Esther The last Grimsby Sail Trawler

The Faroes

On the 18th of December 1922 Ester was reported in the Icelandic press as being sold to the Faeroe Islands. According to what I have managed to find out from the Faroes she had in fact arrived there by the 15th of December having been bought by Mr. Andreas Marius Frederik Petersen a fisherman from Oyndafirði.

Mr. Petersen then sold Esther 5 years later to skipper Mr. Napoleon Jensen on 13th January 1927.

Some 9 years after that, on 14th June 1938, Esther was sold to the skipper Hans Erik Olsen and Jógvan Joensen from Klaksvík who remained Esther's direct keepers until 21st of March 1953 when they decided to form a company called Joensen & Olsen and Esther was transferred into the ownership of the company.

Esther Skipper
Hans Erik Olsen on the left with Jógvan Joensen a sail maker.

Esther at War

During World War II the people of the Faroes helped to play a vital roll in feeding the British people. The Germans had been trying to blockade British ports to prevent vital war supplies getting through, none more vital than food. The Faeroe Nation, small though they are, were determined to help in any way they could. It was decided that they should bring as much fish as they could to Britain so through out the war fishing smacks would make the perilous journey from the Faroes across the North Sea to British ports. Although the quantity of supplies brought to Britain was small the willingness to be seen to help the British and the war effort was high however the price paid in lost Faroes seaman was costly for such a small nation.

Over a third of the Faroes fishing fleet was sunk with the loss of over 200 men during the period 1939 to 1945 and this was heavily felt in such a small island community.

Many of these losses were incurred during the crossing to Britain. Crossing the North Sea is always a risk in a sailing vessel and Esther was over 50 years old by this time but added to that the dangers of being caught out in open water by German Navy or the Luftwaffe and there would be few places to hide and nothing she could outrun. This was a dangerous crossing which was undertaken by Esther numerous times during the war but on one such occasion, during a brief encounter with Hitler’s Luftwaffe, it seemed as though her luck might have run out.

On the 26th of April in the late afternoon Esther set sail from Klaksvík on her way to Fleetwood with a hold fully laden with fish. The weather was good but that night the moon was full which did not bode well for this perilous journey.

The next day at an hour before midnight Captain Olsen called the crew on deck. An aircraft could be heard circling over the ship. Not knowing whether it was friend of foe the crew could do nothing but braced themselves for the attack and prepare themselves to be cast into the icy waters of the North Sea.

Lewis Machine Gun
The Lewis Mk3 Machine Gun

Captain Olsen grabbed for the old WW 1 Lewis Machine gun supplied to him by the British. Britain had occupied the Faeroe Islands in Operation Valentine almost exactly a year before to prevent the Faroes falling under German occupation. The Faroes were of strategic importance as a safe port of call on the Arctic Convoy route to Russia.

An old Lewis machine gun would have been no match for the attacking aircraft which came from the stern and strafed Esther's decks from back to front. Expecting a second run Captain Olsen readied himself with the machine gun, but the aircraft droned off into the distance and did not return. Why is not known but Esther could have ended her days then and there along with her crew and Capitan Olsen on that April night in 1941. Whether by luck or good fortune no crew members injured and the damage to Esther's decking was easily repaired. Esther arrived in Fleetwood several days later, safe and sound, to landed 960 boxes of much need fish to the local market. Esther's luck had held good on this trip.

Losses and attacks on Faroes fishing smacks and other vessels between April and June 1941 can be seen on this hand sketched map.It shows the position of Esther when she was attacked as well as the loss and attacks on other vessels of the Faroes fishing and merchant fleet in those months.

After the War

esther large
A hand line with a lead weight, wire boom and two feathered hooks.

With wars end and the British gone Esther could continue with what she had been built for way back in 1888. For the next 40 years she would ply the seas around Iceland and her home waters in search of fish. During the summer Esther often went to Icelandic waters for the cod with a crew of 20 all fishing hand lines. The hand line had two hooks and a lead (sinker) The cod was cleaned and salted in the hold. Esther only had births for half that number of men so the beds were always warm as men took it in shifts to sleep.

In the winter Esther fished nearer to home on the fishing banks around the Faroes. Sometimes they used hand lines and sometimes baited long lines would be set.

Long lines
Working the long lines.

Fishing with long lines is more of a team effort. One man would guide the line around the hydraulic winch as another watches the fish come along side the ship ready to gaff the fish and haul them over the rail. Two others pick up the loose fish, gut them and throw them into boxes whilst another would coil the line into barrels and places the hooks around the rim ready to be baited and set out again.

In the 1950's Esther would often be found North of the Faroes looking for the herring. The herring was cleaned and put into barrels much as it was done all along the East coast of England and Scotland 50 years before.

Esther was known locally as one of the best fishing vessels for catching coal fish using hand lines with 6 – 8 hooks. A coal fish can be up to 1 meter in length and with 6 or 8 such coal fish on the hooks it could be very heavy to pull them up from 100 or 200 meter of water. Later Esther was fitted with hydraulic power for the hand lines which eased the load and increased catches. Bigger catches in a shorter time made Esther a popular vessel with the local fisherman as it meant bigger earnings with less work.

Hand lines
Working the hand lines.

Fishing with hand lines was hit and miss and dependent on the skill of the Skipper to put the boat over the fish. There would be places on the sea bed where fish were known to gather on rocky ground where the nets could not reach them, like under sea valleys and mountains. Finding these places on the open ocean took years of experience and a feel for the sea handed down through the generations. Knowledge that can never be found or learned from books.

There might be hours of pumping away at the land line if the skipper couldn't put his boat amongst the fish but once found the work was fast and furious and all available hands would put lines over the side. The gear was either a baited hook or as was more often the case just feathers tied to the hook to act as bait. Pulling 15 or 20 kilos of fish from several hundred feet of water is arduous work and would be done in all weathers.

Esther had earned her respect amongst the close knit fisher folk of the Faroes and had been around for as long as most could remember. She was well looked after and much loved by all those who fished from her but the end of her working days were growing ever nearer.

As you can see Esther had been extensively remodelled over the decades in an attempt to keep up with the modern fishing boats but even though she was much loved and respected time was now her mortal enemy.

On the right is a picture of Esther as she
was in the 1990's with her Faeroe registration number KG 391.

The modern boat was safer, more comfortable, and easier to handle than Esther. She had fought off the steam trawler and found a new life 100 years before, but now there was to be no distant waters where she could continue to fish. Sentimentality had to give way to hard commercial reality and Esther was old and not fit or safe to take a crew to sea without some very extensive repairs. The sad decision was made that after over 104 years Esther was to go fishing no more.

Believing that she still had a future as an historic fishing vessel she was offered back to her original home and the people of Grimsby in the hope that this would be her chance to avoid destruction and that the people of Grimsby would see her with the same affection as had the people of the Faroes.

The local people had made a small collection which was passed over to the Grimsby Council to kick start a restoration fund such was their strength of feeling and hope for Esther's future and the hope and belief that she had found a safe harbour.

The Esther story continues with Esther going home

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