Thursday, 30 December 2010

Images of a forgotten Clyde

My nephew Adam Kennedy produces haunting images from our industrial past. He writes-

"While a student at Edinburgh College of Art in 2007 I took the opportunity to study oil and Japanese painting at Kyoto Seika University, Japan and as a result learned to work in a variety of painting mediums. I graduated from ECA in 2009 and returned to my native Glasgow.

My work ranges from site specific installation and sculpture influenced by the history of airline travel to drawings and paintings reflective of my childhood fixation with transport and growing up next to the River Clyde.

For the Aspect Prize, in which I’m a finalist, I have taken my inspiration from the UK shipbuilding industry, the relationship between this subject and the aesthetic quality of my paintings themselves. My paintings are developed from sketchbook drawings, old photographs and collage in an attempt to communicate many visual aspects of this subject: from the rusty textures of corroding iron to faded photograph and postcard images of ocean liners.

Combining oil, acrylic and water colour on the same surface the different mediums react to form textures suggestive of aged metal and tones not dissimilar to that of the blue greys found in a typical Glasgow sky. The work itself is not necessarily a visually accurate portrayal of any specific ocean liner but rather a slightly abstract, collage of mediums in order to communicate the atmosphere of being in the presence of these great structures and the nostalgia one might feel when coming across aged prints and monochrome photographs of these washed up objects. The works themselves are meant to look precious: corroding images protected only by the safety of their frames. It is an attempt to reflect this subject in an age where aviation has taken over a once highly used form of travel which has now been left to rust. Unknown until very recently, my ancestor Angus Kennedy was commissioned to design the engine shop for Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan shipyard in Glasgow (1868) making this chosen subject all the more personal.

It could be argued that the UK’s current economic climate echoes this loss of a once booming shipbuilding industry, so I think my work is quite topical. It may not be the easiest time for artists but like the artists of previous recessions, and the designers of these iconic vessels, hopefully the financial difficulties we face today will encourage us to push our creativity to its full potential.

The Aspect Prize exhibition will be open to the public from Jamuary 11th to 20th2011 at the Fleming Collection in London. The Fleming Collection is the largest private collection of Scottish Art and the overall winner will have their painting displayed within the collection. 

To view Adam's website click here and to view the Aspect Prize website click  here

Monday, 27 December 2010

Who would want a rubber dinghy?

They cost a great deal, don't sail, are difficult to row, don't tow properly and get stolen. When rubber dinghies have such features why did traditional wooden ones go out of fashion?

I admit that a badly designed pram dinghy is an abomination. It takes a great deal of skill to design a good one, but there are some good ones about. Above is Peigi, a Joel White Nutshell design, which I built in 1986 and she has followed behind Stroma on countless trips since. We don't have room on deck for her, but she tows beautifully and has been through the roughest seas without ever shipping a drop.

Not only does the nutshell row well, you can ship her sailing rig in a few seconds and be off to explore your anchorage. She's incredibly forgiving and stable under sail. Here is our young friend Johan doing well on his first ever sailing trip.

Here I am having a shot.


You won't be able to buy a nutshell in a shop, but making your own is an excellent introduction to boat building. There are only about 20 parts and they can be shaped and put together with the most basic tools, a jig saw and a small block plane being the main ones. The longest parts can be cut from a standard sheet of plywood, but there is a 9 1/2 foot version if you can find the larger sheets or are willing to do scarf joints.

Here is Peigi in the workshop.

Here is a beautiful version Peter made, also about 25 years ago. They last well.

If you're wondering what to do during the rest of the winter why not get a set of plans from Woodenboat and get going? The only disadvantage I can think of is that your next build may be much bigger.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Searching for Yvette

In 1890 Yvette Guilbert appeared for the first time on the stage at the Moulin Rouge to instant fame and was to remain an international megastar for many years. I'm not sure if she found time to go sailing and suspect that she wouldn't have been particularly attracted to conditions in the Firth of Clyde, but she seems to have lent her name to at least two little yachts that did sail there.

I discovered these Yvettes while searching fruitlessly for details of a yacht pictured in Kathy Mansfield's September 1996 article in Woodenboat magazine, where she is named Wyvette. The article describes her as designed by Alfred Mylne in 1897 as a 17/19 footer. This is odd because, as seen on a previous post, this class was rendered obsolete in 1896 with the arrival of the 19/24s on the scene. 1896 was also Alfred Mylne's first year in business and he was immediately involved in designing for the new class. He was meticulous from the beginning and his records do not show this yacht. Further, any yacht racing on the Clyde in 1897 would have featured in the Glasgow Herald's yachting notes, but nothing appears. Kathy's article, which has a photograph of the putative Wyvette, can be read here

Searching the yachting notes turned up the two Yvettes.

