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Vessel stats

Class B
Nationality United Kingdom
Year Built 1864
Rig Gaff Cutter


  • Name: PIONEER
  • Class: B
  • Nationality: United Kingdom
  • Year built: 1864
  • Rig: Gaff Cutter
  • Entered by: Pioneer Sailing Trust



The Pioneer was built in 1864 by Peter Harris at the maritime village of Rowhedge, on the river Colne near Colchester. Pioneer was one of a fleet of 130 similar sized deep sea Essex fishing smacks registered at Colchester in the late 1800’s. They became known as ‘skillingers’ for their work dredging for deep sea oysters off the Dutch Coast on the Terschelling Bank.

Pioneer and her contemporaries would have worked all of the waters of Northern Europe, from as far North as Denmark all the way around the English Channel to the Firth of Clyde. Their main trade being the dredging of oysters and scallops, they would have also been involved in many other ventures as well. ‘The skillingers’ would lay up during the summer months, following the hard winters dredging in the North Sea, their crews often taking work on the huge racing yachts of the time and sailing as far afield as America and the Mediterranean, a long way from Colneside. Pioneer was cutter rigged until 1889, when she was cut in half and lengthened by 11ft in Brightlingsea, amidships a wet well was added, this was a flooded compartment holding 12 tonnes of water, where oysters and scallops could be stored alive and enable Pioneer to travel further and to stay at sea for longer. At this point a mizzen mast was also added and she became ketch rigged.

By 1998 few remembered the Pioneer, all that was left of a once large fleet of ‘Skillingers’ were a few rotting hulks in the Essex saltings. A decision was made to raise Pioneer from her muddy grave, and restoration began, something which would have truly astonished her original owners and crews, whose trade had become known as ‘the hardest and cruellest Essex man ever worked’.