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New cat pair to focus on live prawns

Ruairidh Nicholson’s new prawn creel catamaran Harmony CY -777 performance impresses.

Observing the performance of his brother Ruairidh Nicholson’s  new prawn creel catamaran Harmony CY -777 in action prompted North Uist skipper Donald Archie Nicholson to place an order for a similar new boat with Sutton Workboats, based at Newhaven in the south of England.


Both Harmony and the new Charlene Ann are built to Seafish specifications, and the two catamarans now represent half of the local static gear fleet in the remote village of Lochmaddy where inshore creel fishing has long been of particular importance. For decades lobsters, and to a lesser extent brown crab, were the main target species. At this time, the plentiful supply of prawns available on soft bottom away from the rocky shoreline was more or less regarded as a nuisance due to the lack of marketing opportunities.


Today this situation has gone full circle, with prawns fished between 50 and 110 fathoms within a radius of up to 10 miles of Lochmaddy being the mainstay of the local fleet.


The importance of the catamarans is further underlined by the fact that they are the first new boats built for Lochmaddy owners in over a decade. As such this represents a strongly positive sign, both for the vessel owners and the buyers of the creel caught prawns, Sutherland Game & Shellfish Ltd, with whom Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson have a longstanding association.


In opting for very similar vessels, the North Uist brothers have re-enacted a scenario parallel to the one reflected by their previous 30ft boats built by John Moor of Mevagissey. For the last four14 years, the distinctive pale blue hulls of Misty Morn CY-458and Reliant CY-799, capped by dark blue gunwale rails, have been part of Lochmaddy’s landscape.




Built for Donald Archie Nicholson in 1994, Misty Morn departed after being bought by Colin Carter who also supplies Sutherland Game & Shellfish Ltd. Ruairidh Nicholson’s Reliant, built in 2001, is now also based in north-east Scotland, having being bought by Billy Cowie of Helmsdale.


Given the remote location of Lochmaddy, matching high quality catches to buyer demand for the best available markets continues to be a key factor in the consolidation of the local prawn creel fishery. This reflects the complex logistics involved, as well as the fact that these can regularly be compounded with the threat of weather disruption to ferry schedules. Although Charlene Ann’s and Harmony’s trays of tubed prawns  are landed to Sutherland Game & Shellfish’s vivier lorry weekly on a Saturday afternoon, weather permitting, after being collected from storage rafts moored in the Loch, skippers Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson are in daily contact with Douglas Macleay with regard to market requirements.


Transport costs money, so it is pointless to incur further expense by catching and shipping out product that will not secure viable prices. This philosophy is reflected in the rationale that underpins the construction of Charlene Ann and Harmony.


The new catamarans were built to replicate the working patterns and fishing capabilities of their monohull predecessors. In working a typical 8-10 hour day fishing 3-10 miles from Lochmaddy, Charlene Ann and Harmony were not built to work more static gear over a wider area of the North Minch. Rather, the boats will enable their owners to build their individual businesses by enhancing fishing efficiency and improving safety for both boats and crews.


The larger area of working deck provided by catamarans, together with their greater endurance, were among the main reasons for Ruairidh and Donald Nicholson’s decision to replace their successful existing boats. Another factor was the lower level of maintenance and therefore expense associated with new GRP hulls.


Commenting on the seakeeping qualities and ease of working their new catamarans, Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson immediately described them as “superb tools for the job” before highlighting the fact that the boats regularly enable them to put in days they would not have been able to work on their previous vessels, even though Misty Morn and Reliant were good sea boats.


“Dave Sutton gave an excellent level of personal service throughout the build programme, and from the first contact, couldn’t have done more to help,” Donald Nicholson said.


Built to exceed SeaFish requirements, Charlene Ann’s hull was developed a few years ago by naval architect Danny Goldsmith in close liaison with Dave Sutton following the success and popularity of the Sutton Workboats 8m catamaran hull from the same designer.


A long waterline length is combined with smooth hull configuration and bulbous bows to give good buoyancy forward and minimise slamming. The use of modern structural design and state-of-the-art construction materials throughout the hulls, including nidaplast closed cell honeycomb foam, modern resins and combination matt mean that the vessel is both strong and lightweight.


Skippers Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson, together with their crewmen Craig Rich and Cai Pritchard, also highlighted the benefits of the working deck being covered in, both in terms of eliminating spray and the customary problems associated with constantly being surrounded by marauding seagulls.


Insured by British Marine and owned by Lochmaddy Seafoods Ltd, Charlene Ann is named after the three year old daughter of Donald Archie and his wife Tina Nicholson.




After being fully finished by Sutton Workboats at Newhaven, Charlene Ann was trucked 700 miles by road to Ullapool by John Shepherd Transport before being lifted into the water for the first time for sea trials and completing the relatively short final leg of the delivery trip across The Minch to Lochmaddy.