First is a half-rater lugger Yvette racing on the Clyde that first appears about August 1895. The last reference to her is in a race in August 1898. She doesn't feature in the Fife yard list, nor in the G L Watson database, so I have no further details.

The second Yvette is W Fife III's design no 449, built in 1898 for Peter Donaldson and his sister. Fife's yard list describes her as "lug l.r 21 4 tons, lwl 16.54 feet" l.r is presumable linear rating. In 1899 Fife designed Pierette for Peter Donaldson as a sister ship in which to race against his sister. The Donaldson family were great customers of the Fife yard and these were the smallest boats he designed for them.

The second Yvette is listed in the British Classic Yacht Club, but with no details. Classic Yacht info gives the following:-

"Sistership to Pierette.
For many years this yacht was kept at the Clyde Canoe Club, later to become Loch Lomond Sailing Club. She was owned by a Doctor, Donald Atherton, who raced her regularly at the club. The only other comparable yacht in the club was an old yacht named 'Mina'(or 'Minna'). She was owned by "Baldy" Bates, and crewed by his lifelong sidekick, Eddie Paterson. In the sailing club, there still hangs a rather nice painting of both yachts moored off Inch Moan.
Restored in 1992."

She's described as 1899, W Fife III, 8.25m loa, 5.7m lwl, 2.02 beam, 1.35 draft, 3 tons, sail area 48.30sqm.

From the various descriptions I think it's unlikely that the boat Kathy saw in 1996 is either of the Yvettes, so her identity may remain a mystery. I've put out some feelers to see what further information about any of these boats comes to light and will post any information that results. If you know anything about them please leave a comment.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Flying Fifteens in the Dorus Mhor

 Above is a rocky outcrop near the Dorus Mhor. It's reasonable to assume that formations like this continue on the seabed, which will account for some of the extreme tidal eddies that occur around here. The name means "Great Door" in Gaelic and it's a passage that all visiting boats take as they start their voyages on the West coast. It's also a place to be respected unless weather conditions are fine.

One might think that it's no place for small boats, but it doesn't bother the Craignish Flying Fifteens.

 Last August my crewman Ken got the chance to crew on FF2532 in the Clyde Corinthian feeder race from Ardfern to Craobh Haven, so I was confined to shore. When I saw the wind I was happy about that.

I decided to hike over to the point and take some clips of the entertainment as the fleet reached the Dorus. There's not much cover at the point and it was quite difficult to keep one's footing against the strong Northerly breeze, but the tide was, I think, still on the last of the South-going ebb, so the sea was not as lumpy as it could have been. 

At the point

I'm pleased to report that all the boats made the trip without incident. The wind wasn't at all kind that weekend and the following day's Round Shuna race had to be cancelled, so the Flying Fifteens got all the fun. Click below for the video.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Trouble with old Boats

Adrian's Viking skiff
There's a great new blog on the go, courtesy of Adrian Morgan, under the name "The Trouble with old Boats." I strongly recommend it for the mixture of Adrian's delightful prose and excellent images, one of which I've pinched and posted above.

Adrian's passion is "real" wood and he has just done a thought-provoking post on the subject under the heading "What is wood and what not?" here. The argument is basically that those who build boats with materials such as plywood, cedar strip, epoxy and no doubt other more esoteric materials shouldn't describe the result as a wooden boat. He acknowledges that others will build using non-traditional methods, indeed he has done so himself on occasion. He also acknowledges that the subject leads to heated debate when wooden boat enthusiasts meet. So I am inclined to ask what is the point of this debate.

Actually there's almost nothing in the detail of Adrian's post that I disagree with. There's no contest between the quality of the experience of working a fine piece of hardwood  with good hand tools and on the other hand pressing epoxy resin through a layer of glass-cloth with a heat gun and squeegee (although each technique presents its own hazards to health and safety). I just don't think it's helpful to argue about how to classify the result, with the implication that the traditional product is superior in some objective way.

