Building a Brixham trawler

How a Brixham trawler was constructed

“After due seasoning came the work of gnarled old shipwrights who erected the curved frames on the massive keel and clothed them with planking worked and bent to shape. No paper plans, only a rough half model, gave sweetness of line, and the master builder’s eye was the unerring arbiter, and his knowledge the safeguard that all would be well when the testing time came, as come it would, sooner or later.” Edgar J. March Sailing Trawlers – The Story of Deep-Sea Fishing with Longline and Trawl.


The Brixham trawler was a unique design, combining strength, seaworthiness, power and speed. But how did shipwrights actually go about building a sailing trawler that combined all these features? This section of our website, and the animated Computer Aided Design (CAD), aims to explain and demonstrate how a Brixham trawler was built.


The vessel featured in the animated CAD is based on the plans of “Master Hand”, a Brixham sailing trawler built in 1920 and featured in Edgar J. March’s ‘Sailing Trawlers’. In his book, published in 1953, Edgar March wanted to make the general public aware of these great vessels and the enormous craft and skill required to build and sail them. We hope this video goes a little way to furthering his work.


This CAD animation, the first of its kind featuring a Brixham trawler, accurately depicts the line drawings of “Master Hand” and the stages involved in constructing that vessel.


As some aspects of the order of the build have had to be altered to make the animation, the following provides a stage-by-stage breakdown of the build process.


Stage 1:

  • The Back bone timbers are formed
  • The Keel is scarffed together and the Deadwood, (four individual pieces) laid on top and the Stern Post added at the back.
  • The Stem (in two pieces), Apron and Forefoot are then attached.
  • The frames are then added. Each frame would traditionally consist of at least 3 parts bolted together; the floors, and two futtocks. However for simplicity each frame is shown as just one continuous piece.
  • The Keelson is then laid on top of the frames to tie the whole construction together.


Stage 2:

  • The beam shelf is then bolted to the top of the frames and the fashion timber attached to the deadwood.
  • The stern timbers are then joined to the fashion timber.
  • The deck beams are then laid, with the lodging knees bolted behind them.
  • The carlings are next to be laid. These are there to strengthen the deck for hatches, and masts.
  • The Main mast and Mizzen mast is shown being dropped into position. This goes through the boat and joins to the keelson, with a mortise and tennon join.
  • The deck is laid with the hatches and Samsun posts and anchor winch.


Stage 3:

  • The hull is fitted, and the bulwarks and stanchions.
  •  The stern boards and quarter timbers are put in place.
  • The capping rail is fitted on top of the bulwarks.
  •  The rudder is fitted.
  • Inside the boat, the Ceilings can be seen fitted. These are planking on the interior of the boat, which gives the trawlers additional strength.


Some Key Facts:
Although the structure of all Brixham trawlers followed a general blueprint, the types of wood and joints used varied depending upon the ship building yard, the wood they had available and the amount the owner wished to spend. As such no two trawlers were ever built exactly the same.


* The main structure of the trawler, the frames, beams etc. would be made of Oak. This is a strong wood, pleasant to work and which, in the 19th century, was plentiful in supply.


* Some yards did use Elm for the keel and deadwood, as it is very hard wearing when permanently wet, however its wayward grain did make it very difficult to work.


* When the industry boomed in the 1870’s boat Yards could build a trawler in less than three months.

This work forms part the ‘Provident Project‘, which has been funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund SW.

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