I used galv steel screws below the waterline, and s/s above, and yes tarred mild steel c/line fastenings. I will probably regret that but like you say, funding is always an issue. Any recent pics?

    Nick.

    - psif you ever come up this way a race would be fun!

  22. Dear Gary

    I have some old photos of the Violet FR451, it was built by my great grandfather Alexander Grieve Stephen (1873 – 1935), all the children's names went into a hat, and violet's name came out, violet was born in 1910 and the Violet FR451 built one year later in 1911. After my great grandfather retired from the sea in 1931 owing to ill health, the boat was skippered by his brother in law James Duthie and then from about 1935 by John Stephen (1902 – 1983), Alexander's son. John's crew was his brothers George (1908 – 1983) (My Grandfather) and William (1912 – 1986), and Jim May who died in 1970. John, George and William sold the Violet in May 1975. Their sister Violet died on 16th August 1994 age 83 years. The Vesper FR453 was owned by my grandfather's brother Alexander who owned it from 1935 till 1958, it became a ruin in the 1980s and was at Buckie for a number of years, but is now dismantled. Please email me at david1rennie5@hotmail.com

  23. My brother recently purchased the Zulu Spindrift. She is in excellent condition and he lives aboard her in a marina in Guernsey. I am researching Zulu history at the moment and came accross this site. I'll try and get a photo of her up here if I can work out how.

  24. All this talk of Zulus is indeed encouraging. The Zulu, in my opinion for what it's worth, was the pinnacle in British fishing boat design during the sailing era. A tool of immense power and ability. Some years ago, whilst researching for an article on these boats I traced several including all those mentioned above. Some (most) were of the smaller 50ft types whilst it was felt that a true Zulu was 80ft in length with, as Jay Cresswell rightly says, a steeply raked sternpost. The name, as everyone knows, came about in the late 1800s when supposedly Nonsuch was built. However there is evidence that she was not the first and that the first boat was actually called 'Zulu'…..and she was a big boat. The name caught on for the whole class…….thus the smaller boats aren't true Zulus. That's why many refer to them as half-zulus. There are the zulu skiffs too.

    I saw Leenan Head in Douarnenez in 2008 and she looked great. She worked as the post boat to Inishbofin for many years and there are photos of her there in the small museum on the island.

    Haven't heard much of the small 'Kate' recently. Last time I saw her was around Lowestoft. 'Nellie' is another small one with a very raked sternpost which I was told recently is looking a bit forlorn.

    The Lochfyne skiff 'Flying Fish'…………tell me more.

  25. I am picking up from Dominic's email dated 15th December about the Zulu Class – Spindrift. Yes, she is alive and well in Beaucette Marina and Danny happily lives aboard, in fact he is my close neighbour. Spindrift is now painted red, and is affectionately known locally as the "fire truck". Every now and then the engine (a gardner) is turned over. An interesting feature is that just below the waterline is a steel plate either side of the rudder, presumably used to deflect the wake and add to a certain pitch when under way? A phot will be loaded up as soon as possible.

    On a separate matter, does anyone have any knowledge / history associated with an RN45 MFV called "Makalu".

    Kind regards,

    Adrian

  26. A Zulu is a Zulu is a Zulu

    The first ones were "small" compared to the big ones – and they were not half Zulus.

    If you have seen one, you cannot mistake it for any other vessel type – even a motor Zulu or "half Zulu"

    The first Zulus of the 1880s were about 40ft keel and clinker built – price around £170.

    Supposedly the first carvel planked Zulu was the Favourite BF556 of 1887, built by George Innes of Portnockie.

    In the mid 1880s the size of Zulus increased to around 45ft keel – with overall length around 60ft.

    The large Zulus of 80ft LOA on a 60ft keel were from the period around the turn of the century.

    The smaller 50ft LOA Zulus of the 1900s for Scotland and Ireland were still Zulus.