The decision to deliver Charlene Ann by road was influenced by the fact that the catamaran was completed towards the end of last year, by which time a frequently recurring pattern of poor weather was firmly established.


Ruairidh Nicholson steamed Harmony home, completing the delivery trip of nearly 1000 nautical miles in 87 hours using an economical 1100 litres of fuel.


Rigged for self-hauling and shooting prawn creels, the 9.95m GRP catamaran has a 5m beam and a draft of 1.40m.


While Harmony and Charlene Ann are based on the same hull design and machinery specification, the catamarans’ superstructures differ in that Donald Archie Nicholson’s boat features a wider wheelhouse and a full-length deck shelter.


With a clear seven metres of deck space from the aft side of the wheelhouse to the central shooting opening in the transom, the extensive deck area allows leaders of up to 100 standard prawn creels to be stored flush on the deck to promote efficient maximum efficiency when self-shooting.


Offset to the port gunwale rail, the forward wheelhouse is moulded into the short whaleback, which is profiled on the starboard side to give extra space forward of the pot hauling station. The wheelhouse roof is extended aft to the transom, covering the entire working deck. Three distinctive seagull wings constructed from GRP are bonded to the port and starboard gunwale rails to support the roof. Flexible screens (incorporating transparent centre viewing panels) are fitted between the shelter supports. When not in use these are neatly rolled up and secured along the edges of the roof before being lowered to effectively form spray-proof side decks. When hauling, the aft screen on the port side is usually raised to allow Charlene Ann crewman Craig Rich to easily check the position of the dahn buoy.


In a fitting tribute to Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson’s late father Alick Nicholson, who had the distinction of being the first local creel fisherman to use parlour creels in the early 1970s when fishing lobsters to the west side of Uist, a large family crest is proudly displayed on the sides of Charlene Ann.


Charlene Ann and Harmony are both rigged for creel self-hauling and shooting. A large diameter stainless steel roller incorporating smaller vertical retaining rollers is fitted forward at the starboard shoulder. A 0.75t Seawinch 16in diameter slave hauler is mounted vertically on the wheelhouse starboard bulkhead. Prawn creels are hauled aboard onto a short receiving platform from where they are slid through 90o onto a longer stainless steel clearing table, the end of which incorporates an elevated rack to hold prawn tube storage trays.


Duplicate engine and steering controls are housed in a small compartment atop the gunwale rail aft of the hauling position.


A self-shooting opening is incorporated in the middle of the transom stern, to which creels are guided towards the central opening by a wide funnel created by the angled sides of vivier style quarter compartments. When filled with recirculating seawater, filled tube trays can be stored in these tanks during the warmer summer days, to complement the catch storage provided by a freestanding rectangular container conveniently positioned just aft of the clearing table.


Sutton Workboats fitted Charlene Ann with twin Nanni Kubota N4115 engines. The four-cylinder engines each develop 86kW @ 2500rpm and are coupled to PRM 2:1 reduction gearboxes to drive 500mm diameter four-bladed propellers. This arrangement gives the catamaran a top speed of 14.50 knots and a usual cruising speed of 10 knots at 2000rpm.


This propulsion package is proving to be economical to run and ideally matches the highly fuel efficient hull form. When working a 10 hour day, Charlene Ann typically uses less than 60 litres of fuel, or 30 litres per engine per day. 350 litres of fuel are carried in the twin tanks arranged in the forward end of each engine room. A large dry hold used to store spare tailings, dahn buoys etc is positioned forward of the engine room amidships, with a smaller storage hold arranged towards the transom.


One of the main benefits skippers Donald Archie and Ruairidh Nicholson find with their new boats is the ability to keep the catamarans up to the back ropes when hauling by manoeuvring on the engines alone, without the need for any helm adjustments.


Charlene Ann features hydraulically operated trim tabs to ensure that the catamaran continues to run with maximum efficiency when the transom vivier compartments are filled with seawater. The hydraulic pump for the Seawinch pot hauler is driven from a PTO on the starboard gearbox. Twin Jabsco deckwash pumps are run off both engines to ensure a duplicate supply of seawater to keep the tubed prawns in optimum storage conditions. Teleflex steering and Kobelt engine controls are fitted.


Lawrie Dunlop of LD Electronics in Newhaven supplied and commissioned the electronic units fitted in the wheelhouse of Charlene Ann. The package includes Maxsea and Navnet plotters, Furuno radar and sounder, Raymarine autopilot and Icom VHFs.


Charlene Ann fishes leaders of between 80 and 100 standard 22in prawn creels. Arranged at 7 fathom spacing on 10mm diameter Polysteel and Seasteel backropes, the prawn creels are supplied by Caithness Creels and Gael Force.

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