In my Scottish Islands Class blog there are some further thoughts on the use of modern methods and materials here. The restoration of Stroma took eight years and during that time I endured a fair amount of abuse from self-appointed "purists" who told me that I was vandalising the boat by my use of epoxy. I also had the benefit during that time of a discussion with one of Sweden's finest yacht restorers who told me in confidence that he often used it.
Stroma in 2004

I only know that after eight seasons since she was relaunched Stroma has taken us through some horrific conditions of waves and weather and the hull has not required to be refinished. By contrast I have seen a lovely classic hull, professionally restored at enormous expense, showing most of her planking after a couple of weeks in the water.

In many ways this debate echoes the discussion that erupts every few years in the pages of yachting magazines about what is a "true classic." We all know the answer, of course, and the classic invariably includes our own ship.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Clyde 19/24 foot Class

19/24 foot class yacht Susette
Here is an image of the Susette, designed by Alfred Mylne and built in 1903 by Robertsons of Sandbank for John Thom. Mr Thom was a mechanical engineer who started his career in the drawing office of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company and thereafter worked as a consultant engineer and naval architect, co-operating with George Lennox Watson in designing engines for the latter's steam yachts before acquiring a pump-making business and taking it forward as Thom, Lamont & Co. Although highly successful in his own name his claim to fame in yachting circles may be that he was the father of John Herbert Thom, who was arguably the most successful racing helmsman of all time. The year of Susette's launching also saw young Herbert winning his first race at the helm of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club's Rose.

Herbert Thom and professional hand A Rankin
Susette was a successful boat and it's safe to assume that Herbert acquired his competitive spirit aboard her.

Susette in 1903
Herbert was later to recall that at the age of ten he was sent up the mast to clear the winning flags that had got tangled, but returned to deck quickly in tears when his father gybed the boat. He was told to stop filling the boat with water.

Susette's winning flags
Astonishingly Herbert took a break of seventeen years from yacht racing when his father became ill in 1908, in order to master the family business. Susette was sold after his father died in September 1909 and when he eventually returned to racing in 1925 it was in his own 19/24, Sunbeam.

I'm not going to write any more about the 19/24s, as they have an excellent website of their own, here. I will simply add a few more images of these lovely, powerful yachts.

Sunbeam, Tringa and Shireen in a breeze

Sunbeam, Tringa and Shireen reaching
Sunbeam reaching, 1927
Sunbeam again 1928

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Early days of shipbuilding on the Clyde

Bell's Comet

As we all know the rapid growth of our cities during the Industrial Revolution produced massive overcrowding, deprivation, disease and social turmoil. It also gave rise to fantastic opportunities for persons with the drive and intelligence to come to grips with the new technologies that were being developed.

At a time when the universities had just recently given up delivering lectures in Latin and only offered courses in the older professions of law, divinity and medicine a new generation of engineers was growing up, obtaining its education in the drawing offices and workshops that clustered in districts such as Glasgow's Tradeston. The insatiable demands of industry could not wait for academic institutions to catch up and those at the cutting edge were literally learning on the job.

The qualifications for the new breed of industrialist had nothing to do with social class or money. Typical was James Kennedy, whom I came across when researching my family history project. Born in 1797 into a family of millwrights in Liberton he left school at thirteen and within a few years was workshop manager to George Stephenson of Rocket fame. He eventually became the president of the Institue of Mechanical Engineers and was one of the founders of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company, later Vickers plc. You can read about him on my other blog here.

Four wheeled locomotive by Bury, Curtis and Kennedy

There was a close connection between the skills of mill-wrights and shipbuilders. Millwrights were experienced in designing and building steam engines and gearboxes and also had knowledge of hydraulics. For example Henry Bell had early experience of water mills, which helped with the design of the paddle-wheeler Comet in 1812.

There's a fascinating account of the Comet in "The Ingenious Mr Bell" by Brian D Osborne.

A good example of the new type of entrepreneur is Charles Randolph, who was born on 26 June 1809 and died on 11 November 1878. His father was a printer and stationer in Stirling and his grandfather had been a surgeon who was imprisoned at Carlisle after the 1745. He was educated in Stirling initially, then at Glasgow Grammar School (High School?), then studied classics at Glasgow University. He didn't enjoy this and transferred to Andersons Institution to study science. He served an apprenticeship as a millwright with David Napier at Camlachie, then started his own business as a millwright at Tradeston Street, now Centre Street, in 1834, being joined by John Elliott from 1837 to 1841. In 1852 he was joined by John Elder and the firm became Randolph & Elder. After that the firm branched out from mill machinery into marine engines.

