Remembering Hector, who was a master of his craft

Hector Handyside. Courtesy of the Handyside family.
Hector Handyside. Courtesy of the Handyside family.

One of the last Northumbrian coble builders has passed away, aged 83.

John Hector Handyside, known widely as Hector by anyone who has even the slightest interest in inshore fishing boats and cobles in particular, died peacefully on Wednesday, May 31 .

From Berwick to the Humber, mention of his name would conjure up visions of skilfully-built cobles with beautiful lines that were also superb sea boats.

Hector was one of the very few great wooden boat builders on the North East and Yorkshire coast.

The boat yard of J&J Harrison started in Amble in 1870, mainly building collier brigs, but by 1920 it was building numbers of cobles.

Hector joined the firm in 1948, and in time became the master builder.

Fishermen wanting to order a new coble would discuss their requirements with Hector, and without plans and just some basic overall measurements, the requirement would be met from great skill and years of experience.

As well as new builds, Hector restored or rebuilt many cobles.

Several of these stand out and are still around, including Sweet Promise, originally built in 1906 by William Cambridge.

Sweet Promise can be seen in the boat compound behind Broomhill Street.

The Christina, built in 1972; the Gratitude, built in 1976; and the Madeleine Isabella, restored in the 1990s, all took part in the Bridlington Sailing Coble Festival in 2016 and are all likely to attend this year, showing that the quality Hector built into his boats will see them last for a long time yet.

One of those to pay tributes to Hector was photographer Yvonne Davies.

She knew him well, after making a short film about Amble fishermen, which includes footage of Hector, and said he had a great knowledge and passion for the boat-building craft.

Speaking to Amble’s community magazine, The Ambler, she said: “The last few minutes is of Hector, his son Doug and his grand-daughter Erin working together on the harbour and remains one of my favourite afternoons.”

She also had fond memories of her time getting to know him.

“I was saddened to hear about Hector, my conversations with him were always refreshingly warm, friendly and interesting. He had a love of the traditional craft of boat building and I listened attentively to him, always. When I first met him I made a blog entry about my afternoon with him. I will remember him with great warmth.”