Paul Arro on a coastal community restoring a tradition

At the turn of the 20th century the town of Bridlington, East Yorkshire, had developed into a popular seaside resort like many others around the coastline of Britain.

The opening of the railway in 1846 by the York and North Midland Railway Company, which had Bridlington as a terminus of its line running from Hull, had made travel to the seaside so much easier and more convenient.
Early postcards from that era show the promenades and harbour piers thronged with hundreds of visitors keen to take in the bracing sea air and many of those eager to take a boat trip to sea.
The local boat owners and fishermen knew this and were keen to oblige, with a trip out into the beautiful Bridlington Bay on their sailing cobles.
The coble, being the traditional inshore working boat of the north-east coast of England, and which mention of can be traced back to the Lindisfarne Gospels, was an ideal vessel for this purpose.

The visitors were also a great source of additional income during the summer months for most of the local fishermen.
Sailing cobles at Bridlington were unusual compared to those seen at other harbours and ports on the north-east coast. Although rigged in exactly the same manner with dipping lug and foresails, the Bridlington cobles were much bigger. At 38 to 40 feet in length, the passenger-carrying capacity was enormous.
Old postcards depict those cobles packed with passengers, long before the days of health and safety issues.

All those big cobles had been built locally in Bridlington by the Siddall boat building family; Baker, his son Percy and grandson Jack; or at Flamborough by the Hopwood family; Robert Moore and his son Hargrave Potter – a name that would become acclaimed in later years as one of the doyen coble builders of the time.
A trip around the bay on the sailing cobles and the paddle steamers was very much part of the traditional seaside holiday.

In fact, it was still very popular in the 1930s, when motor power had succeeded sail and the bigger motor pleasure boats had arrived on the scene to replace the paddle steamers.
Bridlington harbour was full of sailing cobles in those distant days long ago before motor power, and what a truly magnificent sight they made with their gleaming white hulls and contrasting cream- or tan-coloured sails.
One would not have thought those glorious sailing days would ever end, but, with the development of motor engines just after the First World War, they did.
Slowly, but surely, sail gave way to motor and engines were fitted in the cobles as a course of advancement, the first engine being fitted in 1919.

The pleasure trips around the bay continued with the cobles under power, but gradually that passenger trade moved to the larger motor pleasure boats, which were advertising much longer trips around the magnificent Flamborough Head and beyond.
Daily angling parties were now a steady income, however, for the motor coble skippers, who would take rod-and-line fishermen out into the bay or off to Flamborough Head for hour-long or day trips.
Sadly, that all virtually came to a close in the mid-1980s, although a small number of angling launches still ply that trade even today.


The Bridlington Harbour Commissioners had perhaps some foresight into the decline of the traditional local cobles and bought the then motor-powered Three Brothers in 1983 for restoration.
Built in 1912 by Baker and Percy Siddall in their Bow Street workshop, she was completely stripped, rebuilt and rigged for sail once again.
All this work was carried out under the supervision of George Wallis, the then harbourmaster, and Frank Taylor, the harbour shipwright.
She was handed into the care of the Bridlington Sailing Coble Preservation Society (BSCPS), which had been specifically formed in 1983 to preserve, maintain and sail her.
That society now has a growing number of members and indeed has gone from strength to strength in more recent years.
In 2015 it purchased the sailing coble Gratitude, built in 1976 by Hector Handyside, the works foreman and master coble builder at J & J Harrison, Amble. It then bought Gansey Lass in 2017: one of two new sailing cobles built by John Clarkson and Joe Gelsthorpe at Bridlington in 2014.
All three cobles are regularly sailed by members at weekends throughout the year, subject to tides and weather conditions.
An idea was floated in 2015 by two or three coble enthusiasts of trying to organise a gathering of sailing cobles at Bridlington.


There had been an increased interest generally and as well as those sailed by the society there were two privately owned at that time in Bridlington harbour, Madeleine Isabella and Imperialist; now increased to four with the addition of Bethany of Bridlington and Free Spirit; together with a small number in other parts of the country.
Early in 2016 that initial idea was built upon and, with the full co-operation of the Bridlington Harbour Commissioners, the first-ever Sailing Coble Festival took place during August that year.
It proved to be such a resounding success that a second festival was held in 2017.
Those two events generated so much interest along the north-east coast of England that it was decided to make it an annual event on the maritime calendar and a further festival was organised in 2018.

Visiting sailing cobles came from Mevagissey (Christina), South Shields (Royal Diadem II), Henley on Thames (Avail) and Staithes (Grace).
The beautiful clinker-built keelboat Granby was also present, together with the Tyne workboat Rose, which was rigged for sail.
The 73-foot replica of the twin-masted topsail schooner HMS Pickle anchored in the bay over that weekend and a nostalgic


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