John Elder, born on 8 March 1824, was the son of the legendary David Elder, who was really the father of marine engineering on the Clyde. David was brought up in Kinross-shire and observed water mills in his youth. A mathematical genius, he came to Glasgow in 1817 at the age of 32 to work as a millwright and engineer. By 1821 he was the manager of Robert Napier's works at Camlachie and the following year designed his first steam-ship engine, for the Leven, which plied between Glasgow and Dumbarton. His son John was educated at the High School and briefly at Glasgow University before being apprenticed to his father and Robert Napier. By the time of his death at 45 on 17 September 1869 he would have produced 111 marine engine sets and numerous patents.

The principle of the compound engine was discovered about 1781 by one Jonathan Hornblower. It reused steam by exhausting it from the first high-pressure cylinder into the second, larger, low-pressure one. The low initial steam pressures from the early boilers meant that it was unsuccessful. In 1811 an English inventor called Wolff had produced a better design, which John Elder developed as an advanced two-cylinder compound engine. In 1856 Randolph & Elder took out a patent for a version of this that put the cylinders in a "V" formation, saving space in the engine room. Further versions had two sets of high and low pressure cylinders, opposed to each other. Later, John Elder developed the triple expansion engine, which carried the principle further.

It seems that the first ship engined by Randolph & Elder was the Brandon, launched in 1854 from a site that I haven't yet identified, but probably at Napiers. She was equipped with Wolff-type engines designed by Elder and built in Tradeston. The Brandon became part of the fleet that worked in South America. It was a very successful design and led immediately to orders from the Pacific Steam Navigation Company for sister ships, the Inca and Valparaiso. Because of the efficiency of the engines these ships were able to travel vast distances with minimal coal consumption.

Randolph & Elder went on to become a major force on the upper Clyde. Both men became extremely wealthy, partly as a result of building at least five extremely fast blockade-runners for the Confederate navy during the American Civil War, the Condor, Evelyn, Falcon, Flamingo and Ptarmigan. It's fascinating that these devoutly religious entrepreneurs were not averse to taking part in what the US government regarded as a form of piracy and doing business with people who they knew were supporters of slavery. The UK government turned a blind eye, partly because in typical fashion the USA had refused to sign the international treaty banning piracy at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. When Abraham Lincoln decided that his government should after all sign it and outlaw the British ships he was told that he was rather late. Ultimately both principals left fortunes to good causes, Randolph endowing inter alia the Randolph Hall at Glasgow University and Elder the park named after him in Govan.

There is an excellent book on the Scottish blockade-runners, "Clyde Built" by Eric J Graham.

In 1864 Randolph & Elder moved to the Fairfield Farm at Govan, when they renamed their business Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company.

My direct ancestor Angus Kennedy played a part in the history of Randolph & Elder. Angus, born in 1809, started out as a cabinetmaker and became in succession an iron turner, a mill-wright, a civil engineer, an architect and a sort of industrial estate agent before dying of overwork in 1870. He does not seem to have had any formal training for these diverse occupations. His history is also on my family blog here.

By 1855 Angus was in partnership in a firm of millwrights at Cook Street, round the corner from Randolph & Elder. When the latter took over a site in Govan just up-river from Napier's yard they gave Angus his first major commission, to work as civil engineer with the architect William Spence in designing their new engineering works at 13 to 23 Tradeston Street. This building was completed in 1858 and stood until 1969.

After moving to Fairfield the company commissioned Angus Kennedy, this time wearing his architect's as well as his engineer's hat to design their new engine shop, which was his last and greatest project, currently Grade A listed. This was completed in 1868 and still stands at 1048 Govan Road.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Clyde 17/19 foot Class

Fricka, by W Fife III

The West of Scotland in the late 1880s saw the emergence of both (one of) the first one design class(es) in the world and a challenging set of rules for a pure development class. There's a lot to be said for each side in the one-design versus development class issue and each will have its adherents. The former produces keener helmsmen and crews, while the latter allows the sport to move on.

In 1886 the Clyde Canoe & Lugsail Club commissioned the legendary designer George Lennox Watson, then in his prime, to produce a small one-design yacht, of which three were built by R McAlister and Son at Sandpoint, Dumbarton and named Red, White and Blue. Another three were built the following year and a final one in 1888. I am aware that the Dublin Water Wags are also contenders for the title of first ever one-designs, being first proposed by Thomas B Middleton in September 1886. The first boat, the Eva,  based on Mr Middleon's model, was built for him by the aforesaid McAlisters. In the interests of Celtic peace and harmony and the absence of further evidence we should declare a dead heat, hence the use of brackets above.

