The Wexford cot and film of a gun punt in use

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Heard of a traditional boat type called the Wexford cot? Or seen footage of a gun punt in use? Neither had I until I caught up with Monday’s episode of Coast, a BBC-Open University series about our coasts that has been fascinating many people in this country for several years now.

The cot is a fairly basic double-ended flattie with rounded clinker sides developed for the shallow water of Wexford Harbour. These days they seem to be made with a small transom, presumably to take an outboard, but they’re traditionally rowed by two men with an oar each. I was strongly reminded of the Weston flatner, which is another flat-bottomed and round-sided boat type, and struck by the thought that Wexford and Weston aren’t so very far apart.

The gun punt footage mercifully saves squeamish people like me from having to look at any carnage in detail but it’s interesting to see the boats, which have just 10in of freeboard, being propelled and steered using a quant. More, it’s astonishing to see how little recoil the boats exhibit when the big gun mounted on their foredeck is fired.

The episode includes a nice interview with Larry Duggan, whose family has been building these boats for generations. Over at the Rowing for Pleasure weblog, Chris Partridge has picked up a Flickr photo set put up by Alan Duggan, which is well worth looking at.

If you’re in the UK and have access to the Internet, do try and catch it on the BBC iPlayer before it’s replaced by this coming Monday’s episode.

For a post about gun punts in the East of England including a splendid quotation from Victorian scholar and man of the cloth Sabine Baring-Gould, click here.

11 thoughts on “The Wexford cot and film of a gun punt in use”

  1. Hi Gavin, the history of the Wexford Cot and many other boats are covered in detail in the book ‘Traditional Boats of Ireland’ ISBN -13:9781905172399 Good value at £ 30 odd on Amazon 650+ pages many full in colour. Unfortunately I cannot see the BBC i player here in Ireland even though we do get BBC through Sky, which I am sure Sky pay a hefty fee for.—- Bhaaa

  2. Perhaps, as I don't get the BBC here in France, there is something I am missing shown in the video. But the lack of recoil is probably because the gun was loaded with powder and wadding, and not also maybe a pound of shot or scrap iron as would traditionally be the case. I remember shooting off my .50 caliber mussel-loader for guests occasionally, always without shot of any kind. Without the shot the recoil was nothing compared to shooting it off for real with a 200 or so grain bullet or ball tucked into the barrel.

    It is a conservation of momentum/energy thing. Roughly speaking if you fire a pound of shot out of a barrel at 1000 fps, you are going to get the same forces acting in reverse on the gun and the boat. If the boat and the gun together weighed 1 pound the boat would move backward at pretty much the same speed. Since they tip the scales considerably heavier, the boat and gun move slower. If you are pushing burning gunpowder and a rag out the front, then you would experience very little recoil.

    Cheers, Brian

  3. Hi Gavin, I have seen a gun punt here. It was many years ago and it had been confiscated by the police because the 'gun' was a 2" bore waterpipe cannon designed to massacre ducks on a grand scale. Looked like a river Cam punt. It was fired once, capsised the boat and half drowned the gunners.


  4. gavin, being in usa, i was somehow unable to view punt gun video. however, i am an owner of a punt gun (2.5 bore, 10 foot long, 200 pounds), used by by my dad on the Susquehanna Flats to gun for canvasback duck. the gunners did not fill them with nails, rocks, broken glass, etc. they filled them with shot; the guns were tied to a boat, and were thrown into the water when the federal agents were around.

    there is a good reference book, The outlaw gunner," that will give you more information. this was a different time on the chesapeake bay and susquehanna river; people made their living as market gunners; the real reason that the canvasback disappeared from the upper bay was because the pleasure boating lobby petitioned the department of natural resources to poison the reed grass because it was tangling the propellers. the susquehanna flats have never recovered; farming, a big industry in this area, uses chemicals that run off down the river, through the conowingo dam, and into the watershed.

    i thank you for the opportunity to talk about a long gone part of my beloved land,

    Best regards,

    Ruth Rees Bilas

  5. Henry Coleman Folkard shows a gunning punt of his design in Part IV, Fishing and Shooting Boats, of his hefty "Sailing boats from Around the World" (Chapman Hall Ltd, London, 1906, 6th Ed – mine an unabridged paperback, Dover, 2000). He also shows and describes the requirements of a sailing gunning punt! On first sight my jaw dropped – nothing like the New Jersey sneakboxes of the period. See pages 341 to 347.

    HCF's forty-odd foot "shooting yacht" "Wild Fowler" sported a mighty swivel gun atop the cabin! With this he apparently went after geese with great relish, any, and everwhere – rivers, estuaries, coast wise, and at sea! Then there was his twenty-odd feet sloop rigged "shooting boat"… He mentions, by way of a foot-note, another work of his "Wild-fowler, A Treatise on Ancient and Modern Wild-fowling, Historical and Practical" (4th ed 1897) that may have a good deal more coverage of the British gunning boats.

    HCF's passion for sailing seems matched by one for shooting – especially water fowl! He takes issue with Colnel Hawker who condemned all round bottom shooting punts…! Nevertheless, I enjoy the book immensely – many many boats – a different planet.


  7. Well done BBC 'COAST' re pleasure craft and punt guns well balanced approach.Larry Duggan Aged 82 yrs from Wexford is an ambassadorial, traditional individual to wild fowling and boat building he has constructed, designed over seventy wood crafts in his life time including a replica commissioned Viking Long Ship(On display at Wexford Heritage Park. He is story teller, historian, fisherman, hunter, sailor keen outdoor persons, a man who has done it all as they say..But also keen conservationist. He is a documented on his own !!

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