Friday, 15 October 2010

The Ralle II, a Scottish German detective story

The Mystery of the Ralle II

Ace Marine are to be congratulated on having successfully digitised the entire archive of Alfred Mylne's drawings and related material. Some years ago, when I did the research for my piece on the Scottie, I had to make an appointment to view the records in Glasgow's Mitchell Library. This was no great hardship at the time, as the city was gripped in World Cup fever and it was good to get some peace and quiet, but it was obvious that in-depth research would be extremely troublesome. With the records on-line I can now pursue the history of some of Alfred Mylne's yachts from my remote corner of Argyll.

I have a particular interest in German commissions from Scottish designers and yards, partly because when Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to take up yachting he purchased the Thistle, which had been built in 1887 by D & W Henderson in Partick, a few hundred metres from where I grew up in the West end of Glasgow. Thistle was designed by the legendary G L Watson, and the Kaiser followed the Thistle, which he renamed Meteor, by a commission for a second Meteor from him. There were numerous encounters between the Meteors and the Prince of Wales' Britannia, which have been well documented elsewhere. Alfred Mylne was of course trained by G L Watson and involved in the design of Britannia. Following the early death of G L Watson in November 1904 he was well placed to obtain commissions from Germany.

Thistle lines

Thistle sailplan
Thistle sailing, courtesy of G L Watson & Co
Westward, Britannia, White Heather and Susanne
Long before this there were close connections between German and British yachtsmen. Merchants in Hamburg had close connections with Britain and by the 1840s were importing small yachts, mostly centreboarders, to race on the Alster Lake in the middle of the city.

Much earlier yachting was flourishing in the South of the country and there was a British connection there as well. In the Eighteenth Century wealthy English people were bringing small boats to Lake Constance. For example in 1770 the notoriously badly-behaved Lord Baltimore turned up there and purchased a local sailing yacht, which he had fitted out as a "magnificent pleasure ship in the English style" with a kitchen and several cabins, and a crew of six.

By the early Nineteenth Century yachting was well established in Bavaria. In 1849 Prince Ludwig of Bavaria spent his childhood summers at the Villa Amsee on Lindau Island in Lake Constance and later built another villa, the casino, on Rose Island in the Starnberg lake. He seems to have sailed mainly in small boats and he had a lucky escape in 1869 when his boat was run over by a steamer.

Young Prince Ludwig

Prince Ludwig had become King Ludwig II in 1864 and was known in Germany as the Fairy King, because of his eccentric lifestyle and building fantastic castles such as the fabulous Neuschwanstein, now visited by 1.3 million people each year. Unfortunately he also became known as the Mad King and in June 1886 his uncle Luitpold managed to get himself placed in charge of Bavaria as Prince Regent. Poor Ludwig died the next day, in circumstances that were never properly investigated. Because his brother Otto, the next in line, had already been certified insane, Luitpold was able to continue in office.

Neuschwanstein Castle

All this is the background to a mystery which came across the desk of David Gray at Ace Marine a few months ago. An article appeared in a German yachting magazine about the Rambeck yard, which was celebrating its 125th anniversary as a builder of fine yachts at Starnberg on Lake Constance. There was a photograph of a lovely yacht named Ralle II, which was said to have been built for Prince Regent Luitpold in 1911 to a design by Alfred Mylne. The puzzle was that David's digital archive did not include a design that matched these details and David asked if I could assist.

Ralle II in 1912

It was certainly intriguing that Alfred Mylne might have received a Royal order, but not surprising considering his pre-eminence as a designer and his connection with Britannia. However there were some curious aspects. Apart from the lack of a 1911 design that might fit there was the fact that Prince Regent Luitpold was ninety years old in 1911, perhaps a little old to be commissioning a racing yacht.

The Rambeck yard about 1911, Prince Regent Luitpold is to the right of Herr Rambeck

Further research in the Mylne archive produced a design for a six metre yacht from 1912, number 0230. The yacht has no name, but Alfred Mylne has pencilled "Ludwigs" over one page.

The Bavarian royal family had a fondness for the names Ludwig, which translates as Louis and Luitpold, which translates as Leopold. Prince Regent Luitpold died on 12 December 1912 and was succeeded by his son Ludwig, whose full name was "Ludwig Luitpold Josef Maria Aloys Alfried", which must have been a mouthful for his mother. Could he, rather than his father, have commissioned the mystery yacht?

Fortunately our German friends have also been busy digitising their archives. I was able to access the magazine "Die Yacht" from 1913 and found that Prince Regent Ludwig, Commodore of the Royal Bavarian Yacht Club, was indeed the owner of the Ralle II, sail number 260 and length 6.698 metres, which is 21.975 feet. The details matched, except that the Mylne archive shows a water line length of 21 feet. Perhaps a yacht floats a little deeper in the fresh water of Lake Constance? The match otherwise seemed convincing.

