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Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter

Pill Harbour 1919, Rowles sign on right.

The Bristol Channel was probably one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world with its huge tidal range, sand bars and rocks. At the height of the coal trade in the latter half of the 19th century thousands of ships were making for south Wales ports, each one looking for a pilot for the last leg of the journey. Bristol Channel Pilot Cutters are generally seen as the most successful fore and aft rigged boats built during the age of sail, their function being to ferry out pilots to shipping making for Cardiff, Newport and the other Bristol Channel ports. Speed was of the essence for these craft as the first pilot to a ship usually got the job, and given the nature of the currents in the channel sea kindliness was a must. Cariad spent most of her working life with Pilot Thomas Richards at Cardiff. In 1914 she became a Bristol pilot cutter and was the last sailing pilot cutter in 1922. Later she became a private yacht owned by Frank Carr who became the second Director of the National Maritime Museum in 1947 and wrote about his experiences aboard Cariad in ‘A Yachtsman's Log’ published in 1936.

Cariad 1904 - 2004

“By then, Cariad was in an appalling condition. She had completely dried out, most of her fittings were missing, and even the ship's papers had been lost. ..”

Cariad After Carr

Cariad on the River Exe

Pilot cutter, yacht and museum exhibit. Tim Pratt’s history of Cariad...

Built by Rowles at Pill in 1904

Cariad off Ilfracombe, circa 1910

“This was the year of the general strike, and Cariad's first voyage was a delivery of 20 tons of potatoes from Portsmouth to Poole, for the starving burghers of Bournemouth...”

Frank Carr’s Cariad

Frank Carr & Friends on Cariad

The Last Working Cutter

“It was on Tuesday December 12th 1922 that the era of sailing pilot cutters came to a close, when the steam cutter Queen Mary came down channel to relieve her...”

Thanks to Tim Pratt for allowing us to reproduce his Cariad history. Originally appearing in the Spring 2005 issue of The Wave, the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter Owners Association Newsletter.
Images appear thanks to the generosity of the executors of the estate of Ruth Carr, and the National Maritime Museum.