The coble is a type of open fishing boat which developed on the North East coast of England NZ2799 : Coble boat net fishing off Druridge Bay
. The southern-most examples are found around the Humber, occurring occasionally down to Yarmouth, and the most northerly at Burnmouth, just across the Scottish border.
The distinctive shape of the boat — flat-bottomed and high-bowed NZ7120 : 'Repus' fishing coble, Skinningrove
— arose to cope with the particular conditions prevalent in this area. Flat bottoms allowed launching from and landing upon shallow, sandy beaches NZ7120 : Yorkshire Cobles
; an advantage in this part of the coast where the wide bays and inlets provided little shelter from stormy weather NZ7120 : Fishing Cobles
. However, fishermen required high bows NU2519 : Mermaid and boats at Craster harbour
to sail in the dangerous North Sea and in particular to launch into the surf and to land on the beaches TA2372 : North Landing, Flamborough Head
Other distinctive features include the keel arrangement - single in the bows TA1280 : Coble on the Cobbles
, double in the stern NU2614 : Coble on shore at Boulmer (2)
which provide lift from the waves when beaching stern first. The coble is also the only beach boat with a rudder that projects well below the bottom of the boat NZ3188 : Fishing coble planter, Front Street, Newbiggin by the Sea
. A long tiller (often along with another shorter) provided control.
The normal rig was traditionally a single, tall mast, raking aft with a single, large dipping lug-sail complete with bowlines enabling the boat to be sailed very close to the wind.
Local variants of the usual type from Scarborough, Whitby and Filey are double-ended, without the vertical stern transom NZ8910 : Small fishing boats in Whitby harbour
. They are known as 'mules' NZ7120 : Skinningrove shacks
The coble design contains relics of Norse influence, though in the main it shows Dutch origin.
A Scottish version of the coble, much shallower and broader of beam than the English type, serves for salmon-fishing off beaches near Arbroath and Montrose in Angus NH5963 : "Firth Cobbles" at Storehouse of Foulis
. These cobles have a less refined construction than their southern counterparts. Ghillies employ a smaller, better-built version for fly fishing on Scottish rivers NT9952 : Fishermen River Tweed
Local boat-builders constructed the clinker-built cobles locally as required, without the use of plans. The hull is constructed first before the internal frame is added. Traditional boats were built using larch and oak, although there are a few examples of steel and fibreglass boats which are often build from moulds of wooden boats. The craftsmanship on many boats gave them a long working life. They had a reputation as dangerous to sail for an inexperienced crew, but in the hands of experts could move both safely and speedily. It was a coble. rowed with long sweeps (oars), that Grace Darling
and her father used to rescue people from the 'Forfarshire' wrecked on the Farne Islands off Seahouses
in 1838 NU2438 : Longstone lighthouse, Farne Islands
Today, surviving cobles generally use diesel engines, removing the need for the distinctively shaped lug sail TA1866 : Two stalwarts
. Larger, modern cobles TA1866 : Fishing Coble in Bridlington Harbour
often have a small wheelhouse, perhaps a half deck to shelter the engine, and gantries to support line haulers TA1281 : "Energy" on Fileys Coble Landing
. Smaller versions may have a tarpaulin shelter NU2613 : Fishing boats at Boulmer
covering the bow allowing protection for the crew and for navigation equipment NU2604 : Cobles in the harbour, Amble (2)
. For both launch and recovery, the boats are swung around to go head to sea, the up-swept bow NZ3671 : 'James Denyer' coble fishing boat, Cullercoats
rising to meet the oncoming surf. In many places, the boats are all kept ashore on lorry-wheeled launching trolleys or cradles and launched direct from beaches or slipways with the aid of tractors NZ7120 : Fishermen's Tractors and Huts Skinningrove NU2614 : Tractor and fishing boat
often with their tyres half filled with water to improve traction TA1280 : Filey Beach
or winches TA2372 : Boats at North Landing, Flamborough Head
The cost of a 26 foot (7.9m) coble in 1952 was in the order of £650 plus another £350 for a petrol engine and capstan.
The Northumberland coastal village of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea had 142 cobles in 1869. It has a pub called "The Coble" named in tribute to these boats NZ3187 : The Coble, Newbiggin by the Sea
. There is one of similar name in Redcar NZ6023 : The Yorkshire Coble
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Fishing Boats of the World by Jan-Olaf Traung (2008)