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Boy Leslie ble bygd som seiltråler i 1911 ved verftet Sanders & co i Galmpton Creek, og var en del av den engelske fiskeriflåten kalt «Sailing Trawlers». Ved overgangen til dampdrevne stålfartøyer ble disse overflødige og solgt, – hele 800 til Norge, hvorav 126 til byer på Sørlandet. Her ble de i hovedsak brukt til makrelldorging, men enkelte ble ombygd til fraktefartøyer. «Boy Leslie» var i fiske som seiltråler frem til 1920. Deretter ble fartøyet kjøpt av rederiet Hewett & Co i London, som hadde vært en av pionerene på seiltråling i Nordsjøen. 

Dette rederiet moderniserte tidlig sin fiskeflåte, og det antas at de kjøpte «Boy Leslie» for å ha et seilende paradefartøy. Etter en ombygging i 1939 fikk «Boy Leslie» en ny tilværelse som fraktefartøy langs Sør-Norges kysten under navnet «Ekstrand». Fartøyet var alltid velholdt og på farten mellom ulike havner. I 1978 var tiden som fraktefartøy over, og «Ekstrand» ble kjøpt til boligformål av Kjell Otto Hansen. I mars 1979 tok en gjeng seilskuteentusiaster initiativ til å danne en forening hvis formål var å skaffe et seilende fartøy til minne om Arendals storhetstid som skute- og sjøfartsby. Fraktefartøyet «Ekstrand» ble kjøpt i 1979, og arbeidet med tilbakeføring til det originale seilende fartøyet ble straks påbegynt. 

Tusenvis av timer fra frivillige er nedlagt i restaurering og drift av «Boy Leslie» og restaureringsarbeidene har høstet stor anerkjennelse. Lokalt næringsliv og det offentlige har gitt betydelige tilskudd. I dag seiler «Boy Leslie» som et kulturminne langs Sørlandskysten og brukes i forbindelse med kulturarrangementer og festivaler. Barne- og ungdomsarbeid er prioritert, og flere skoler benytter «Boy Leslie» aktivt i undervisningen.

BOY LESLIE was built in Galmpton, England in 1911 as a sailing trawler. This type of vessel was once very important in the supply of fish, mainly to the large population of London. The use of the beam trawl was developed by English fishermen and over the years as many as 5,000 sailing trawlers were built. Strong hulls that could endure any type of weather under sail alone were made of elm and oak. At first the trawlers were single- masted, but as the trawl grew larger, more sail power was needed to pull it, and the large areas of sail were eventually divided into two masts. Thus one arrived at the “ketch rig”, the rig seen on BOY LESLIE.

BOY LESLIE as an English sailing trawler.

Trawling started along the English Channel coast in the early 1800s. As the fishing boats, usually called “smacks”, ventured further and further afield in search of a good catch, the rich fishing grounds of the North Sea were eventually discovered, and ports such as Hull, Grimsby, Yarmouth and Lowestoft on the east coast came to harbour large fleets of sailing trawlers. Fleets of trawlers would operate under the command of an “Admiral” and spend up to eight weeks at sea, while the catches were brought ashore by faster carriers. The use of ice, collected from ponds and marshes in England, shipped in from Norway or eventually produced artificially, made it possible to preserve the fish until it reached the important Billingsgate fish market in London. The first ports to get a railroad connection naturally gained advantage as fish receivers.

Steam trawlers were first introduced in 1877, and by the turn of the century they were taking over more and more the role of the sail-powered vessels. Many sailing trawlers were also lost during the First World War, so, by the end of the war, the vessels under sail alone had largely lost their importance.

The wooden hulls of the sailing trawlers had a rather slim after body, not suitable for the retrofitting of steam engines. They were eventually given a steam driven capstan for pulling the trawl and the sails, but for the purposes of propulsion, the steam engines needed were simply too large and heavy. Thus, large fleets of sailing trawlers came up for sale in English fishing ports, at a very low price, as there were few local buyers.

In Norway and particularly also on the west coast of Sweden, small communities could still make good use of fishing vessels under sail, and as the outdated trawlers were so cheap in England, many of them were given a new lease of life under Scandinavian ownership. Altogether some 700 of these sailing trawlers came to Norway and more than 300 to Sweden. Denmark received a considerable number and a few were also sold to other countries. The initial use of these vessels in Norway and Sweden was in line fishing for mackerel on the Dogger Bank. In the period between 1884 and 1914 a total of 450 ex-English sailing trawlers were registered in Norway, engaged in the catching of mackerel. The fish was cleaned in a particular way, cut along the backbone rather than gutted, and salted in wooden barrels. Kristiansand became the most important landing place, and every year thousands of barrels were shipped to the USA for smoking.

BOY LESLIE was sold to Norwegian interests in 1939 and converted into a coastal freighter, under the name of EKSTRAND. Above, the vessel in 1978, when she had ended her days as freighter.
Photo by Kjell Otto Hansen.

The importance of line fishing for mackerel ended with the First World War, and the vessels entered other types of fishing or became coastal traders. In the conversion to such small cargo vessels, a diesel engine, a wheelhouse and a larger cargo hatch were fitted. The tiller was replaced with a steering wheel and the stem and rudder adjusted to allow for a propeller. Masts were taken down and reduced in size and a cargo winch and derrick installed. For many years owners would continue to use some sails in the case of a tailwind, in order to save on fuel. Many of these vessels traded along the southern coast of Norway, a few until the early 1970s. They carried cargoes such as cement, bricks and other building materials, fertiliser, grain, etc., and could reach the many small ports before lorries took over. A father and son operation was normal, the captain using the winch on deck, while the younger, strong-backed deckhand stowed the cargo in the hold.

Thus, the type of vessel represented by BOY LESLIE has served coastal communities well, on both sides of the North Sea, and some of these vessels even had three lives: firstly as an English sailing trawler, secondly as a Scandinavian mackerel catcher and finally as a Norwegian coastal trader.

BOY LESLIE was launched by the builders Sanders & Co. in Galmpton in 1911 as a sailing trawler for William Bellamy, who sold her to J. M. Jones of Plymouth in 1918. The smack was first registered under the number BM 312, and was given the number LO 392 when sold to R. S. Hewett in London in 1920. The Hewett family was involved in fishing for more than 200 years and in its heyday operated a fleet of some 220 vessels. The fleet was called “The Short Blue Fleet”, after the square, dark blue flag that flew from the mast of each vessel. BOY LESLIE was acquired at a time when the firm had stopped using sailing trawlers, and thus became their last under sail. In 1935, the smack was specially honoured by taking part in the “Silver Jubilee Review” at Spithead outside Plymouth. King George V had been on the throne for 25 years and performed an inspection of the Royal Navy, to which some commercial and fishing vessels had been specially invited. In 1939 the vessel was bought by two Norwegian traders, Torkel Finkelsen and Konrad Grythe, who in turn sold her to father and son Lorenz and Øyvind Olsen. The latter converted the vessel into a coastal trader and renamed her EKSTRAND after his homestead. Øyvind Olsen took good care of the vessel and used her along the southern coast of Norway up until 1971. The new owner, Trygve Andersen, used her for the carriage of cement in bags, but had to sell her in 1978 when the Norcem cement factory started shipping cargo on pallets, which were not suitable to handle on the vessel. A young lighthouse keeper from Kristiansand, Kjell Otto Hansen, then bought her. He lived on board and used her for diving expeditions and other recreational purposes.