Further on-line investigation solved the mystery conclusively. At the start of the 1913 season Die Yacht commented on recent launchings, under a photograph of a beautiful yacht:-

"There is above all a new Ralle, a 6 metre yacht for the Prince Regent of Bavaria, that has been built from Mylne's drawings. Her narrow, elegant form attracts particular attention - a lot of lead, great sail area and a long cockpit are further characteristics. In general with her exotic rigging she makes a most decorative impression. When the regatta results come out she will surely prove to be outstanding. Above all we wish the young boatbuilder, who has such an eminent client, our heartfelt best wishes.

Already under sail since a few days ago is another Mylne-designed National 45 sq metre cruiser. From her build one would expect her to be a good boat in light weather regattas. The extremely sharp fore and after bodies give this vessel an extremely appealing appearance. The cruiser will stay on the Starnberger lake and so, like the new Ralle, will take part in all the South German regattas."

So Alfred Mylne had secured not one but two commissions to be built by the Rambeck yard. Ralle II had to be Mylne design number 0230. A few questions remained.

Firstly an exchange of emails with Herr Anton Dreher of the Rambeck yard produced a copy of their celebratory chronicle, that they had published to celebrate their 125th anniversary. It is a fascinating account of how the yard survived through adversity and continues to this day to produce beautiful yachts. The buildings survived the Second World War, but were taken over by the occupying American authorities, who regrettably treated the property and the dispossessed Rambeck family appallingly, Herr Rambeck being falsely accused of various crimes. Justice prevailed eventually and the family got their business back, but only after the entire yard, including all the records, went up in flames. This explained why the details printed in the German article about the yard had been incorrect.

It was easy to discover what happened to Prince Regent Ludwig. When his father died a faction started pressing to have him made King Ludwig III, as uncle Otto was still languishing in an asylum and had no heir. The Bavarian parliament voted to change the constitution to allow this and on 13 November 1913 Ludwig was able to depose his uncle and proclaim himself king. When the First World War commenced he expressed solidarity on behalf of Bavaria with Berlin and committed his country to a disastrous course that would end in a Bolshevik revolution in 1918 and force him into exile. He returned to Bavaria in April 1920 and died in Hungary on 18 October 1921.

It was less easy to find out about the fate of the Ralle II. Did King Ludwig manage to find time for sailing, amid being involved in intrigue, war, revolution and exile?

Further research showed that Ralle II proved to be very fast and had a successful racing career, featuring in the pages of Die Yacht and winning prizes through the war, right up to the revolution. But was Ludwig at the helm?

Then I found a report that on 27 July 1913 Ralle II finished second in the six metre class, helmed by one Consul Kustermann. It seems likely that, nearly seventy years old, Ludwig had decided to observe his new yacht right from the start of her career from the shore. The Rambeck chronicle shows that Hugo Kustermann was a Privy Councillor and close adviser to Ludwig and himself an enthusiastic sailor, who owned a beautiful two-masted schooner, sixteen metres long, built by Anton Rambeck in 1910.

She was still winning prizes five years later. On 20 July 1918 she came second, beaten by the Pushka by less than two minutes, after a spirited race in which the rest of the fleet were left well behind. There is no indication as to who was at the helm.

Subsequently, in a feature about the Royal Bavarian Yacht Club we read:- "The love of the Bavarian royal family for the water was most beautifully shown by the activities of King Ludwig III, who supported watersport in all sorts of ways. As a young prince he sailed small boats on Lake Constance single-handed in all weathers."

There are references to his yachts Ralle I and Ralle II and to the Gemse (in English Chamois), which was a quite astonishing electric gondola, commissioned by the elderly Prince Regent Luitpold from the Rambeck yard in 1910, over twelve metres long, with armchairs and divans stuffed with horsehair and upholstered with fine leather, even an electric cool box for his beer. This was used by the royal family for comfortable, highly social excursions on the lake and to transport their hunting friends about.

The revolution brought an end to this way of life, but by the Spring of 1921 things are getting back to normal. Die Yacht reports:-

"In the German South war and revolution have severely damaged the sport and in particular the red flood of the troubled times has left its traces behind. But things are always going forward and the sporting year 1921 will see the beginning of new developments. So for example the oldest club in the region, the Royal Bavarian Yacht Club (now thanks to the changing times back with its old name, which it hadn't been allowed to use), has almost doubled its membership and can muster ninetytwo boats."

Ralle II survived war and revolution, because at the Munich regatta in July 1920 we find that she has been sold and renamed:- "Djabal, the formerly notorious fleet-leader Ralle, ended the leg a good 2 minutes 40 seconds behind Hadamuth, because on this broad reach she had her sheets far too tight, a lead that widened to 9 minutes 33 seconds before the race ended." One can only imagine the scene in the clubhouse of the Munich Academic Yacht Club that night, because the following day we read "..Djabal, today under a different helmsman than the usual, ran a lot faster...."

Subsequently there are no more references to the Ralle. The name Djabal survives, but is attached to other yachts, so I have no information as to whether or not Ralle II still exists. Some years ago my piece about the Scottie produced some surprises, so I can only hope that someone reading this will let us know her fate.

1 comment:

  1. My grandfather and Kaiser Bill were both Partick Thistle fans. They were once caught trying to climb over the fence at Firhill, but the polis made them go back and watch the rest of the game.


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The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water