“ Museum and exhibition housed on an old Arctic fishing trawler. „
Although, after several unpleasant nautical experiences I am now a confirmed landlubber, I still have an interest in maritime matters, especially those connected with the Arctic so a tour of the Arctic Corsair, the last sidewinder fishing trawler to work out of Hull, was, naturally, an appealing prospect for me.
The Arctic Corsair was built in 1960 and it fished until 1988. She's had an incident packed history; in 1967 she collided off the coast of Scotland with the Irish collier Olive and as she made her way to Wick for repairs, was beached. Of course she was repaired and refloated and continued to make more tough trips. In 1973 the Arctic Corsair broke the record for the landing of cod and haddock in the White Sea (it's an inlet of the Barents Sea) and in 1976, during the "cod wars" she was rammed by an Icelandic gunboat (the offending gunboar having already made three audacious attempts to cut the Arctic Corsair's trawl net). Again she was patched up and made it home but she was out of action for several months on her return to Hull. She went back to sea for three years in 1978 having been converted for mid water trawling and in 1985 after a four year rest, she came out of retirement and operated until 1988 as a conventional fishing boat, and renamed the Arctic Cavalier. the original name was reinstated when Hull City Council bought her to restore in 1993. It was patched up and made visitor friendly by a team of volunteers and it's now part of Hull and East Yorkshire's extensive and eclectic free to visit museum collection.
The boat is docked on the Hull, just behind what is known as Hull's Museum Quarter and there's small but packed exhibition building just next to the souvenir shop for Hull Museums. You need to go into the shop and request tickets for the tour and at the appointed time turn up at the visitor centre. As we were passing we had the idea of asking to join a tour that afternoon but one was about to begin so we joined that one. There were five of us altogether but tours start every half hour and there were four different volunteers leading groups; fortunately they time things well so there's no chance of one tour being caught up by the next and the route taken around the boat means that you're not getting in each others' way.
Before you start the tour proper there's a short film made I think in the late 1960s or early 1970s which shows the boat in use, including some footage taken in very bad seas, and when the boat was covered in ice way up in the Arctic. The crew would have to use what they could to remove big pieces of ice that had formed on the lines and would carefully chip away to remove a blanket of ice and snow on the deck.
From here we walked round to the Arctic Corsair and began our tour. To be able to continue you need to be agile enough to manage the stairs onto the boat and to be able to climb the steps up and down inside the boat. You have to be able to go down some of the stairs backwards because they are too steep to walk down facing forwards. This tour is not suitable for wheelchair users nor, I would say, for very young children as there are lots of things youngsters (and adults) could fall over or bang their head on. The content too might not be that interesting to young children as some of it is quite technical (mainly to do with why the net is shaped as it is and the procedure for launching the nets is looked at in detail).
Our guide, Bill, was excellent; not only did he tell us about the boat and its features but he also threw in a lot of interesting stories about the city and the docks in particular. He was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and the way he zipped up and down the stairs made it hard to believe he's 84; there's a lot to be said for spending your time doing something you really enjoy.
You get to see inside the crew's quarters, and the captain's (in contrast) rather luxurious suite of cabins, the galley, the store room and on to the bridge. The cabins might seem cosy and surpisingly comfortable but I imagine it's very different in high seas when you've been working for eighteen hours in very low temperatures. You'll learn what it's like to work on an arctic fishing trawler, what a working day would consist of and the process that kicks in when the first trawl is heaved over the side of the boat.
We went down to see where the fish was processed and stacked; this part has been very cleverly designed to demonstrate what went on in the hold. The men worked at various levels and had to quickly grade and stack the fish. an enormous stock of ice was brought on the trip (ice making companies were situated further along the dock) and as soon as the first fish came on board it was a race against time to get them into storage. The stacking of the first trawl was not so vital as these fish would command the lowest price as they would be the oldest on board but the last ones would be stacked very carefully to keep them in good condition and maximise the price. One man would slot in wooden planks to create a new layer and the man above him would put in the fish and cover them with a layer ice ice, and then the next planks would be inserted. It was hard work but I think I would rather have done that than had the job of removing the cod livers ready for cod liver oil processing. Just how it's made had never really crossed my mind before, but Bill explained that at one time the livers would be rendered at sea and the oil carried on the boat until it got back to shore, however this meant living with the rather unpleasant stench until the end of the voyage. Later it was removed by smaller boats that would come alongside and take the oil straight off to processing plants at the docks.
The tour was scheduled to last around an hour but we were there well over two hours including the time we spent looking around the musuem where we'd also watched the film. When all the volunteers have groups the museum is locked but when there are volunteers there you can see the exhibition without taking the tour and if you are short of time it's still worth seeing the exhibition at least. There's a rather moving display of those who have lost their lives sailign out of Hull over the years, a mock up of a fishing company director's office and some magnificent models of what the docks at Hull would have looked like in the hey day.
This is a briliant attraction for anyone interested in sea fishing and our industrial heritage. I knew this was going to interest me but it did exceed my expectations. Bill was absolutely wonderful; he explained things well and was tremendous fun. I would happily do this tour all over again; how's that for a recommendation?
It is incredible that this excellent experience is free (you can make a donation to a sailor's charity in the museum if you wish) and anyone who lives in the area who hasn't alreadsy visited the Arctic Corsair should really make a point of doing so (and visiting Hull's other free to visit attractions which are diverse in subject matter).
It's a shame that the tour isn't accessible to everyone but, of course, by it's very design a boat of this kind can't be. Certain adaptations have been made to make it safer for visitors but there are some things you just can't change.
To learn more about the North Sea and Arctic fishermen go to
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nationonfilm/topics/fishing/ where there is a wealth of fascianting footage.
From the Hull City Council website
Tour season - Sunday 3 April to Sunday 30 October 2011
Wednesday and Saturday
10am - 4.30pm
1.30pm - 4.30pm
Between 1 and 1.5 hours
Last tour at 3pm
Tours are also available on Easter Monday, May Day bank holiday, spring bank holiday and summer bank holiday.
The Arctic Corsair is behind the Streetlife Museum on the River Hull. It can be accessed via the Museums' Quarter which is on the High Street, Hull. The Museum Unit for the Arctic Corsair is beside the Hull and East Riding Museum in the Museums' Quarter.
The nearest car park is at King William multi storey car park on Lowgate