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This page last updated Jan 2008.

Thanks to the efforts of the people who browsed old newspapers of the time, a comprehensive searchable database of old boat information exists online at the Moray Council LIBINDX page. This lists some 120 Zulus launched by McIntosh's in 20yrs from 1883 to 1904. Please contact me for comment or if you can help with extra information.

The Angus MacLeod Archives Undoubtedly the best online collection of information on the Scottish herring fishing industry.

Visit Gordon Williams website on the building of his Zulu Muirneag.

The Beccles steam capstan in action.

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And also the Mesothelioma Fund

For a complete list of all Zulus built BF or A, INS, SY & WK

The Zulu replaces the Scaffie

In 1879 a new style of sailing drifter was built by William Campbell of Lossiemouth. This new design hopefully combined the best characteristics of the Scaffie & the Fifie, namely a vertical bow & a raked stern, to make for a more powerful sea boat with retained manoeuvrability in cramped harbour conditions. This vessel, the Nonesuch proved a success, & this new class of craft called the Zulu, was quickly adopted by the fishermen along the Moray Firth, remaining supreme until steam power began to replace the sails in the early 1900's.
The first Zulus were clinker built (as were the Scaffies), a construction method which limited their size to a keel length of around 40ft. The first recorded McIntosh built Zulu was the BF 893 McIntoshes launched for Alex. McIntosh in 1883. In the mid 1880's the carvel method of construction was adopted for the Zulu, which allowed the building of the larger vessels being required by the fishermen. As can be seen from this 1888 newspaper article, the McIntosh's apparently quickly adopted & mastered this new technique.
Banffshire Advertiser & Buckie & Moray Firth
Fishing & General Gazette
19th April 1888

Owing to the severe depression in the fishing industry, the boat-building trade has become almost extinct. This week, however, we noticed in the harbour two fine new carvel-built Zulu boats, which were launched a few days ago from the yard of Messr?s William Mackintosh & Sons, Portessie. This long established firm has gained a most favourable reputation for the strength and fine models of their boats, the strength not lying so much in extra heaviness of framework or planking as in the careful workmanship and general build. Messr?s Mackintosh adopt a system entirely their own, in which the greatest possible strength is obtained without making the boat unduly heavy, and the high appreciation in which they are held is shown by the fact that during a period of unusual dullness in boat-building they have been fully employed. The boats just launched are much about the same dimensions - viz - length of keel, 50ft, length o?all 65ft, breadth of beam, 19ft and depth 12ft. - - - -

These two Zulus, the BF 333 Helen & Margaret & the BF 339 Fame are reported as having been 'fitted up with the latest improvements, including capstans which are gradually coming into use on board fishing boats.'
It is unclear if the capstan referred to is a steam capstan or a hand operated capstan as seen in the photo by ally.
The steam capstan was invented by a Mr.William Elliot of the firm Elliot & Garrood, and the first one was fitted to a fishing boat at Lowestoft in 1884. This Beccles steam capstan not only assisted in the hauling of the nets, but provided the extra power needed to sheet home the larger sails required to power the ever increasing size of the Zulus.
This size increased gradually from the 65 footers described here in 1888, to the 80ft plus examples built in the early 1900's, such as SY 486 Muirneag which became perhaps the most famous of all Zulu, fished continuously by her owner Alexander 'Sandy' MacLeod from 1903 until 1939, earning the reputation as probably the last British herring drifter to fish under sail power alone.
The last recorded Zulu launched by the McIntosh's was the BF 1488 Loyal launched in April 1904.

Update Jan 2008

Thanks to information received from the Buckie & District Fishing Heritage Centre, the last Zulu built by the McIntosh family was M SLATER BCK57 launched in Jan 1910 from the Ianstown yard.
'In accordance with the wish of the owner, ?Helen & Margaret? is to be fitted with a wheel in place of a tiller.'
With the increase in hull size & the consequent increase in sail area, these Zulus must have been becoming more difficult to control with the traditional tiller. This horizontal wheel as shown in the photo, became a unique characteristic of the Zulu.
This picture is one of a set of 8 glass lantern slides owned by artist Bob Dennis of Taunton, Somerset, taken on board a Zulu the Annie Jane skippered by Alex Smith (both of unknown origin).
Building a Zulu

