RACHEL DOUGLAS – 1947.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT – National Historic Ships Register
1. What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate her physical fabric?
The hull and superstructure have not been compromised by alteration. Overall dimensions are 39′ 11″ long, 13′ 10″ beam and 6′ draft. Repairs have been undertaken to original standards and materials. Framing is 95% original, hull planking 95%, bulwarks 50%, masts and spars 25%, crew accommodation 90%. The deck had been replaced during restoration. The fish hold has been altered to incorporate a toilet and galley, though these are concealed behind removable fish hold compartment boards and posts. The boat’s original Kelvin engine and a replacement were succeeded by the present Gardner 6LXB fitted in the mid 1960’s. Fuel tanks were replaced during restoration but are similar to those previously installed. Deck machinery is original (though for a time adapted for trawling,) as is the steering gear.
The present wheelhouse was rescued in the 1960’s from an older boat that was having a modern one fitted; it is larger than the original but still typical of the pattern fitted to this type of vessel. The paintwork now replicates that carried throughout from the 1950s to 2002 – based on paint sampling and contemporary photographs. The blue colour has been associated with Seahouses fishing craft since at least the start of the twentieth century (and probably much earlier.)
2. What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?
“Rachel Douglas” is a fishing vessel built in 1947 for Jackie Baxter-Douglas and his brother Thom. They named her after their mother. The Baxter-Douglas’s lived and worked at the north Northumbrian village of Seahouses and they had an old boat that was in need of replacement. New fishing boats were in great demand after the war and engines were hard to obtain, however, William Weatherhead and Sons accepted their order for a new boat to be built at their boatyard at Eyemouth, some twenty miles up the coast, just over the Scottish border. Unfortunately, they could not provide an engine so the family’s old boat had to be sacrificed rather earlier than anticipated to provide its engine for the new boat until such time as a new engine could be obtained.
The Rachel Douglas was completed with the old Kelvin 44 engine installed and ready for launch. The builders had fitted carved name boards with the name spelt incorrectly – not a good omen. The name was corrected and the owners and family were taken by car to Eyemouth intending to take the boat to its home at Seahouses. After leaving the harbour at Eyemouth the old engine failed and they had to return to port; repairs were needed and the family, instead of enjoying the voyage south, had to hire a taxi home. Matters were soon resolved and Rachel Douglas started a successful career working seine nets and ring netting out of Seahouses, whilst filling in with potting at times. During the autumn herring season the vessel would migrate to other ports with a partner boat to ring net for as long as good catches could be sustained.
A little while after completion a new engine was delivered and fitted, a Kelvin 88; no doubt substantially improving the boat’s power and reliability.
Rachel Douglas was a lucky boat (or maybe the brothers were very skilled hunters). When at the Herring fishery off Whitby in 1950 or ’51, she had to call for two other boats to take her excess catch after catching an outstanding shoal. Sometime later, when she caught the largest catch of herring off Seahouses, she and her partner boat filled up, then she dragged the net (still full of herring) and deposited it on the beach in Beadnell Bay.
In 1963 Jackie and Thom looked for a larger vessel and obtained a larger ringer, Amalthea, from Campbelltown; Rachel Douglas was put on the market and sold to John Wilson of St Abbs, a few miles north of Eyemouth. John and his son Ian worked the boat for the next 39 years during which time she was kept smartly in her blue trim and continuing with her original registration BK231. John and Ian made several changes; they fitted an alternative wheelhouse, slightly longer, but fortunately in keeping with her lines. It is actually older than the boat, having come from another vessel which was being refitted with a new one. They also converted Rachel Douglas, fitting her with rigging and tackle for trawling the seabed; the original winch was adapted for this purpose. A newer engine was also fitted, a second hand Gardner 6LXB.
A small group of Northumbrian Fishing Heritage Trust members purchased the vessel in September 2002 and two months later she was moored in the St Peters Marina, Newcastle awaiting extensive repairs and restoration with the assistance of boat builder Fred Crowell at his boatyard at South Shields.
3. How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?
Rachel Douglas’s form could be described as a “cruiser stern ringer/seiner”. The hull is of a type developed in the 1940s for fishing vessels and of a shape suited to manoeuvrability, a most useful characteristic for working ring nets and for seine netting, where a tight turning circle enabled efficient fishing; however the stern is shorter and perhaps more robust than that of the “canoe stern” type. The overall length of the boat is one inch short of 40 feet to comply with contemporary inshore fishing regulations. The gunnel or capping rail is low to ease hauling of gear by hand. The masts and spars are arranged for the fishing methods of the mid 20th century.
The main mast lowers onto the wheelhouse roof to reduce rolling when sitting at sea. There is a Gilson post for lifting the cod end of a net. A derrick is fitted for unloading the catch at port. There is a mizzen mast with a gaff sail to steady the boat in a swell when sitting at nets or when drawing pots. The form was generated to suit a range of fishing functions including drift, ring and seine netting; as well as working of pots for shell fish. The size is sufficient to work the ring net and accommodation caters for four persons to live aboard whilst working from a “foreign” (rather than just the home) port, such as was the practice when following herring shoals. The fish hold is of generous capacity for the volume expected when herring fishing.
RACHEL DOUGLAS – 1947.