History of the Bristol Pilot Cutters

The Bristol Channel is known to be one of the most difficult sea ways in the world with its strong tides narrow channels and short steep waves. Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters were developed over the years to sail efficiently in these waters, and the blue waters of the Western Approaches (Atlantic).

Their job was to escort or ‘Pilot’ large merchant ships safely into ports up the Bristol Channel. They would sail west as far as they could in order to spot the largest and most lucrative ships heading for England.
Once spotted there would literally be a race to get their Pilot onboard and secure their fee.
The Pilot Cutters would spend weeks at sea in all conditions waiting for work which meant they not only had to be faster than their competitors but also capable of withstanding all the storms that the Atlantic Ocean could throw at them.

These Cutters evolved with the fastest and strongest being replicated and improved upon until by the early 1900’s steam took over and their fate was sealed.

The Original – Peggy

The original ship called Peggy (see photo) is a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter built by Rowles of Pill in Bristol. She is 45 ft on deck with a draft of 7ft 6 inches. She was built in 1904, and is still sailing today in the waters she was built for, cruising, racing, and she is still winning!
Dave Cockwell owner of Cockwells Modern and Classic Boatbuilding has known Peggy for many years and has sailed her on numerous occasions.

One of his dreams was to build a replica of Peggy. He admired her because of her outstanding sailing abilities.

Peggy has a mass of clear deck space and large spacious accommodation down below. There is also plenty of room for a full size navigation area and a powerful engine. She has a large galley and saloon capable of accommodating her full crew.

Diccon and Jan Pridie (owners) often sail her with just the two of them, but it is preferable to sail with a crew even if only for social reasons.

Taking The Lines from Peggy

The lines of Peggy were taken on the slip at the Underfall Yard in Bristol, (at the time Dave was operating out of this yard). She was brought up on the slip and measured.

The boat was bisected using a Laser level. This gave them the sections through the boat at 90 degrees to the centre line; measurements were then taken at a known parallel point to the centre line to give them the sectional reference points. This was done at meter intervals for the stations and 300mm intervals for the water line. From this they produced a table of offsets. They then plotted the table of offsets onto a full size lofting board; this gave them the full size drawing of the original boat. They then faired the lines in the traditional manner, the same as it would have been done originally. Generally nothing has changed more than an inch in any direction.

Older boats over time get slightly distorted and less fair through years of use and measurements are always subject to error but the full size lines they have created are as close as you can get to the original builders lofting.

Using Peggy’s Lines

Using the full size lines they set about marking and building the frames and centre line. All the lofting for the structural timbers were lifted straight from the lofting floor. At a later date they have made a table of offsets for every other frame to create stations at every 36”. These have been inputted onto a computer program which has allowed them to produce a set of lines. There was no fairing carried out by the computer. The computer did have a problem replicating an accurate representation of the stern tuck due to the shape chosen by the master shipwright at Rowles Yard over one hundred years ago!