All the McIntosh built Zulus were constructed under cover in either the shed at Peterhythe, Portessie, or the shed on the point at Ianstown. The early boats (1888) were around 65ft o'all, increasing steadily to the 80ft o'all models, as the last were built in 1903 - 1904. (The Steam Drifters were built in the open on the beach).
It is unclear when the yards began using mechanically driven saws, but in 1900 the Portessie yard had a '12H.P. Oil Engine, Band Saw Machine and Saws, Roller Saw Bench and Spindle, 4 Circular Saws, a Saw Mill and Engine Shed'. It is again unclear how many men were employed in the building of a Zulu, but probably significantly more than the six men & five apprentices employed by the business in 1851.
Edgar March in 'Sailing Drifters' received information from Mr. William McIntosh of Portessie who had commenced work in his father's yard (Ianstown) in 1894.
He recalls building a Zulu took around eight weeks, costing the buyer £500 for the hull & spars.
'Keel was beech, stem and sternpost oak, frames - oak mostly, a few boats had larch - were bolted to apron and sternpost aft, and beams were Scotch fir - - - - Hull and deck planking was larch 2in. thick, and about 2,000 super ft. were required to plank a big Zulu, fastenings being 4½in. galvanised nails; - - -
Masts were of Norwegian white wood, - - yards were larch - - - The biggest foremast Mr. McIntosh remembers was 6ft. 9in. circ., or about 26in. dia., and these immense masts stood unsupported by any standing rigging, the halyards and burton on the weather side being the only stays.
Ballast was some 30 tons of stone from the seashore - - - Carrying capacity was approximately 80 tons.'
After completion in the shed, the launching must have been accomplished by the construction of a temporary slipway, as exposure to the open ocean would have procluded the construction of any permanent structure. This was achieved later by Jones Buckie who purchased the Ianstown business in 1918, by the construction of breakwaters.

The Harbour Fit Out

The first harbour at Buckie was a ??? structure commenced in 1843, & extended in 1852 after the Washington Report. The construction of the harbour proper as is known today as the Cluny Harbour, commenced in 1874. Thus there was a modern harbour at Buckie before the commencement of the era of the Zulu.
After the completed hull was launched (in favourable weather conditions) from the temporary slipway, it was then presumably taken in tow to the nearby Cluny Harbour for fitout. Masts had to be fitted - obviously requiring the use of some form of crane. The vertical boiler & steam capstan had to be installed. Yards & sails had to be brought aboard to make her seaworthy as well as the nets & other fishing gear to complete her transformation into a herring drifter.
The Zulu's Sails

During the transition from the Scaffie, the sail configuration of the Zulu changed little, the main difference being the increase of their size. They were still made of cotton canvas and required periodic dressing (tanning) with cutch to help preserve them. (Synthetic material was not invented until the 1950's).
The mainsail was still a dipping lug & the mizzen a standing lug. The mainsail had six reefing points (not sure about the mizzen), the jib only being used on longer trips &
'It wis an unwritten law wi the sail boats that fin ye wis sailin in the daylicht with three sails up jist afore it cam doon dark ye took the jib that pult in the boat because tae work it at nicht wis dangerous, ye see.'

(from an interview with James Mair fisherman, Portknockie b1895 on the Buckie District Fishing Heritage Website)
Drifting for Herring

Though mostly used for drift net fishing for herring, most Zulus were also used for great & small line fishing as were the Scaffies. (Small line fishing meaning a boat worked close inshore, & great line fishing meaning they travelled further afield to deeper water). The introduction of the steam powered capstan onto the Zulu in the mid 1880's made the job of hauling in the nets much easier. Other than this the method of fishing remained largely unchanged from the era of the Scaffie, as indeed it remained unchanged through the era of the Steam Drifter.

'Sailing Drifters'
'Herring live on plankton, animal, minute organisms which swim, vegetable, microscopic plants which float, both invisible to the naked eye. The plankton arrive on the fishing grounds at the beginning of the herring season in such immense quantities that they turn the sea from its natural colour to a light milky-looking brown, but if you dipped up a bucketful the water would appear crystal clear.' - - -
'An experienced eye can judge from the colour of the water if the shoals are about - -'

Preparing for Sea

Although far less complex than the Steam Drifter, there was still much work to be done ashore to hopefully ensure the Zulu a successful fishing trip.
Sails had to be dried at every opportunity and periodically dressed with cutch (tanning) to help combat rot. Nets had to receive the same care as they were also made of cotton. Coal had to be loaded periodically to fire the vertical boiler which drove the capstan. Provisions consisted of
'hard biscuits, potatoes, salt beef for the season, condensed milk, sugar, oat cakes, turnips, tea & tobacco'. ('Sailing Drifters')
Being a sailboat, the fishing trip was very much dependent on the wind. If there was little or no wind, or blowing from the wrong direction, the Zulus couldn't fish. They were equipped with six large oars and two 36ft. long 'wands' mainly to assist in harbour manoevering.

