By Neil Westerman
Standing on the Castle Hill last summer watching the Tenby Regatta with what seemed like hundreds of yachts with white sails reminded me of the races that took place in the late 19th century by locally built boats called Tenby luggers. These were open boats used mainly for line and drift net fishing and oyster dredging. They varied in size but were nearly all of similar design and rig. By 1891 there were no less than 49 luggers, 35 registered for line fishing, 10 for fishing with nets and 4 for line fishing and oyster dredging. The length of the keel varied from 15 to 25 feet. They were crewed by two men and one boy. Tenby’s livelihood has depended upon the sea for centuries, initially by fishing and trading with other countries and more recently by the growth of the tourist industry. It was this dependence on the sea that lead to the development of the unique fishing vessel known as the Tenby Lugger. During the latter part of the 19th century they took part in the annual Tenby regatta held in August. The lug sail dredge boats race had a first prize of £3, second prize of £1.10 shillings and a third prize of 10 shillings (50p). These boats must have made a spectacular sight from the Castle Hill as they raced for position. I can imagine the large crowds gathered to watch on the Castle Hill cheering on the boats including Lavinia (winner in 1885), Constance (winner in 1886), Mistletoe, Primrose, Welcome, Fair Play, Joseph and Mary, Three Sisters (later called Sea Horse), Florence and La Mascotte.
Most of these boats were built in Tenby. Several boat builders worked at Tenby Harbour including James Noot who built several luggers including Fair Play, Thistle, Three Sisters and Welcome. Other boat builders working at Tenby include John Gould Junior who built Neptune, Thomas George who worked near the South Wharf and Mr. Wickland. The quality of their workmanship is shown by the fact that as late as 1943 there were still 5 luggers working from Tenby harbour.
At least one Tenby lugger survives in the collection of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society at Pembroke Dock awaiting restoration. It may therefore be possible one day to see a Tenby lugger make a return visit to Tenby harbour under sail. What a wonderful sight that would be viewed from the top of the Castle Hill.
The accompanying illustration of a Tenby lugger is from Tenby Museum & Art Gallery collection. Reproduced with permission.