Petition to save the Ethel von Brixham – and other historic craft in Germany

Ethel von Brixham_2012 by VolkerGries_0598

Some folks in Germany are getting up a petition to try to persuade the German authorities to change their minds – and allow the 1890 Brixham-built trawler Ethel von Brixham to continue chartering.

The vessel is in danger because the German authorities have judged her to be non-traditional because she has a more modern schooner sailing rig rather than her original gaff rig and therefore has to comply with different and much more arduous safety regulations – and I gather they have made similar decisions about other craft.

If allowed to stand, this argument could have serious repercussions for many historic craft that have been altered in some way over the years, and in Ethel’s case it will mean that her chartering days will have to end and  her owner, Gerhard Bialek of Kiel, will no longer be able to keep her afloat.

The Ethel is particularly important because:

  • she is the oldest Brixham trawler afloat, of about nine in European waters today
  • her career has been typical of the many English smacks sold to Scandinavia. She worked in the Swedish fisheries from Bohuslän from 1906, and then served in the coastal trade of northern Norway from 1927 to 1980
  • among the Brixham trawlers, she probably the greatest amount of original superstructure

As written, the petition is here: Petition_Ethel von Brixham

If you are in favour, please mail or email Hermann Ostermann at the address given at the bottom of the petition letter. If I hear that an online petition has been created, I will post again about the issue here at .

Hermann sent me some fascinating documents about Ethel von Brixham and other Brixham trawlers’ careers: Brixham smacks to ScandinaviaBrixham trawlers to SwedenSmacks still sailing, and Ethel history.

Steel built Forrest and Stream skiff now in service carrying passengers


This adapted Forest & Stream skiff built by a bunch of troubled youngsters led by regular Hans-Christian Rieck of the Graf Ship Association is now being used to carry groups of passengers on the canals around Nordhorn in Germany.

These photos were taken by Horst Dudeck on the occasion of a trip by the Neuenhaus Stock Market Club to mark its 25th anniversary.

The story of the Werner Wesemann is remarkable. The original design for a small skiff appeared in the late 19th Century in the journal Forest & Stream. As an experiment in the late 1990s, I decided to draw a slightly enlarged version intended to be built in ply. That boat has been built and used successfully quite a few several times.

However, Hans used the plans in a way no boat designer could have envisaged: he took the drawings and together with a group of troubled youngsters built a scaled-up version of the boat in welded steel. The craft they built is around twice the length of the original.

Now, some years later, the steel skiff boat has been finished, as is in use by the Graf Ship Association, which campaigns to open up the Nordhorn area’s extensive network of canals.

What makes the whole thing a really wonderful surprise is that Hans reports that the Werner Wesemann works beautifully on the water, even when a load of passengers are on board and despite only having a 5hp outboard motor.

Jantje’s sails: the mystery deepens

Sailing tjalk Jantje at Nordhorn, winter 2010

Sailing tjalk Jantje at Nordhorn, winter 2010 Sailing tjalk Jantje at Nordhorn, winter 2010

Hans-Christian Rieck of the Graf Ship Association based at Nordhorn in Germany has written to explain a bit more of the mystery of sailing tjalk Jantje’s sails. Here’s what he says:

‘Hi Gavin,

‘I’d like to give you the update on the history of Jantje’s sails. It is amazing how such a little stamp on an old sail comes out to be a real mystery. We followed your suggestion about Mount Vernon Mills and even contacted them, but got no answer with the exception of a note that our photo was forwarded to some senior official.

‘So I phoned Hermann Ostermann and asked for help. He told me that this sail is something rare in Europe, as to his knowledge there was hardly any American sailcloth imported to Europe. But he used his lifelong connections to other European specialists and sent word around that this special foresail was found in Nordhorn.

Kees Hos from The Netherlands replied that this sail and the stamp on it are very extraordinary, both from the quality of the work and the sailcloth. He said that the amazing thing is that a roll of No. 1 sailcloth 84 yds. long must be very heavy – he estimates its weight at about 55 kg.

‘Then we received a very warm letter from Mrs Struik, the sister of the former owner of Jantje, and asked her about Jantje. Mrs Struik was very pleased to see that Jantje is in good condition again. She told us that the late Mr Struik used to sail Jantje with his kids until the early 80s, but then he fell ill and abandoned most of his activities on the ship.

‘Anyway we’ll keep informed.

‘So long


Thanks Hans-Christian! Now can anyone in the UK shed any light on this please? Was Mount Vernon duck used in the UK? And if so, might that have been the source please? Or did someone set up a short-lived business importing the material to Holland? Is there a historian of the cotton duck trade out there?