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Three Brothers
About the sailing coble


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Three Brothers drawing

Three Brothers -- drawn as she was in 2004 after refurbishment showing the low sheer, mainsail, jib, large rudder, long tiller, raking transom, straight keel with drafts, sheets and the sailing waterline.

The coble
The coble is a traditional fishing boat which was established on the north east coast of England. The name has been used for hundreds of years with references found in Celtic (ceubal) and Breton (caubal). The boat type is mentioned in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The villages and fishing towns on the Yorkshire coast began their histories as settlements which were isolated. Through many generations, fishing families inter-married and spread up and down the coast forming a significant coastal fishing industry which only began to lose its importance after the WW2. The sailing coble was the foundation of this industry. The cobles were the maids of all harbour work, and they thrived in great numbers. As many as 20 to 30 could be seen drawn up at the Flamborough North and South Landings, and a similar number in Bridlington harbour. They were used for herring netting, crabbing, and long-line fishing. A very small coble could be stowed aboard the parent boat, and used under oars to haul the lines.

Bridlington harbour as it was in summer

Bridlington harbour -- this photograph was taken during the summer holiday season in a period when most cobles were sail only. Note the rowing boats also used for tourist fun in the harbour. The coble on the left with white sails set is probably the Mossrose. She has full sails set at the angles to attract attention. This boat, as were others, was occasionally used in coble racing.


Pleasure angling from cobles eventually played a major role in the development of Bridlington as a holiday resort. Boats would carry up to 36 visitors per trip each with at least one fishing line.

Until about 1920, there were a great many of these boats locally built usually without plans, the builders relying on hand, eye, and experience. Their tools were the adze, hammer, chisel and maul. Three Brothers was built in 1912, by Baker and Percy Siddall. She is the last of these sailing cobles built in the town, and is untypical in design. The boat has less "sheer" than usual - sheer being the rising curves of the lines fore and aft - and so was much flatter, to allow beam trawling as well as passenger carrying.

In appearance cobles are wedge-shaped at the bow, and flat-bottomed towards the stern, which made it easier to use them from the beaches. However, Three Brothers was not used from the beach, as for example the cobles at Flamborough or Filey. They had two bilge keels called ‘drafts’. These are like deep sledge runners (sometimes called skids) made of iron-shod oak. They run from the forward third of the boat back to the stern.

mackerel fishing in a sailing coble

Mackerel fishing -- this coble was photographed while mackerel line fishing with tourists aboard during the summer season in Bridlington Bay

The forefoot or backward continuation of the prow is also iron shod, and on the beach the boat rests on these three iron lengths so that the hull itself is well clear of the ground. The ram plank is the continuing central keel from the end of the stem forward to the overhang of the square stern aft, and coble lengths are often given as the length of this ram. In Three Brothers the ram length is 27ft, and the overall length 40ft.

For the traditional use of cobles, the need for fast easy beaching combined with good sea handling is met by oars, and a very deep rudder. The rudder is long and narrow, and pivots by means of an iron rod or pintle. This is pushed into a hole in an iron plate on the stern and it is important when beaching or taking up a harbour berth that the rudder can be unshipped rapidly and without fail. When the long rudder was unshipped, it would be used as a boarding plank from the quay or the beach or a crossing plank to other cobles.

The forward part of Three Brothers, and other large cobles, is decked over to give a "cuddy" with some 4ft to 5ft of headroom. This provided shelter, and housed a small stove and supplies.

Cobles were always clinker built - that is the hull was shaped by ribs or timbers, and overlapping planks. They had a very shallow draught, and were propelled by oars and a dipping lug sail. The Siddall brothers’ designs used more ribs or timbers than others

returning to harbour after fishing in a coble

End of the trip -- holiday makers have enjoyed a fishing trip aboard a coble in Bridlington Bay

The building cost of Three Brothers, excluding the sails and ironwork, was £75. The ironwork was done by Tom Rowntree, and this would include the rudder gudgeons, the pintles, stem irons, the keel and draft irons. The total building time was about six months.

In 1914, a 40ft coble like Three Brothers cost £90 with sails an extra £25. The main sail was made of about 110 square yards of cotton duck with a varying number of reef points. The typical colour was the dark red seen on Three Brothers today. Usually the hulls were varnished above the waterline. Sets of ‘job sails’ were also carried and these ranged from large (90 square yards) to the storm jibs at 15 to 20 square yards. Some of the boats, but not Three Brothers, also used a mizzen mast set towards the stern when trawling, or even when racing. The mizzen sail, when used, was quite light, being made of calico or union silk. For stability, cobles relied on ballast. For example, Three Brothers carries three and a half tons of ballast in the form of bags of gravel.

The mast, set forward, would be 30ft to 36ft tall, stepped in extra timbers in the frame. It was braced by lateral backstays, and a forward jib tie. There was usually a bowsprit, sometimes up to 28ft long, and this could be retracted. Two rudders would be carried - a long one of 10ft to 12ft, which had a hardwood head on a pine body - and a short tiller (6ft) on a short rudder, all of hardwood. The rudders were always unshipped in the harbour. The long rudder especially, acted as a keel, allowing the boat to sail without slipping sideways in the wind.


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