Kate in Suffolk

In a wood in Suffolk, Martin Goodman is working on what is said to be a smallish clinker-built example of the legendary and all-but lost zulu sailing fishing boats that flourished in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Zulus, as I understand it, fell into disuse following the development of internal combustion engines suitable for marine work, because that striking raked stern could not easily be adapted for a shaft and a propeller. Other Scottish boat types, including the fifie, adapted to the new form of motive power much more easily.

In my experience, describing a boat as a zulu can sometimes be controversial – there are experts who feel strongly on the issue of nomenclature – and strangely the National Historic Ships link below does not specify her type.

But whatever she’s properly called – and I hope we can agree ‘zulu‘ is correct – she’s a magnificent craft and has a striking, sharply-angled stern. I’m no expert, but she’s also too big and was built in the wrong place to be called a Loch Fyne skiff or zulu skiff

The photos above show the condition in which she was found by Graham Brewster, and the work he was able to do to her over the years before Martin took her on. There’s an interesting thread including more photos of the work done on the boat, in-depth descriptions from Martin and some of the usual debate at the Woodenboat forum.

Here’s what Martin says about Kate:

‘Kate is a 42ft length on deck zulu herring drifter, built in 1910 by the Hays and Co yard at Lerwick in Shetland in 1910. She is on the Historic Ships Register UK.

‘Information is scant on her first 30 years, but I assume she was used as a sailing drifter from Lerwick to Lowestoft in the usual way at that time. She is, as far as I know, the only clinker zulu left in the world, and one of perhaps 10 zulus of any type of construction.

‘She was larch planked on oak frames, with a pine deck and a traditional lug ketch rig. She was renamed Sunbeam in 1946 and fished as an motor fishing vessel, minus her rig.

‘She was found sunk and in a very poor state on Lake Lothing, Lowestoft by Graham Brewster, a sailor and shipwright, who with help craned her out, and took her 50 miles to a farm near Ipswich, and set about rebuilding her.

‘He and his helpers have completely re-planked her, re-keeled her, replaced many frames, all of the timberheads, all of the beams, and she has a brand new larch deck and coach house. This has taken ten years so far. Unfortunately Graham fell ill last year, and felt that he could not complete her, and sold her to me. He still drops by now and then to wag his finger at me!

‘I intend to take her back to a lug ketch with a small auxiliary engine. My self imposed remit is to keep her as traditional as is practically possible as regards the rig. I have a fair amount of experience with 40ft luggers, and really like the speed and simplicity of the lug rig. I do not, however, have a crew of six burly experienced Shetlanders to hand, so may tweak/adapt the rig to suit shorter-handed sailing.

‘My intention is to use her for serious, hopefully global, offshore cruising. She is also my home, and so I will be finishing her off while living on her.’

Let’s wish him every success in his challenging but very wonderful part-restoration, part-conversion. Kate is an important representative of another time, and it would be great to see her afloat and sailing again. Thanks for the photos Martin!

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