Filey bay is famed for its coble boats with the slipway known as 'Coble Landing'. Its a beautiful site in the summer with the fishing pots stacked up on the little boats and tractors. Filey has always been ideal for the coble boat which despite its small size is very sturdy and difficult to sink.
It can launch on an open beach and in a heavy sea climbing over the breaking waves - the high bow deflecting the crashing waves. Its not changed much in a hundred years. In the past the pulling of cobles up the beach was horse work. On some beaches the local fishermen used to pull the boats up the beach with ropes. It would seem like the whole community had turned out with all the men, and sturdy looking women in overalls and older children manhandling the boats up the beach.
Nowadays the boats are pulled up by tractors. Tractors come to Filey to spend their last days hauling up these cobles. The fishermen will not invest in new tractors as the salt water is highly corrosive and no manufacturer would guarantee a new tractor once it has entered the sea. The tyres are half filled with water to help improve the grip on the beach. The tractors can end up quite deep with waves breaking over the driver.
Usually the fishermen leave at roughly the same time. They leave at dawn early in the morning and spend most of the day at sea. One man operates the tractor for all the boats. In the 1980's it was Bert Clubley.
Cobles are well adapted to the various different inshore fisheries along the Yorkshire coast. In the spring the cobles move along the rocky coast picking up their crab and lobster pots. The coble can operate in choppy seas around the rocky shores. At Filey boats can be seen from the cliffs and shore as they move along the coast around Cayton and Gristhorpe.
During the summer they might take out pleasure boats. Parties of sea anglers will pay to go to sea. They will enjoy their sport relying on the boatman for knowledge of the local grounds. These small and highly maneouvrable boats can be seen especially at Flamborough Head disapearing into the caves within the cliffs.
In the summer they fish for salmon. This is a highly regulated industry with the licenses strictly enforced. These laws are occasionally broken with men going out in boats clearly taking risks. They often get away with it but the law is very strict.
In the autumn the boats may go out line fishing. They use hooked and baited lines and fish for cod and haddock. They will generally move within five miles of their home port.
In the past the coble was an open boat but nowadays they have a little cabin. This is usually used to operate the vast array of technology needed nowadays. They may have satellite navigation which allows the skipper to know exactly where he is - which is quite useful in the frequent fogs along the East Coast. There is also radar which has two uses: It shows the skipper where other boats are thus avoiding collisions; and also tracks shoals of fish.
In the early part of the 1900's the coble was generally rowed or sailed. They had their little brown lug sails. It was very dangerous in a gale as the boats could be driven onto cliffs. Nowadays the coble is motor driven with a diesel engine. The engine propellors are protected at the bottom with a small tunnel built to stop the blades dragging as the coble is landed.
The coble is made from oak and larch. The insides are made from oak and larch is used for the external planks. Larch will not rot easily and is amazingly pliable. The planks are moulded into just the right shape. Its based very much on the viking longships.
But if you are a tourist its easy to spot the coble boats. They will be very common in the pleasant little picturesque villages. Runswicks bay, Filey, Flamborough, and Robin Hoods Bay are the prime locations for the coble. These look just like rowing boats to the untrained eye yet these are very expensive and full of expensive equipment. They are often designed for the coast that they operate in. Filey boats need to be able to operate in shallow waters. It is a highly skilled business - these boats once taken out of the water must be treated with care. These are not cheap either. They cost many thousands of pounds.
Coblemen such as John 'Cosmo ' Johnson, Richard 'Buck' Buchanan, Tom Jenkinson and Graham Taylor were common sights in Filey in the 1980's. A moral and hard working bunch they eagerly volunteer for the Lifeboat and many are involved in the Filey Fishermens Society.
- Scarborough Library local topic file in the Scarborough room on Fishing boats