Historic port numbers live on

Gorleston reader Adam Savell and the Yarmouth-registered fishing boat Mary D, both in Doc Martin TV

Gorleston reader Adam Savell and the Yarmouth-registered fishing boat Mary D, both in Doc Martin TV country, St Ives harbour in Cornwall. - Credit: Archant

Mid-October, a nostalgic time of year when veteran Yarmouthians recall with affection that in decades long past the river was thronged with hundreds of herring drifters in port either to land their hauls of the so-called “silver darlings” from the North Sea before sailing again, or for the compulsory Saturday night embargo on fishing.

YH1 and YH222 help to escort YH89 (the retired drifter Lydia Eva) when she sailed from her home port

YH1 and YH222 help to escort YH89 (the retired drifter Lydia Eva) when she sailed from her home port in 1978 to join a fleet of classic vessels in a maritime museum in the Thames in London. She returned to Yarmouth in 1990. - Credit: Archant

The Yarmouth boats, with their YH-prefixed port registration numbers, were joined in the autumn fishery by their Scottish counterparts from ports like Kirkaldy (KY), Fraserburgh (FR), Buckie (BCK), Peterhead (PD), Banff (BF)...

It was all consigned to history half a century ago, but the memories live on, almost undimmed, for those of an age. Fortunately, there is a magnificent pictorial record of that great era from Yarmouth’s past, helping to jog those recollections.

YH continues to exist as an official port registration for small craft. As mentioned in this column recently, YH563 – a fishing boat named Highlight - was spotted by sharp-eyed ITV viewers enjoying an episode of Doc Martin which is filmed at Port Isaac in Cornwall. Now follows news of a second YH craft at the same location, which doubles as the fictional Portwenn in the television comedy drama,.

From Gorleston reader Adam Savell comes an e-mail reporting: “There is also another Yarmouth registered fishing boat in the programme, the Mary D (YH299). The lobsters landed by the Mary D go to many famous restaurants and the boat’s owners also sell some from their own shop/café, trading as Fresh from the Sea, in Port Isaac.”

According to Adam, who lives in Gablehurst Court off Selwyn Road, notable recent customers have been the Prime Minister, David Cameron, with his wife Samantha.

Adam? He has become a regular customer. The 33-year-old, who works in the security industry, tells me: “I have family in North Devon and therefore I often visit the South-West. One day in April last year we fancied some fresh seafood and decided to visit North Cornwall for the day. Port Isaac was chosen as it was recommended as a lovely place to visit.

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“My partner and I arrived just before lunch, which gave us time to look around for a place to eat. Whilst searching we stumbled across a small café/fishmonger called Fresh from the Sea where, with their own boat, they catch local fish and shellfish daily. I spotted a sign advertising ‘Fresh lobster, salad and a glass of wine’. Sold!

“We shared a dozen oysters followed by the lobster deal from the ‘specials’ board. Whilst our food was being prepared I noticed that there was a the boat that forms part of the shop’s logo on the windows, and on that boat design was the name Mary D with the index YH299!

“I laughed and thought to myself, I’m over 400 miles away from home, in the middle of nowhere, and the boat that caught my lunch came from Great Yarmouth! Whilst eating our lunch the proprietor arrived, still dressed in waterproofs and wellies, carrying a crate of live lobsters just off the boat.

“After lunch we explored the area further and spotted the Mary D moored just off the beach in the harbour.”

“I now visit Port Isaac specifically to visit the café for lunch, and often see the Mary D there. I even spotted her moored in Padstow last February.”

Fresh from the Sea owners Calum and Tracey Greenhalgh say they are delighted to be able “to catch world-class seafood on their doorstep - and be in beautiful surroundings.” Calum takes his Mary D out daily to catch crab and lobster, bringing his landings up the hill to their shop where he usually draws a crowd, all wanting to look at the fish.

Why is a Yarmouth-registered boat 400 miles away in Cornwall? Explains Calum: “I purchased the Mary D from Wells-next-the-Sea about 12 years ago from Carl Pickering.

“He did not have the boat from new but I believe it was made to work from Wells...and Great Yarmouth would have been the port of registry for Wells. There was a larger boat at Wells called the Cyril D and I always assumed a family connection.

“There is a cost and several layers of red tape to go through to change a boat’s port of registry and I enjoy being different to everyone else, so I kept the YH299.”

There was a time when Yarmouth-registered drifters and trawlers regularly fished from other ports around Britain’s coast before and after the “home” herring fishing in autumn. My late fisherman father used to work from St Ives, Padstow, Milford Haven, Fleetwood...

It was during a spell in St Ives, in Cornwall, as skipper of the Autumn Sun (YH370) that he was at the centre of a ten-hour drama in foul weather, in December 1958.

The Autumn Sun had been fishing off southern Ireland, and was returning to St Ives in ferocious and mountainous seas to land her catch when she began shipping water so profusely that her pumps could not cope.

This situation, already dire, was exacerbated when - according to my Dad - they saw “a wall of water” bearing down on them before breaking over her, smashing a wheelhouse window and increasing the angle of her severe list when she was already half-full of seawater.

At that point he made the SOS call that was intercepted in Holland and relayed to British coastguards. And the St Ives lifeboat, 40 miles away, was launched on her mercy mission in those perilous conditions. Five ships altered course, responding to the stricken fishing boat’s SOS call.

The exhausted crew had battled for ten hours to save the Autumn Sun (YH370) when the lifeboat reached her - “the most welcome sight I have ever seen,” the relieved and exhausted Father Peggotty declared – and escorted her to St Ives, a voyage she accomplished under her own steam.

Father Peggotty retired from fishing soon after that drama, but continued to sail as skipper...of the pleasure tripper Eastern Princess, a former Royal Navy high-speed motor-launch, ferrying holidaymakers from Hall Quay in Yarmouth to see the seals out on Scroby Sands.