Whitstable Way We Were with Brian Baker: The Gamecock

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By Whitstable Times | Thursday, July 11, 2013, 08:00

ONE of the few remaining Whitstable oyster yawls, the Gamecock, is so indicative of the quality of its construction and the strength of character of its owners that it epitomises Whitstable itself.

Ernest Stroud, who was the landlord of the Royal Native pub but also dredged oysters, injured himself in 1905 swinging up bags of oysters from his old boat and was hospitalised, being told that he would never again be able to carry out such physical work.

Undeterred, in December 1906 he placed an order with Collar Brothers, boat-builders in Island Wall, to build him a new yawl to his exact specifications, to be called the 'Gamecock'.

This was just as well. In 1907 it was decided that there were too many pubs in Whitstable and the Royal Native, with many others, was closed down.

The Collar Brothers were fastidious in the art of building oyster yawls, using only the best materials and worked to the highest standards. The Gamecock proved to be the last yawl they would build, for in 1910 because of their age, reliance on traditional methods and the decline in demand for wooden boats, they liquidated the business and retired.

From when the Gamecock was launched in June 1907 Ernest worked the boat until he was 77, proving his adage that: "You can take too much notice of doctors!"

As with all the local yawls it was registered at Faversham, being the older port, although by that time the silting of the Creek had diminished Faversham's importance as a trading port. The Gamecock was assigned F76.

Again, in common with the other yawls, the Gamecock would have been moored in the bay for the duration of the oyster dredging season. Over the years as oyster production faded, many yawls were sold off, or broken up for timber, the remaining ones then used the harbour as a base.

By the 1960s the then and present owner, Bill Coleman, had saved the yawl, spending two years and considerable money in repairing it, and moored it in the harbour.

This was to keep it safe and perhaps to avoid rowing out to it moored in the bay. At that time it was the only yawl left reliant just on sail power. In October 1967 Whitstable Urban District Council and its harbour master decided that boats such as the Gamecock were taking up room in Whitstable Harbour, so effectively banned the Gamecock and another yawl, F124 'Fiddle' from mooring there, as these boats were only used part-time. Eviction notices were pinned to their masts and when the deadline was reached the police were at hand to ensure they left the harbour.

The day arrived and the yawls dutifully left the harbour, all counter-arguments lost. Three weeks later a cargo vessel leaving the harbour collided with the moored Gamecock and sank it. No one reported that they were responsible for this and as three boats had left the harbour on that evening's tide it was difficult to prove which one it was.

It took three days for Bill, with the help of local fishermen, to get the Gamecock ashore so that he could start repairing the damage.

The Gamecock still survives today, moored at Faversham Creek. It has been a part of many Smack and Barge races over the years, filling the view from Whitstable as a reminder of our past oyster dredgers, barges, boat-builders and skilled mariners.

The boat built for an oyster dredger who shouldn't have been, by a boat yard that closed soon afterwards, sunk by a 'modern boat' and survived due to the dedication of one man, 104 years of Whitstable history in its every timber, nail and sail fibre – The Gamecock. Long may she last.



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