The “Fairfree” Experiment

“Fairfree” GW 19 / LH 271© Captian Walter Lyle Hume, Isle of Wight


Part of a Paper read to fishing industry representatives by Captain W. L. Hume, M.N.I., about British Steam Trawlers since circa 1870. ©


Stern Trawling proved to be the effective way forward, offering a greater degree of safety and comfort to the crew, to re-trace the origins of this development we have to  go back to a venture which evolved immediately after the end of the 1939 - 1945  war, several enterprising business entrepreneurs had in mind that this type of fishing could be useful, although the early efforts were concentrated on inshore fishing, as carried out in the  Firth of Clyde, these venturers acquired an old steam yacht, “Oriana” - of 172 gross tonnage, built in 1896,  owned by the Chairman of the Allan Shipping Line, of Aros House, Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, a vessel requisitioned by the Royal Navy as an Auxiliary Patrol vessel during the 1914/1918 war  - Firth of Clyde based, and operated from  Campbeltown, Rothesay,   Ormidale and Gourock, this old vessel had been laid up in a boat yard The Fairfree Experimenton the Holy Loch in 1939 and remained untouched until purchased at a cost of £1200 in 1946, altered and used in the Firth of Clyde as an experimental stern trawler trials vessel with the deep counter stern  cut away  to accommodate the experimental fishing gear, after many trial and error voyages carried out from  Ailsa Craig to the Mull of Kintyre, with encouraging results and good catches of fish, these  pioneers decided to go for broke, as they say, and looked around for a suitable vessel to purchase and convert.  This was immediately at  the end of hostilities, during which time the Royal Navy were disposing ships of  all shapes and sizes, within the 'Craft for Disposal' lists, the Clyde fishing enthusiasts decided on an ex Algerian Class mine-sweeper, which was lying alongside the quay at Portland Naval Base, still in commission, during 1946, a representative body of the syndicate, Chairman, Accountant and Technical Director (ex RNVR Lt. Commander) travelled by sleeper train  from Glasgow to Portland to inspect the vessel in question, “HMS FELICITY”,   these ships were of course being offered by the Admiralty 'as is - where lies', in other words, what you see is what you get, with no come back after signing acceptance, our worthy delegation did not waste too much time in deciding that even a ridiculous  nominal offer would be more than recoverable if sold on for scrap, and submitted a firm offer of £5000 for the vessel (less all armaments) as she lay alongside , this was accepted by return on condition that the vessel was immediately the responsibility of the purchaser and removed within a very short time, they were allowed ten days and afforded many extras, lots of help from the dockyard maties plus a run crew to the Clyde, the ship duly sailed north without mishap to a local shipyard on the Clyde for conversion.



© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Imperial War Museum

“HMS Felicity” - ex “HMCS Coppercliff” - 1944, built 1944 at Toronto, Canada, and  transferred to the Royal Navy up completion in 1944, a 1500 ton Algerian class Mine Sweeper, these ships were 225-ft. in length with a beam of 35-ft and draft of 9-ft. fitted with two reciprocating steam engines of some 2000 h.p.   This vessel cost the syndicate  £5000 as seen and where lay (Portland Naval Dockyard)  representing just over £3 per ton scrap value compared with the  £150 plus,  per ton for new construction,  less armament - market scrap value at that time was £8 per ton for steel, any non-ferrous metal being almost £25 per ton: ex “HMS Felicity” sailed from Portland to the Firth of Clyde, arriving at  Fairfield Shipyard in  Glasgow for the purpose of conversion to a fishing trawler, incorporating a stern chute or ramp similar to that of a Whale Factory Vessel. Soon after arrival at the shipyard in Glasgow,  one boiler, in practically new condition and being surplus to requirements,  creating further working space below decks, was sold to an Edinburgh brewery for £3000, such materials being almost unobtainable at the time, bringing the cost of the vessel down to £2000, the refrigerating machinery was sold back to the Glasgow manufacturers for £1800 resulting in an overall cost of the“Felicity” at £200; with the alterations completed in October 1947 the ship was now named “FAIRFREE” - and flying the Red Ensign, Registered at Glasgow, with the Fishing Number GW19, the name is understood to be loosely based on  the fact she had been converted at the Fairfield yard and was obtained (nearly) free.  After preliminary fishing trials off the West Coast of Scotland, Fairfree was then purchased and taken over by Salvesen of Leith, who operated a large fleet of Whale Factory ships and Whale Catchers in addition to many cargo vessels, this Company  changed the Port of Registry to Leith, with a new Fishing Number LH271,  and with a local crew operating from Granton and Leith,  ultimately serving for over a year on a trial and error basis, testing  deck gear, and factory machinery (which created a large number of  problems), although in spite of the technical difficulties the fish catches were considered to be a good return on the capital outlay. With further consideration given to the operating costs the steam driven engines were removed, propulsion  being   replaced with  diesel engine power in August 1949,    Voyages thereafter  were undertaken to the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and to  Newfoundland Grand Banks, a round trip of 5000 miles.  Operated originally out of Granton/Leith, although eventually moved South to discharge her entire frozen cargo at Grimsby and Immingham, the venture was declared an unqualified success, until laid up at the Shore, Leith Docks in September 1951, the experiment had yielded sufficient information to prompt her owners to build a new larger version of some 3500 tons, which was eventually increased to three of these units, respectively named “Fairtry I”, “Fairtry II”and “Fairtry III”.  So after initiating what became the fore-runner of deep-sea stern trawling the Fairfree was laid-up at Leith for several years, eventually being quietly towed away to the scrap yard at Charlestown Fife by Ship Breaking Industries, it was sold for £15500, in August 1957.




                Job done  waiting to go for scrap

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Captain Walter Lyle  Hume, Isle of Wight


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