I haven't yet found any photographs of the Clyde boats, but here are the profile and sailplan drawings.

The one designs were a reaction to racing rules which encouraged rule-beaters, sometimes producing unseaworthy boats which were quickly outdated. There was also a lot of hostility to the Yacht Racing Association, which many saw as seeking to impose ideas worked out in the South of England on areas such as the Firth of Clyde with its choppy conditions and deep water, which for example made centre-boards or "shifting keels" unnecessary.

However the desire to innovate remained and a small development class would allow designers to experiment without any disasters being too expensive. The result was a set of rules for a new Clyde 17/19 foot class. Basically yachts were to be 17 feet on the waterline, 19 feet overall and with a sail area not exceeding 530 square feet.

The 17/19s emerged no later than 1888, when they are mentioned for the first time in the records of the Royal Western Yacht Club, but they may have been around for a couple of years by then. The Watson design no 108 of 1886 is for the Mollie, described as a "17 ft Clyde Class" for P R McLean, whom I understand would have been her builder. In 1887 William Fife III designed the Nellie for K M Clark of Wemyss Bay.

1888 saw Fife designing Caprice for R M Donaldson, Nellie Too for Mr Clark and Dorothy for John Tennant and Watson designing Nell, a "19 ft Lug" for N B Stewart Junior and in 1889 J, or Lapwing for Mr E S Parker of Fairlie.

In 1890 Watson followed with Bandersnatch, or Harlequin for Dr Robinson.

Harlequin by G L Watson

In 1892 arrived Fife's Katydid for P P Nicholl and Watson's Cutty Sark for E C Richardson and an unnamed yacht for A Logan.

Katydid, awaiting restoration by Charlie Hussey

1894 saw the largest number of recruits to the class but also sowed the seed of its eventual disbandment. Fife produced Hatasoo for Andrew Bain, while Watson designed Daisy Bell for A Scott, Pirouette for C A Nicholl and Olea for James Thomson Tullis.

The last boat to join the class was Fife's Fricka of 1896, being a close sister of Hatasoo. By this time Hatasoo was proving unbeatable, having won 100 flags in 113 starts. She was something of a skimming dish design and today looks incredibly modern.

It was felt that Hatasoo represented the reductio ad absurdum. The boats were extremely wet and potentially dangerous. Thus 1896 also saw a conference of the Clyde clubs resulting in a commission to Fife and Watson jointly to produce a set of rules for a larger and more seaworthy class. The result, the 19/24s, have their own website here.

The new class saw orders going for the first time to Alfred Mylne, who had left Watson that year and set up his own design office. One of his clients was John Keil Tullis, James' brother. In fact Mylne designed most of the new boats, with Fife coming second, and a handful by Linton Hope and Peter Mclean. I'm intrigued that Watson did not design any of the 19/24s. Was this due to a lack of clients or a deliberate decision on his part?

There have been suggestions of bad feeling between Watson and Mylne following the latter's sudden departure, but I would like to think these have been exaggerated. Watson would have naturally resented the loss of a talented protégé at a time when his office was extremely busy, producing a new design on average every 3 1/2 weeks, pressure that would lead to his death in 1904 at 51 years of age. The two men were also somewhat different in temperament, Mylne being rather more relaxed and social, I suspect, than the more formal older man. But surely they would have both been too busy to bother with grudges?

Rather than Mylne chasing after clients I think it's more likely that Watson just left the field to him. He had no need to experiment further with design and was working on major projects, with a clear preference for commercial ships and lifeboats rather than yachts, which he regarded as frivolous. There would have been an ethical dimension too. Earlier in his career he had accepted for a time appointment as the official measurer for the YRA rules, but when he began to receive commissions for yachts done in terms of those rules he promptly resigned. He may have felt that having been an author of the rules for the 19/24s it was better to preserve his independence, possibly in order that he could be available in the event of a disputed interpretation.

Hatasoo off Largs, 2003

A yachting journalist from the deep South asked Ronnie McGrouther when he was going to restore Hatasoo and he replied "We gave her a new transom fifty years ago, what more do you think she needs?"

