CaptRF Zayda

An account of working life on the Barquentine “Zayda” off Waterford during a stay in Waterford and on a voyage to Cardiff in the year 1917

The ZAYDA was a wooden 3 masted barquentine, that is she was square rigged on the foremast and fore and aft rigged on the main and mizzen masts.  She was built in 1869 and for a time was engaged in the West Indian trade carrying rum and sugar from the Caribbean to the U.K., she was 118 feet in length and carried a cargo of 350 tons in weight.  The crew consisted of Captain, Mate and four seamen, one of whom acted as Cook.  Captain Nicholas Cummins was Master; Jimmy Hayes was Mate, Pat Galvin, James Reville, Tom Keokham and R. Farrell Seamen, all of whom were locals except Pat Galvin who came from Slade.  Captain Cummings had been in command since the vessel was acquired by Mr. Geoffrey Spencer in 1897, twenty one years in all.  Captain Cummins did the victualling of the ship, he had a large barrel called a harness cask lashed to the bulwarks aft on the poop, this was filled with pickled meat from Denny’s cellars such as spare ribs, pig’s feet and pigs knuckled and other Denny’s delicacies, the food was good and plentiful, the cook was quite good and was a great hand at making plum duff, a kind of plum pudding which we got twice a week after dinner, bread was mostly Spiller’s cabin biscuits which was always fresh and tasted very good with butter and jam, when doing hard work appetites were good.  The Captain and Mate lived aft in a cabin next to the dining saloon where all hands had their meals and the seamen lived forward.

The Zayda arrived at Waterford with a cargo of coal and berthed at a pontoon at the Clock Tower on the Quay.  In port the crew were called at 6 a.m. and after breakfast they turned to at 7 a.m. to get the cargo gear ready for discharging the coal and this began when the horse carts arrived at the Clock Tower to take the coal cargo away.  Dockers filled the coal tubs in the hold and the crew hove up the tubs with two men on a dolly (hand) winch, the tubs were then weighed on a weighing scales on the deck by the Mate, the contents were filled into a carrying barrow, this was a box with two handles in front and two behind, two dockers, one each end carried the barrow ashore on stage planks, about three feet wide and about twenty five feet long and emptied the barrow load into the horse and cart.  It was quite an art walking those planks as a rhythm had to be acquired to keep in unison with the up and down movements of the plank.  Some of the carts taking away the coal were farmers carts as Spencer’s did a certain amount of country trade, the rest went to Spencer’s yard in Johnstown.  Work was carried on until 6 p.m. with of course the usual dinner hour and a couple of breaks for tea and biscuits in between, when work was finished the crew got a very good meal for tea with a pig’s foot or some such thing for each man and as much biscuit as he could eat, Captain Cummins believed in the old adage ‘full and plenty and no waste’.  When all the cargo was discharged the holds were clean swept and the sweepings were put into the galley bunker, the bilges were cleaned of any loose coal and the pumps tested in case they had got choked with coal dust.  When everything was ready a tide was chosen and a motor boat was hired to tow the Zayda from the Clock Tower to the North Wharf, where she was to load a cargo of pit props for the mines in Wales, the Zayda being purely a sailing vessel, did not have power of any kind on board.  A period of slack water was chosen to move across, Captain Cummins took charge, and the manoeuvre took about half an hour from berth to berth.

Captain Cummins was a dapper little man, he always wore a black suit, a black bow tie and a wide black soft hat, one of his peculiarities was that he used to put on a pair of long leather sea boots when taking the ship across the river and most of the time at sea even in fine weather.

The pit props came in railway wagons from the various forestry districts up country and were stacked along the wharf, which was wooden in those days. The cargo was again hove on board by the crew on the dolly winch and stowed in the hold by dockers’ and when the holds were full a certain amount was stowed on deck and lashed and everything got ready for sea.

