Sunday, 17 October 2010

A mystery yacht

My friend Jim Robb came across this photo some years ago on the East coast, but it seems equally possible that it was taken on either the Clyde or the Forth. In any event it is a rare shot of one of the old racers in action, at a time when it would have been very difficult to keep a camera operational at sea.

Years ago in a pub at Bowling I met an old fellow who in his youth during the Great Depression had made a little money hauling a yacht through the Forth and Clyde canal after Clyde Fortnight. The job took two days and in addition to his fee he was given the fare back West, but of course just walked home. He told me that the Grangemouth boys did similar work at the start of the Fortnight.
Looking carefully at the background we can just see some substantial buildings of a seaside town to starboard and a similar, more distant, row ahead, in each case with a backdrop of low-lying hills. My bet is that this picture was taken off Gourock with the yacht reaching in a good South-westerly breeze.

The rig suggests one of the old Clyde classes from the turn of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Perhaps she is a Clyde 30, which were gaff-rigged originally and about fortytwo feet overall, thirty on the waterline.

The iron tiller was a hallmark of William Fife III, so perhaps she is one of his creations.

She is flying the owner's racing flag, but in a race on the Clyde surely the owner would have been at the helm? The powerful chap on the helm, wearing a heavy fisherman's smock, is clearly a paid hand. The fellow balancing on the whisker pole, who also wears a smock and rubber wellies, may be a second hand. He must have been confident that the pole wouldn't break. The chap sitting to leeward is certainly the owner, with his nice oilskin jacket and yachting cap. The girl standing in the weather rigging is also sensibly dressed. Has she gone up to pose for the photo, or is she concerned about the second hand's heroics?

The image gives a feel for what a typical day on the water was like about a hundred years ago. The normal crew comprised not only the owner and friends, but often one or two paid hands.

Answers or polite suggestions on a comment, please.

1 comment:

  1. I’m trying to convince myself that she’s on the Clyde, but suspect it could just as likely be Belfast Lough, in which case you’re going to have to display your screen to a mirror; otherwise “flip horizontal” – the image that is. It was common for Victorian and Edwardian photographic prints to be the wrong way round.

    Then that would be Carrickfergus behind the boom, with the steeple of its ancient St Nicholas’ Church and the impressive Norman castle's keep both prominent. And therefore the yacht would be broad reaching past Cultra in the direction of Helen’s Bay… more on that below.

    If it must be the Clyde, then I think you have to remain in front of the mirror, or flipped, to see that the most likely town behind the boom is Largs, with the Cumbraes perhaps looming forward of the jib. But if there is indeed another conurbation hinted there - I can’t see it on screen - then that theory is dashed. Then again, staying flipped, it could be Helensburgh; unflipped it could be Gourock if she was reaching along the Kilcreggan shore…

    About the yacht I have less doubt. She is almost certainly one of the Belfast Lough No 1 (or 25ft lwl O.D. Class), designed by William Fife Jr., with all nine built in 1897 by John Hilditch of Carrickfergus. Sail no. 4 of that class was HALCYONE, owned for her first five seasons by Lurgan linen manufacturer and merchant, G. Herbert Brown, JP, of Helen’s Bay, by Bangor, Belfast Lough.

    The class, including Mr Brown’s HALCYONE, did race at the Clyde Fortnight during their first few seasons, so the Clyde is still up for grabs as the location.

    Beautifully fashioned iron tillers weren’t the sole preserve of William Fife: the G.L. Watson designed ‘Peggy Bawn’ still sails with her original wrought iron tiller, fashioned by none other than John Hilditch’s blacksmith, at Carrickfergus in 1894.

    Leggy Prawn


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water