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Learning about the sea at St Abbs

St Abbs by Ailsa Tanner

I don't remember much about my first visit to the North Sea, probably because I was in utero at the time. My parents had a holiday at Coldingham sands in the summer of 1947 and were to decide later that St Abbs was a great place for holidays. After my brother arrived the custom was for our parents to rent the house of a lady named Mrs Nisbet for the month of July. During that period she lived in her garden hut, but regularly turned up in the house to practice playing hymns on her harmonium, for she was the local church organist. Our father couldn't take the entire holiday and for most of the month continued to work weekdays and make the long commute to the East coast in his Wolseley each Friday evening.

"Brother dear, your memory is tripping you. In 1956 we stayed at St Margarets which was almost opposite the bowling green and was owned by Mrs Hood who was the organist in the local church. She had a piano on which I learned my first tune - chopsticks  on black notes only. It is true that we did stay in another place, possibly a guest house, nearer the primary school, again opposite the bowling green maybe a few years earlier, of which I have no memory at all. I did hear the father say that this place had a harmonium, so I cannot be sure that the harmonium was connected with the church organist."
St Abbs by Joyce Peterson

Childhood memories are usually of permanent sunshine and I recall these holidays spent almost entirely by, in or on the sea. At the age of about four I became apprenticed to Jake Nisbet, Master and Commander of the Fleetwing, an open launch from which he mainly hauled crabs and lobsters. I now believe the Fleetwing to have been a utility launch designed by Walter Bergius and built by James N Miller & Sons at St Monans. She was fitted with a petrol/paraffin Kelvin engine. The two of us often set off for the fishing grounds and I quickly learned how to keep the boat under control while Jake emptied and rebaited his pots. On one memorable day after a period of strong winds we went hand-lining for cod, close in at the foot of some steep cliffs with the swell bouncing back from the rocks. He was after a particular fish that had eluded him in the past and was to do so again that day. Looking back it was a pretty dangerous operation, but Jake was my hero and I had total confidence that he would get us back safely.
"You forgot about Patch the dog of Jake. Remember when young Peter Nisbet put the Fleetwing into reverse without pausing in neutral for a few seconds, this happened when Patch fell overboard and so this gear movement  broke the gear linkage. There was a pump that had to be primed with a canful of seawater and that was my job. Young Peter was the son of Peter the Fish and owner of grey Morris Minor van in background of foto of yourself and Jake and Lenny the lobster that you boiled alive"

Years later my mother spoke of the pride she felt when I brought the Fleetwing alongside the quay, to the surprise of some visitors (we never saw ourselves as such). However she also got a scare one day when we had just left the little harbour, as usual with a bit of a swell running and an East wind and Jake switched to paraffin before the Kelvin was properly warmed up. As he calmly set about priming the engine with petrol to restart it my wretched mother was seen scrambling over the rocks, calling for the lifeboat to be launched, to my eternal embarrassment. Of course we were soon going again, but Jake thought it better to return me to shore, so I lost a day's fishing. 

Harbour entrance by Patricia Dorward

At the time I was sure that Jake, with his full beard and thick traditional jersey, was the oldest man in the world. Many years later I was returning from a meeting in Durham and found myself near to St Abbs, which I had never revisited, so I took a detour. I found that Jake had died only a few years earlier in his fifties, so he must have been scarcely out of his thirties at the time of our trips.

"Your memory is away again Brother dear, look at the foto again please. You just expect someone like Jake to have had a full beard and his jersey doesn't look all that traditional to me."

Those summers were also an education of the dangers of the sea. There were many people around who could remember the storm of October 1881, when the entire village lost loved ones. And several times during our stays the maroons went off, summoning the lifeboat crew.

My brother and I were green with envy one year when we arrived to find that the local boys had built themselves sailing boats from fish boxes, coating the outsides with canvas and tar, curragh-style, and square-rigging them with old black window blinds. We lacked the skills and resources take part and the experience probably caused both of us to start building boats in later life.

"the home made boats sails were of course wartime blackout blinds. One of these boats was called Lark. It was from these boats that I developed a great love of very small rowing boats."

Rather more stylish than these craft was the Lively Peggy, a beautiful clinker-built skiff, gaff-rigged and immaculate, with the ends of her spars painted white, that lay in the inner harbour, the pride and joy of the charismatic harbour-master George Colven.

In those days the main activity was of course fishing, but many of the men went whaling in winter. There were also occasional opportunities for a little trade, for example when the Polish fishing fleet came close to shore the local men would be off with goods for barter. I don't know what they exported, but the imports included Polish cigarettes and vodka. This all seemed very exciting at a time when the Cold War was getting under way and Mother lived in constant fear of being attacked by the Communists.

