Thursday, 8 September 2011

Blue Books, Blue Ensigns

In older times it was normal practice even for small yachts to be entered in the Register of British Ships and obtain the Blue Book, now much coveted by restorers of ancient classic yachts and a document with sometimes more monetary value than the rotten remains of the long-abandoned hulks that are sometimes recovered from mud berths to start projects.

When I bought Stroma it never occurred to me that she might be a "British Ship" and it was several years before I discovered that technically she still belonged to Ron MacLachlan, several owners before me. After quite a bit of research I traced the intervening owners and everyone co-operated in my obtaining documentary proof from the Registrar of British Ships at Greenock that I now owned all sixty four shares of the Sailing Ship Stroma, the eighteenth vessel registered by him in the year 1929 with the Official Number 161770.

This practice of owning ships in sixty-fourths goes back certainly to Roman times and probably to ancient Phoenician times as well. It must have been seen as a convenient way to legislate for multiple owners and of course each sixty-fourth share could itself have a number of owners, so the possibilities were endless.

A lot of the romance has gone out of this nowadays of course, since we have to obtain a computerised certificate from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, for which they levy a charge every five years. Another example of intrusive Government activity making us pay for absolutely nothing, just as we are charged for having our moorings on the sea-bed.

Once your vessel is registered and if you happen to belong to a yacht club that is "Royal" you can go a step further and obtain an Admiralty warrant for your ship to "wear" the Blue Ensign. As I am not a great monarchist I was in two minds about this until the late Captain John Campbell, who went through the War in the Merchant Navy in charge of a troop ship, told me how offended he was to see tiny little pleasure boats sailing about under the Red Duster. 

Of course detractors whisper that the Blue Ensign signifies you must have bought your yacht on hire purchase, as your ship requires to be registered before you can put a mortgage on her!

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water