Skiffs, Fifies and Baldies

— #24 Newhaven Harbour

Overview Lighthouse and Beacon A Picture Postcard Skiffs, Fifies and Baldies Superstitions Black Friday
3_1206 Photographed in the mid-1960s, the three large boats with wheelhouses are 1930s ring netters (motor skiffs). The single ring netter in the foreground is not a typical skiff. The three smaller boats were not built for sail but have petrol paraffin engines. Courtesy of George Hackland. Technical information by Bill Hall.

Initially the fishing boats were small so that they could easily be beached. A small boat design that originated in Newhaven was known as a Skiff. These were built in Fishermen’s Park. In the early 1800s these timber-built boats were about 20ft (6m) long and had a maximum width (beam) of 12ft (3.6m). They were undecked, had a curved bow and a raked stern. By the mid-1830s the boats were larger and heavier, for sailing further and further afield chasing the elusive herring.

3_1042 A skiff comes into harbour

The Fifie was the predominant fishing boat on the East Coast from the 1850s until the mid-1880s. Its main features were a vertical stem (bow) and stern. The mizzen sail was placed so far amidships as not to need an outrigger boom. A long straight keel and wide beam made Fifies very stable, which allowed them to carry a very large set of sails, enhancing their speed. The first decked Fifie was built in Eyemouth in 1856; from 1860 onwards, all Fifies were decked.

3_1010 A Fifie LH289 in harbour

Fifies could roughly be split into two classes: 50ft — 70ft plus and the smaller 20ft — 50ft. This smaller class were commonly known as yawls or Baldies (Garibaldi — the popular Italian general and patriot of the time). The smaller Fifies were used for creels, lines and seine netting. Many of these vessels were built up to the late 1930s. Before the introduction of motorised skiffs, the larger vessels in Newhaven were mainly motorised Fifies.

3_1243 Gratitude LH28