"Jake worked in the winters for Christian Salvesen the whalers. There was an article about him in one of the chipshops in Eyemouth about his wartime excursions"

St Abbs is now a haven for divers and I understand that George Colven was instrumental in resolving the problems associated with their arrival, allowing new forms of economic activity to replace the old. On my last visit a couple of years ago I realised that while the structure of the village was unchanged the character was now very different and felt that perhaps the old memories should have been left undisturbed. There are echoes of the past, however, as the village has built a St Ayles skiff and is now participating in the Scottish Coastal Rowing Project.

    "your whole article is very much a boys view of things."

As you have seen my brother is gifted with supernatural recall. Looking back I realise that Jake had a special quality in that he could make everyone feel special. Neil and I were only two of a no doubt large number of holiday children who got their introduction to the sea from this legendary boatman, whom we now know had also survived a hazardous war in the Merchant Navy. We little knew how much those seaside summers would shape our later lives and I despair for those present-day children who are freighted off to Disneyworld at every opportunity and denied knowledge of their native land.

postcard from Robbie Nisbet's collection

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

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A hearty welcome to friends from Germany

I was excited and pleased to find that my blogs have been picked up by, because I have happy memories of friendships made in Germany and sailing in the Baltic. Sailing together in small boats is a great way to get to know another country and make lasting connections. As you will see from my posts I am interested in researching Scottish/German connections and it would be fantastic to develop some research partnerships on specific topics.

It is obvious from the archives of the leading Scottish designers that many fine yachts went from their desks and yards to Germany in the period prior to 1914. A good example of a German client is Edmund Nordheim, who had five yachts designed by Alfred Mylne and built by Alexander Robertson on the Clyde.

After my first sailing visit in 1997 I started to learn German and can now read the language reasonably well, so please don't bother to translate any contribution.

Mit herzliche Gruesse


Sunday, 7 November 2010

An innocent pursuit

On the weekend of 23th to 25th June 2006 the Royal Highland Yacht Club celebrated its 125th anniversary with a pursuit race.

The forecast was pretty good, offering a grey day with light Southwesterlies on the Friday, followed by a brighter Saturday with a very light Westerly wind and a sunny Sunday with a stronger Northwest wind. At least this suggested we should be able to get back home on the Sunday.

John Wilson agreed to come along and brought his dog Ben to keep Anne company at home.

On the Friday we set off at midday, there being no point in too early a start as there would be plenty of tide to get us to Pulldoran. John helmed us down to Ardluing buoy, which we cleared at 14.00. Out there we found a Southwesterly of about Force 3, which gradually increased as the day went on. We had a fast reach down past Easdale, by which time the weather had cleared up and there was a wonderful view of the hills of Mull and the mainland.

Eilean Dun was dead down-wind and we had to gybe several times as the wind shifted. Martyn had left later on Shona, but had gone through Cuan, so was in front and called to say there were about sixteen masts visible at Pulldoran. At midsummer it fills up rapidly and there were to be about twenty boats there when we arrived.

In the lee of Eilean Dun we got the jib down and stowed and the anchor and chain up on deck. I always use a Bruce nowadays with a short piece of heavy chain and a nylon warp, because it is fine in places like Pulldoran where you know the bottom is mud and there is so much traffic hardly any weed grows.

The Islanders are great tacking into a tight spot under main alone. I sheet in the main, set up both runners and Stroma works her way gently up wind, tacking without needing to do anything other than steer. It was amusing to see someone getting fenders out when we came up quite close under his counter.

We tacked up near to the head of the bay and anchored about twenty metres off the islands, next to Shona. A beautiful Arthur Robb designed 56 foot yawl lay quite near, the Rob Roy, flying the Virgin Islands flag, a very romantic sight indeed. Her owners Dave and Tricia were having a cruise in British waters to celebrate their ship's fiftieth birthday.

We had our dinner aboard and later walked over to the Tigh an Truish, where we had a few pints of Somerled. It's a great old inn and a very good reason to anchor in Pulldoran.

Saturday was a very bright morning with a gentle South-westerly breeze, a much better day then forecast. As our start was not until 12.08 in Oban we spent plenty of time stowing things, got the anchor up about 10.30 and spent most of the reach into Oban cleaning off the mud that Pulldoran is famous for.