The following from 'Behold the Hebrides' Alasdair MacGregor - 1925
'At times you will hear the splash of an oar, as the crew of some smack endeavours to turn the bow in order that the sail may catch the little wind that may chance to come in odd passing breezes: sometimes, a mile or so off, you will hear the rough grating of ropes over the side of a sailing-boat that is being taken in tow to the fishing-grounds by a steam-drifter: sometimes you will hear the puffing and the clicking of a capstan, and the voices of the patient fishermen whose boat, perhaps, has been tacking in an almost windless harbour for a couple of hours, and has only covered a distance of about half a mile. I have frequently witnessed a large part of the fishing-fleet return to the quays in Stornoway owing to the entire absence of wind, with the result that the night?s catch of herring is brought in by the crews engaged on steam-drifters or on motor-driven boats.'

The picture opposite shows the McIntosh built BF 1615 British Ensign being poled at Lowestoft.

Drift Netting

'Sailing Drifters'

'Drift fishing is carried on only at night and just after sunset - at moonrise, and before sunrise the fish are on the move, and especially likely to strike the nets, while the period of full moon generally sees very heavy catches.'
After reaching the fishing grounds, the skipper then decided where to cast out his nets. There would have been considerations such as proximity to other boats & the look of the water.
'Their whereabouts is indicated by various signs - the slight trace of oil on the surface from the glands exuding the lubricating mucus which reduces the friction between fish and water - the presence of abnormal numbers of seabirds, grampus, or cod near the surface.'
Sails were then lowered & the Zulu allowed to drift while the nets were payed out on the starboard side. Little changed from the method on the Scaffie page. The use of animal skin buoys was replaced by cotton canvas as were probably these shown on the 'Annie Jane'.

Lowering the Main Mast

After all the nets were out, the Zulu then rode to her nets by the bow by a rope called a warp. To reduce the speed of the drift and improve stability, the mainmast was then lowered back into the crutch. This ability to lower the mast was achieved by an elongated opening in the deck & a pivot point at the base of the mast as can be seen in the picture opposite. (Note the massive block and tackle setup needed for the large mast). It was not an operation strictly limited to the Zulus, as some English drifters also did the same.

Hauling the Nets & Delivering the Catch to Market

Sometime before dawn, (or even during the night if it was obvious there was a good catch of herring in the net) the warp was transferred to the stern & the nets hauled over the starboard quarter by the steam winch. As the nets were hauled, they were 'redded' of herring which were transferred to the fish hold. Many of the largest of the herring failed to mesh properly, and fell back into the sea. Most boats had a 'scummer' with a large scoop net to land these as well. They were kept separate for 'scum money', & due to their larger size, bought the best price.
All speed was then made for port, with the first & freshest fish fetching the best prices. On arrival at port, a sample basket was provided for the buyer or auctioneer & so the catch was disposed of to the curer. The herring were then gutted by the fishergirls & packed in salt in barrels ready for the market.

The Motor Powered Zulu

The First World War saw a rapid acceleration in technology & the development of smaller more powerful oil engines, meant the fishermen had another much less expensive option than the steam drifter. This option was to have motors fitted to their sailboats. From around 1917 some McIntosh built Zulus were converted. The BF 1042 Bonnie Lass, built 1898, was fitted in 1917 with twin 26in stroke Kelvin engines. The BF 736 Craigview, built 1902, was also fitted with twin Kelvin engines in 1917. BF 954 Strathlene, also built 1902, was fitted with a 75hp Gardner engine in 1918. Yet another brand of engine was fitted to BF 1471 Mayflower, built 1904, when two 45/50 Gleniffer engines were installed in 1918.
The BCK 314 Thistle shown in this pic was recorded as being fitted with a 4 cyl KM 75 Gardner engine in 1919.

NEW - April 2007

Photos by ally of Findochty, of the McIntosh built zulu BF 1091 PASS AWAY launched 1903 for Sutherlands of Findochty. She was fitted with an engine (date unknown). Renamed Laurel (date unknown) and was still fishing in the 1950's.

BCK 314 Thistle
Sources & acknowledgements
Mr. Ron Stewart "Sail & Steam"
Moray District Library
Buckie District Fishing Heritage Museum
Banffshire Advertiser
'Sailing Drifters' Edgar March
Gordon Williams - Professional model builder
Robert Dennis - Professional artist
David Williamson
David Mair
McIntosh family history sources