Porthmadog Maritime Museum, The Harbour, Porthmadog, LL49 9LU 01766 514581 / 07866633927 contact@portmm.org

The Salt Cod Trade

The Salt Cod Trade

With the arrival of the main line railway in 1867 the tonnage of slates shipped by sea declined. Only one vessel was built at Porthmadog in the 1880s. Steam ships were taking over from sail. Shipbuilding at Pwllheli, Nefyn and Caernarfon came to an end.

The seamen, shipowners, merchants and shipbuilders combined forces and new trades routes were established. A vessel suitable for the new era developed. This was a three masted schooner with square topsails and topgallant sail on the foremast. Thirty one very similar ships were built between 1890 and 1913.

The prevailing winds and ocean currents determined which rigs were most suitable for certain trades. Schooners could beat against the wind while brigs with their square sails preferred to run down the trade winds.

In spring the ships would load slates at Porthmadog for Germany or the Baltic. After unloading the slates they would take any cargo or sail in ballast to Cadiz in Spain. Sometimes coal was taken from Hull or Newcastle to Gibraltar.

Salt was then  loaded at Cadiz for Newfoundland and Labrador where salt cod was loaded , mostly for Mediterennean ports. The little ships would then head homewards picking up any cargo such as copper ore from Huelva or grain from Morocco or all the way in ballast.