The Early Years and Sailing Fishing Boats

Hopeman was founded during the first decade of the 19th century when the local landowner began to sell off sections of his estates. One of the lots was Inverugie and this was purchased in June1805 by William Young, a local farmer, and before long he was advertising the new village of Hopeman as a Desirable Situation for Fishermen, Tradesmen & Labourers in the County of Moray. These adverts highlighted the excellent soil for farming and the rich fishing grounds nearby and Mr Young was also to build a small harbour which attracted the fishermen. One of the main recruiting areas for these fishermen was Campbelltown/Ardersier where many of the residents today can still trace their ancestry.

boats on the beach

boats on the beach

In the beginning there was no harbour for the fishing boats and so they anchored or were hauled up on to the west beach ‘boat hythe’ where the crews would carry their catch ashore to be sold. This watercolour painting shows a boat on the beach with crews carry their catch ashore and this specific painting was probably painted around 1870 by a local artist. It was hung in a Hopeman fisherman’s cottage and taken to Vancouver Canada when the family emigrated during the 1920s. The children were told that it was Hopeman prior to the harbour being built and this could well be the case.

The main method of fishing during the early part of the 1800s was by using several long lines with multiple hooks baited with mussels. These lines were called locally “scantachs” and fished for haddock, cod, plaice and other white fish. Mussels were gathered at the start of the year from places such as Findhorn bay and kept alive in ‘scaups’ located on the seabed within the harbour at Hopeman.

1844 - Hopeman Harbour

1844 – Hopeman Harbour

‘Scaup’ was the name given to a ring of large stones with the mussels kept inside. When the boats were at sea the fishermen’s wives would go down to the harbour at low water and take a basketful of mussels home where they would bait the fishing hooks ready to be taken to the boat. The shells of the mussels were then thrown out on to the street where they formed a surface on the road. The older part of Hopeman on the east side of Harbour Street is still called THE SCAUP from the amount of shell deposited over the years and gardens in that area still have many shells mixed up with the earth.

The small harbour built by William Young was also used for commercial purposes including the importation of coal and the exporting of lime from the lime quarry and kilns at Inverugie which Wm Young also developed. It is interesting to note that the lime was transported from works at the top of Inverugie road to the harbour using a small railway track using the gradient of the land for power with the loaded lime bogies heading downhill pulling the empty bogies back up to the lime works. It was said that this was one of the first railway lines in Scotland.

The fishing community was very industrious, religious and superstition and with no mechanical machines to assist they had to carry all nets, lines, sails, ropes and other equipment. Early settlers used small open boats of around 20-30 feet in length which were not expensive to build and easy to maintain. By being small and light they could easily be hauled up on to the beach to land their fish and replenish the boat and on leaving the women would carry their men through the surf so that they could keep their feet dry to go to sea. The women certainly had a hard life shelling the mussels, baiting the long lines and bringing up a large family. The fishing boats did not venture far from the shore as they had no enclosed deck area and with the heavy wooden mast, canvas sails and rope rigging were unstable during stormy conditions. During 1848 a violent storm hit the country and 124 boats were sunk where 100 fishermen lost their lives. This led to a government enquiry and a recommendation for larger decked boats and so from then on they started building the ‘Fifie’ which was generally used down the east coast of Scotland whilst the half-decked ‘Scaffie’ design was widely used within the inner Moray Firth. The Scaffie had a rounded bow with a steeply raked stern with an overall length of around 41ft, a much shorter keel of 33ft and a beam of 13ft which it made them ideal for the area and it was not until around 1870 that the first fully decked Scaffie was introduced. Initially there was resistance to these modifications however it did improve conditions for the crew and by 1875 there were still a few open boats around but the majority were fully decked Scaffies with two masts and a dipping lug sail going to sea every evening and returning in the morning.

mary smith ins307A new concept in boat designed was built during 1879 for Lossiemouth skipper William Campbell where he combined the vertical stem of the Fifie and the steeply raked stern of the Scaffie and this proved to be very successful with a good catch capacity and excellent turn of speed to get the fresh fish back to the market. This design was called the ZULU and became very popular during the early 1900s.

Several of these Zulu design boats were built in Hopeman the last being the Jessie Findlay INS 19 about 1903.

These sailing boats worked from Hopeman through till the 1930s with some converted to paraffin then diesel motor engines.



harbour east wall

Harbour East wall showing the fish curing sheds which have all been demolished and replaced by a harbour wall.

Historic records highlight that the initial small harbour at Hopeman was not very good and by the late 1820s it was in very poor condition and could only accommodate 9 or 10 boats. By this time Admiral Duff had purchased Inverugie estate and decided to make improvements to the harbour. This was completed by 1840 and allowed the fishing industry to expand rapidly with many fish merchants coming to Hopeman and many fish curing sheds being built down the east wall. (see photograph). The area became a hive of industry and by 1860 there were around 60 boats fishing from Hopeman. Along with this there were of course many other trades associated with the industry, ship chandlers, sail and rigging lofts, salt stores, coopers making and repairing barrels, boat builders and repairers, etc, As time progressed the fishing industry was very productive with Hopeman having had the highest average catch from 1856-1862 of all the Moray Firth fishing stations.

With these larger boats the fishermen were also engaged in the herring fishery during the two months the herring were off the Scottish coast and this increased capacity led to the construction of additional harbours and the expansion of existing harbours including Hopeman during the latter part of the 1800s. The extension to Hopeman provided an inner harbour and better protection from westerly weather conditions. It also removed some dangerous rocks for boats to negotiate at the old harbour entrance with one of them called the ‘coffin rock’ for reasons we can only guess! Plans of this extension are included within the section on maps & plans.

The building of coastal railways also came along assisting catches to get to larger and better markets.

scoonersThis photograph shows sailing scooners in Hopeman ready to load barrels of salted herring for the home and foreign markets. Barrels were made by coopers in Hopeman and during the season they were stacked high up along the side of Harbour street to the bridge. Larger scooners had to anchor off Hopeman and the smaller fishing yawls transported the full barrels of salted herring offshore.

During the 1st World War a considerable number of Hopeman men were called up to serve in the forces including the manning of their own steam drifters. This was in addition to all the other fishermen from along the coast and indeed the whole of Scotland leaving a considerable amount of fishing boats with no crews. It was normal practice at this time for fishermen to winter some boats in a safe haven and Findhorn Bay on the west side at Culbin sands was a preferred location being sheltered from the elements. During WW1 many of the smaller Zulu yawls were taken to Findhorn and left unattended at anchor and moored together. The majority lay there for the four year period of the war and being unattended a considerable number foundered at their moorings and were wrecked.

The following photographs are some of the buoyancy aids attached to nets –

The map below of the inner Moray Firth highlights some of the fishing grounds used by fishermen over the years and in particular those using the older sailing yawls. Several of these areas such as Peddies Craig, Jock Woki, San Young, John Duncan and Jimmy,s Peak were named after the fishermen who fished and probably found and charted the area whilst others such as ‘The Destroyer’, ‘Promised Land’, ‘Forres Hole’ describe what can be expected. Of course there was no electronic navigation devices during the early years and navigating was done by cross referencing land marks such as lighthouses, high hills, wooded areas and large buildings. Weather conditions was always of concern as they had to sail back to port and these early fishermen had a very good knowledge of local conditions watching the movement and makeup of clouds, wind strength and direction and of course the movements of the seabirds. Apparently even during flat calm conditions they would look up to the sky and say “ Aye its aboot time we started gettin awa back in, theres a wee blow cummin”.

Map - Fishing grounds



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