(Fishing) Luggers were one of the largest beach-launched fishing vessels between around 1839 to the 1940s. They were up to 55 feet long, with three masts and a crew of up to eight. In terms of size compared to the town's fishing fleet today, they were half as long again. In 1854 there were 23 luggers registered in the town. Most luggers spent almost all of the year away from town, hence not as prominent in recollections as the smaller fishing fleet. The luggers prompted the creation of their own business' with the owners becoming very rich men, able to risk the equipping of the vessels for long voyagers against the returns from selling the catch. In terms of number of owners, in 1861 approximately half the fleet was owned by just two families.
The luggers sailed from Hastings in early January, working their way west along the Channel in search of mackerel, ending up off Lands End in the spring. They returned to Hastings in the early summer and sometimes fished the local coast for a while, again for mackerel. Then they heaved up the beach for a refit and to change their mackerel gear for the herring nets. About mid-August the luggers ‘fleeted off (went afloat) again and sailed north down the east coast (north was always ‘down’ to fishermen; in the Channel, ‘down’ is towards Folkestone). The boats might have to go as far as southern Scotland before meeting the first herring shoals, when they turned round and gradually worked their way south again, arriving back in Hastings just before Christmas. The crews would then have a brief holiday and change the fishing gear over again, ready for the start of the next ‘mackerel voyage’ (the mackerel and herring seasons were called ‘voyages’; luggers going a long way from home were on ‘foreign voyages’; smaller boats catching fish off the local coast were on ‘home voyages’). On their foreign voyages the luggers based themselves at ports such as Plymouth, Portsmouth, Lowestoft and Scarborough, where they landed their catches.
References & Notes
- HBC Archive
- Hastings Fish