Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Edmund Nordheim and his yachts

One of the fascinating things about researching the history of yachting is the insight it gives into the personalities of the owners. What were their motives for commissioning what to many would seem just expensive playthings? There is plenty of evidence that when the King or the Emperor of any particular country took up yachting various types would decide that the sport was just right for them too, not that very many of them got cold or wet actually taking part. It's easy to find out about these would-be persons of influence, much more difficult to research the lives of those who took up the sport purely for enjoyment, whose stories are potentially much more interesting.

A good example of a man who was crazy about sailing and had the resources to feed his habit is Edmund Nordheim, Alfred Mylne's mysterious client from the first posting on this blog.

Edmund Nordheim's first commission for a yacht that I have been able to find was the substantial yawl Winifred, commissioned by him from Sibbick of Cowes and launched in 1901. She is still sailing in Germany, as a cutter.

photo courtesy of fky

Writing on the Freundeskreis  website here Kai Greiser says:-

"[apart from those who wanted racing yachts]...Sibbick attracted owners who truly loved sailing on the high seas. Thus came Edmund Nordheim from Hamburg, member of various yacht clubs in England and Germany, who had made lots of money in the fur trade with Russia and who had a new boat built every two years or so....."

So certainly Winifred was not Edmund Nordheim's first boat and it would be interesting to learn of the earlier ones.

Edmund Nordheim would no doubt have known of the skills of George Lennox Watson, who had designed yachts for the Prince of Wales as well as the Kaiser and his brother, but Watson had died suddenly in 1904 so it is understandable that when he decided to commission a new racing yacht in 1905 he turned to Watson's former assistant Alfred Mylne.

The Scottie was the first of five yachts designed by Alfred Mylne for Edmund Nordheim and all were built by Alexander Robertson at Sandbank. This great loyalty to designer and yard paid off, as Scottie and her successors were all successful. David Hutchison, the keeper of the Robertson archive and a descendant of the family, has commented as follows:-

"Alexander Robertson confirmed his early reputation on the Clyde by building Fife and Watson designed yachts in the 1890s.  He did not start to build Mylne yachts until 1900, a business arrangement which was to last for quarter of a century.  However, even after this, the partnership continued as Alfred Mylne purchased the Robertson built 41ft yacht Medea (Ex Vladimir), which he sailed for over 20 years.  After his death in 1951 Medea, which was designed by him in 1904, remained in the Mylne family for another ten years."

Scottie has her own post on this blog and the successors were as follows:-

1908 - Mungo, 24.8 ft, '5-Metre Linear Rating Sloop
Mungo was Mylne design No 149, Robertson's Yard Boat No 54.
Mungo was shipped to Germany at the end of April and by mid May had won her second race on the Alster at Hamburg, in a good steady breeze.  She had a very successful first season and proved champion of her class, with 14 firsts out of 19 starts, plus the Emperor's Cup.  It was commented that, "the prospects for next season, at least as far as the Clyde is concerned, are very bright." 

1908 - Novena, 34.5 ft, '8-Metre Linear Racing Sloop'
Novena was Mylne design No 157, Robertson's Yard Boat No 58.
"Designed by Mylne, she has proved herself to be far the fastest 8- Metre yacht in continental waters.  From 21 starts in Germany she had 11 first prizes, and also won 2 overseas prizes", quote taken from 'The Yachtsman', October 28, 1909.

1910 - Decima, 33.6 ft, '8-Metre Linear Racing Sloop'
Decima was Mylne design No 179, Robertson's Yard Boat No 66.
"Mr Edmund Nordheim's Mylne-designed boat Decima has come out at the top of the 8-Metre class at Keil (1910).  Her record for 33 starts is: 19 firsts; 3 seconds;4 thirds.  This record was put up in a class of 13, and including new boats by Fife, Linton Hope, von Hacht and Anker."

1912 - Pampero, 51.9 ft, '10-Metre Auxiliary Bermudan Cutter'
Pampero was Mylne design No 214, Robertson's Yard Boat No 72.
On her completion at Robertson's yard the Yachtsman magazine stated, "there is something about her which is indicative of speed and power in no stinted degree".  Pampero did not disappoint, with a win at the important International Regatta in July 1912.

The business relationship was not always profitable for the Robertson yard. David Hutchison has kindly supplied copies of the pages from the yard ledger showing the costs of Scottie.

At the end of page 2 is the comment:-

"The contract was entered into in a slack time of the year, October 1905, at a price of £210 to keep things going, and at this figure it was thought the job would turn.  However, owing to delays and humbugging on the part of the designer, a real start was not made until January 1906 when matters had to be rushed and overtime wrought, entailing a decided loss (actual cost £264)".

The contract price was not the end of the story for Edmund Nordheim. He was almost certainly the anonymous Hamburg correspondent who wrote to the Yachtsman magazine in May 1906:-

"It will undoubtedly be of some interest to those who are enthusiastic about the new International Rating Rule to know how the German tariff encourages International competition in boat building.  I have a little cruiser of seven sailing lengths (about 23 ft waterline) built on the Clyde, and had to pay at a rate of £7 10s per 1,000 Kg - more than £28 - as duty!  I spare you an account of the anxiety, ink, and time spent in passing the boat through Customs"

As David Hutchison has pointed out, import duty of 13.3% suggests the German authorities were trying to discourage foreign yachts.

As we know, Scottie survives as Illusion and sails today on the Wannsee. Despite our best efforts neither David Hutchison nor I has been able to discover the fate of the other four yachts. I would love to be able to update this post with their histories.

Equally important, I believe that Edmund Nordheim deserves a proper memorial and respect as a loyal client who backed a young designer and his favoured yard. I have been unable to trace his life history, but suspect he may have settled in England after the First World War. He appears to have had a great interest in antiquities and a substantial collection of ancient Roman and Greek coins was sold by him, or by his estate, between 1929 and 1931.

I hope that this post will be a work in progress and that our readers may be able to fill in the many gaps.

I am indebted to David Hutchison for his input here. To read his excellent wiki article on the Robertson family and their yard just click here.

Alex Robertson and his sons

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