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The Humber Duster

Taken from The Humber, A. Watts, 1980...

The waterman's boat in use on the Humber in the days of sail, and in the early years of steam, was known as a 'Duster' or 'Gold Duster'. These craft would be sailed out to meet incoming ships and would offer their services for the 'boating' work of the ships whilst they were laid in the Roads or going into and leaving dock.

In the heyday of sail, the Dusters would race out to secure the most prosperous ships and the Duster first to 'gaff' a ship would have prior claim to her, subject to concluding an agreement with the Mate. A hook, mounted on a 12'0" pole, was used as a gaff, and a high degree of skill and watermanship must have been required to gaff a ship at speed and be towed alongside whilst the negotiations took place. Such was the competition that Dutsters from Hull would sail well out to sea or as far up the coast as Hornsea to find an incoming ship.

The Dusters were of two types; the Grimsby Type at 21'0" x 6'10" with a single dipping lug-sail of considerable area were the larger and more powerful, suited to the exposed conditions of the lower estuary, and the Hull Type at 18'0" x 5'6" with a two masted sprit-sail rig as shown in the illustration. Both types were extremely strongly built to cope with rough usage in going alongside under way; the larger type having up to 5 thwarts braced with both hanging and lodging knees. For rowing, wooden thole pins, instead of rowlocks, were used. As protection, a large rope fender was worked over the stem-head and other fenders were secured at each end of each thwart ready for dropping when necessary.

The Hull boats were frequently used without ballast, the Grimsby boats carried 8 to 12 cwts of lead ballast or had up to 3 cwts of lead run into their deep false keel. Hull boats sailed under the fore sprit-sail only in strong winds, Grimsby boats had four reefs in the lug-sail - these sails were commonly made by the local sailmaker, J. Powell, and were all hand stitched.

The watermen took great pride in their boats and paint, varnish and gilt stripes were the order of the day; like all rivermen's boats the Dusters were keenly raced once or twice during the year - but the real prize was the capture of a wealthy incoming trader.

The Humber Duster

Visitor Comments

Posted by symon at 02/04/2016 20:23
has any one any knowledge of the hull version of the duster
I'm a woodenboat builder out of Lymington Hants
as a hull born lad from three generations of shipwrights im looking to build something of historic interest to me
I would appreciate any info and possible line drawings/plans early photos etc
I belive there were a few still floating in the early 1900
Posted by Corby Bunting at 03/04/2016 07:54
Hello Symon. I share your interest in the Humber Duster. Plus all the other vessels listed in these pages. I also am a descendant of Humberside shipwrights going back to the early 19th. century .Auckland. Cook and Chesters. If they ring any bells.Perhaps we should meet up.I also am a shipwright and live in Hythe and have worked in Lymington. But having been retired for 17 years I am unaware of traditional boat building going on so close. I hope that you are successful in your search.You may have seen my input in these pages Particularly my rescue of the Humber Yawl
Posted by Corby Bunting at 03/04/2016 10:22
Further to last posting A. Watts did not give the reason for the name Duster. Their main source of income were ships carrying the quarantine flag .So became known as the Gold dusters.But laterly just Dusters

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