Racing surf boat, 1957

Wooden boat with fancy oars and Ghanian flag hanging above it

Surf boats were used to transfer cargo to and from the beaches of Ghana in West Africa. Due to the absence of dock facilities in Ghana before 1965, cargo could not be directly loaded or unloaded onto the quayside as it could at a port like Liverpool. Instead goods had to be carried by boat to and from deep sea ships anchored offshore and landed on local beaches, often in heavy surf.

Surf boats were rowed by crews of ten plus a steersman, with crews mostly from the Fante communities of southern Ghana. Handling the boats in the breaking waves of the beaches was difficult work and the crews were highly skilled. A good crew could make more than 12 return trips per day to ships often anchored three or four miles offshore.

The nature of the work that was required of the boats meant that they had to be robust enough to withstand the heavy bumping against the sides of ships, together with the impact of landing on the beaches.

When the Ghanaian port of Tema opened in 1965, the cargo handling facilities that it provided meant that ships could be loaded directly from the dockside and surf boats were no longer needed.

The museum's surf boat

This particular craft is a half size version of the ones that were used to land cargo. It was built for races held at Accra as part of celebrations marking Ghana's independence from colonial rule in 1957. This boat represented Liverpool's Elder Dempster Shipping Line and finished second overall. The company presented it to the museum's collections soon afterwards.

Many of the working surf boats were built in Birkenhead and exported to Ghana and HB Hornby's and Co of Wallasey made around 20,000 between 1900 and 1939. In later years however, Elder Dempster created a boatyard at Cromer Road in Accra and it is likely that this boat was one of the ones made there.

Accession number 1957.79


This boat is currently in store.

It was displayed in the museum from 8 March to 17 August 2007, to mark the 50th anniversary of Ghanaian independence on 6 March 2007. Ghana was formed from the former colonies of the Gold Coast and Togoland and became the first African country south of the Sahara to achieve independence.