    Boats like the Spindrift were built as motor Zulus – I believe the aft end of the sternpost of the Spindrift has a less steep angle than the planking rabbet. Not sure whether this sternpost was a later modification (common in many Zulus) or if she was built like that.

  27. If anyone would like to read the thread on Trawler Photos website it is here:

    http://www.trawlerphotos.co.uk/gallery/showphoto….

    Ocean Pearls' shape is best described by JRMcG in the thread as:

    That is not a true Zulu. I don\'t know whether she should be called a motor Zulu, or half Zulu or motor Fifie (these had more rake to their stern than a true Fifie, but nothing like a sailing Zulu).

    She represents a stepping stone in the transition from the doubled ended sailing hulls to the cruiser sterned MFVs. As you say, quite a few of these double ended motor boats were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The Betty Yorke lying in Abroath is one of them. The ex LK Milky Way now in Canary\'s is probably another.

    Apart from the much different stern rake from a true Zulu, the entire hullform of the Ocean Pearl is different – much fuller and higher.

    The motor boat NEEDED to be fuller aft to support the weight of the engine – and COULD be fuller forward because the motor could allow her to batter through the waves easier than a sailer (which could never sail directly into them). The motor boat also had more freeboard than the sailers (they wanted low freeboard to keep down windage). There is very little head room below deck in even quite a large Zulu. Later in life a few of them had the entire deck raised to above the old bulwark stringer. If you were lucky you got a nice set of proper bulwarks at the same time – if not, the bulwarks became even more tiny !

    Finally she is rigged as a Manx nobby – with a standing lug (not dipping) on the foremast, but all things considered I think that is probably a mark of sanity.

    Thanks JRMcG, the first person to really explain the shape of my boat!

  28. I own a Scottish fishing boat that was built during the change from sail to power. For what it is worth I refer to her as a Fife as her stern post is nearer to the vertical than to the pronounced rake of the sailing Zulu however most people who recognise her origins tend to refer to her as a Zulu.

    The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther sent me her registration card which shows she was built in 1915 by W.G Stephen, Banff as Isis ME16 which changed to DE 19 in 1935. She became Jeannie Smith AH 54 in 1941 and finally Progress KY 143 in 1947. She is described as Lug rigged with auxiliary motor and has an overall length of 47 feet with a keel length of 45 feet (breadth 13’ 6 “).

    The rake on the stern post is noticeable but not pronounced. Assuming the Zulu’s stern post was raked to increase manoeuvrability I do not think the rake on Progress is sufficient to make any significant difference to her handling.

    It might be that it is done purely for looks and that the Zulus had created a fashion for such shapes. I personally find the plumb stem and stern of the true Fifie a little utilitarian; a plumb stem is magnificent but when the stern is the same it seems a little too much.

    A small rake to the stern post does mean that the propeller is a little more hidden under the boat and could be said to be slightly more protected. As propellers were new and expensive at the time this might be one reason for a moderately raked stern post.

    Superficially Progress is very similar to Ocean Pearl but it would be interesting to how different they actually are.

  29. Gary Maynard

    Have just read your note of July 2009 re Capt Cresswell

    Yes is the answer

    The nobby Venture 35ft

    crabber Andre Germaine 40ft

    former ringer Margaret Alison 47ft

    trawler Glendale 53ft

    line/creeler Green Pastures 40ft

    then stepped ashore to become an ed of World Fishing, then Scottish Fisning Weekly

    Also worked for the White Fish Authorty and Sea Fish Industry Authority

    Carried out heavy repairs on redningskoite Larvik, oyster smack Taffy, etci

    After a 25 years break I now sail for pleasure … 38ft Hillyard Sequoiah based at Whitehills

    Re other notes

    Vesper died in Buckie … fell to pieces in the former Jones Buckie Shipyard

    Jay Cresswell

  30. Captain Cresswell,

    I see that you do have the depth of experience to back up your opinion of me and Violet.

    Humbly,

    Gary Maynard

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