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Trawlers Transition from Sail to Power, Part 1

Trawlers Transition from Sail and PowerSelene, Nordhavn, Kadey-Krogen; from a historical perspective these and other leading brands of trawlers are relative newcomers. The term “trawler” is now universally understood to refer to a power vessel, generally designed for economical, long range, coastal or trans-oceanic cruising. A contemporary pleasure boater contemplating a serious sea voyage will begin with a fundamental choice that wasn’t a serious consideration a mere 50 or 60 years ago- power, or sail?

It isn’t entirely by accident that most trawlers share some design element with workboats. The earliest references to trawlers described a method of commercial fishing rather than a specific boat concept. In the same way that we refer to a variety of boats as “gill netters”, or “purse seiners”, trawlers were, and in some applications remain, vessels used to drag nets across the seafloor in search of flounder, halibut, and other bottom-dwelling species.

As recently as the late 19th Century, most commercial trawlers were sailing vessels. A French shipwright, Benjamin Beneteau, founded a shipyard in 1884 and produced fishing boats. Beneteau built fine sailing vessels, and the company he founded is still engaged in the same enterprise. Beneteau shattered the sailing trawler paradigm when he built a petroleum powered trawler driven by propeller rather than sail. The power trawler immediately began generating more profits than competing sailboats. While the sail fleet was waiting on the wind, Beneteau’s power boat was en route to the fishing grounds. In addition, the power trawler would be first back to port- first to market when the daily prices were highest and with the freshest fish.

Rather than emulate Beneteau’s success and begin building power trawlers, competing shipyards launched a propaganda campaign. Rumors began spreading through European fishing villages. “That oil boat is going to destroy us! It’s scaring away all the fish!”


To be continued on our next post 3/24/14

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