On the day of a sailing the wind was North West moderate to fresh and the time of high water was suitable.  As the Zayda was a bit bigger than the usual coasting sailing vessel of the time Captain Cummins used the services of a motor boat to ease the vessel around the various bends in the river.  The time of casting off from the wharf was at the top of high water, the motor boat made the tow rope fast forward and the order was given to let go the mooring ropes and by then the tide was just commencing to ebb and the vessel got under way.  As the wind was fair the order was given to hoist up the fore topmast staysail, inner and outer jibs, and the mainsail, these sails gave sufficient control in the narrow parts of the river and with the help of the ebb tide the vessel was soon making good headway.  With the constant altering of course the crew were busy tending the sails and letting the gaskets go on the square sails so that they hung in the buntlines ready for sheeting home and also preparing the mizzen and gaff topsails for setting when the time came.  In this way and with the help of the motor boat and a strengthening ebb tide the Zayda rounded Smeltinghouse Point, passed through the Ford Channel, rounded Cheekpoint and was approaching Passage E. when the motor boat was cast off, the order was then given to sheet home therefore lower topsail and hoist up the upper topsail, when these sails were set orders were given to set the foresail and mizzen and then the topgallant sail and main and mizzen gaff topsails.  The Zayda was now under full sail and making about 8 knots; she was a fairly fast vessel and soon was approaching Hook Point.  Watches were now set, Captain Cummins taking the port watch with two men and the Mate taking the starboard watch with the other two men.  When Hook Point was abeam about half a mile off the patent log was streamed and set to zero.  Course was now set for Coningbeg Light 11 miles distant, the wind was fresh from the North West and the helmsman was ordered to steer SE ¼ S this brought the wind from right aft and the yards were squared on the foremast, the main and mizzen sails trimmed and lazy sheets fastened to the main and mizzen booms to prevent them from gybing.  Coninbeg Light Vessel was soon raised and then brought abeam about 2 ½ miles off, the course being steered would take the vessel to the Smalls Light 35 miles distant, when this light was abeam 12 miles off the course was altered to E.S.E. to bring the vessel right up the Bristol Channel along the Welsh Coast to St. Gowans Light.  V.Scarweather L.V. and Breaksea Light V. was abeam various courses were steered to take the vessel to Cardiff 10 miles distant.  When nearing Cardiff the Captain called all hands on deck preparatory to shortening sail, soon the order was to take in the gaff topsails this was done by lowering the sails and passing a gasket around the sails and mast.  The vessel’s speed was now much reduced and as the ship was getting near the anchorage the lower topsail was furled and made fast and the halliards of the fore and aft sails made all clear for letting go.  When the Captain decided to come to an anchor the helm was put down, the jib and staysail halliards let go and as the ship came up into the wind the order came to lower the mainsail and mizzen, the vessel soon lost headway and the anchor was let go in a position as near as convenient to the dock entrance to await the time for docking.  The Zayda had sailed the 160 miles from Hook Pt. to Cardiff in under 20 hours at an average of a little over 8 knots.  The Zayda was to discharge her cargo of pit props in the West Bute Dock which is entered by a tidal lock.  When the lock gates were opened a motor boat came alongside to tow the Zayda into the dock and the anchor was hove up, this latter was a laborious job as the windlass was worked by hand with a long lever each side, two men were at the end of each lever and worked them up and down like a see-saw until the anchor was in the hawse pipe, it was then lifted up and fastened to the gunwale, an operation known as catting the anchor.  The vessel was towed into the lock and then into the dock where the motor boat left, the ship’s boat was then lowered over the side and a coir rope was run up the middle of the dock to a buoy, when the rope was made fast it was taken to the dolly winch and the vessel was hove up the middle of the dock and then into her discharging berth.  Work was carried out leisurely in those days and it took over a week to get the cargo out with the crew working the winch and dockers handling the pit props.  When the cargo was out the Zayda was taken to the coal tips and a cargo of coal was loaded for Waterford.

In the dock at this time were several small French topsail schooners from Brittany loaded with onions which were sold in onion ropes by the crew, every morning they set out on bicycles and disposed of them around the town and suburbs, they were known as the onion men.  These vessels were unique in the fact that their square topsail could be rolled up from the deck like a window blind by an ingenious roller gear thereby obviating the necessity of going aloft to make the sail fast.

R. J. Farrell