We arrived in time to check the time signal on the Commodore boat Bandit. In a pursuit race the slowest boats start first, the idea being that everyone arrives at the finish line together. The Bandit was firing a gun every ten minutes, sounding a long blast every five and a short one every minute, making timing your start very easy.

The Committee boat

The bay was pretty full of boats and a fantastic sight. Stroma wasn't the oldest boat there, as the Elk is over a hundred. I remember seeing her on the shore near the Brandystone in the early seventies, an abandoned hulk. It's an incredible credit to Alex McRae that he's got her into first class condition. As you will see her crew dress the part too.

The crew of Shona were dressed the part too, with their Tammies.

Because of the crowd we were a couple of minutes late at the start, which gave the Shona a good lead. Paddy Shaw in Canna was well behind, having had to come down from Loch Etive and arriving a bit late to get into the starting sequence.

The course was the one from the 1898 race, North out of Oban Bay, across to Port Donain on Mull, round Bach Island to port then up the Sound of Kerrera to finish back in the bay.

Once clear of the bay we were closehauled on port tack in a wind which had increased a bit since the morning, ideal weather for the Islanders. The main problem was getting clear of the dirty wind from the slower boats ahead, requiring us to sail free under their lees and then make up the ground lost later by sailing faster. Shona was sitting on top of us and it seemed we would never get out of her wind shadow. I got the impression the two boats are now exactly equal in boat speed on the beat. We were still in her shadow when the fleet went about and sailed back towards Kerrera on the next tack.

The Port Donain mark was very difficult to spot and I only saw it when Shona went about. I thought Martyn had slightly underestimated for the North-going tide and stood on a bit more before doing our tack. This paid off because Shona had to sail close inshore at Mull and got caught in the ferocious tide that flows like a river up to Duart Point. As a result we cleared the mark about twenty yards ahead.

I then realised to my astonishment that only the Hot Toddy was in front of us, a very well-crewed boat from Oban Sailing Club, flying a big genoa. To pass her we had to work our way up to windward of her and then reach down to blanket her wind, which took an anxious twenty minutes or so. Then we were reaching across to Bach Island in a good breeze.

The Islanders are great reaching, thanks to the big main-sail and we were able to draw a bit further ahead and had a good lead by the time we turned into the Sound for the run home. This was quite stressful, because the boats behind were now blanketing us and the wind is always flukey in the Sound. I was worried that Hot Toddy would use some local knowledge to find a way past us. We had a bit of by-the-lee sailing to clear the Ferry Rocks buoy and were finally clear to sail for the line.

The fleet running home

The wind shifted a bit at the very end and we gybed just before the finish. It was nice to hear the gun and lots of hooting from the Rob Roys, who were anchored at Ardentraive Bay to watch the finish. Our course time was three hours and a minute.

We had a nice sail up to Dunstaffnage and had booked a visitors mooring, so were soon enjoying our dinner with Paddy, who had anchored alongside us. Later we went ashore and found that we had actually beaten sixtytwo other boats. We enjoyed the party at the marina, but were glad to turn in for a quiet night.

On Sunday morning we were up at five to a lovely bright day without a breath of wind. I decided to set off reasonably early to use the morning ebb tide and thought we would probably have to use the evening one as well to get home. We helped Stroma along with the paddles to get out of Dunstaffnage bay, helped by the tide sweeping round clockwise and round the South side of the entrance. After a couple of hours we had covered about one and a half miles, then spotted a really brisk breeze to the westwards. It took ages to drift across to it, always apprehensive that it would evaporate, but eventually we made it. We had a really fast run down past Bach Island and the Dubh Skeir and I though we might even get down to Ardluing before the tide turned. Then the wind gradually lessened and we were still a couple of miles from Seil when the tide turned. To stay out of the main stream I sailed across to the Seil shore, then ran down very slowly into Easdale, where we anchored off the Stone Wharf at 14.30. We had soup followed by strawberries and a couple of glasses of wine while waiting for the tide.

According to the tables the tide at Cuan would turn in our favour at a quarter to five, so we left an hour before then and just managed to stem the last of the North-going stream.

We were a little early at Cuan and ended up on the Seil side of the entrance, which was a mistake. Once we were in the Sound the wind was of course negatived by the stream so there was no way to steer. There were some powerful motor boats playing about in the Sound and cutting in and out of the whirlpools. One of them turned very near to us and her wash caught Stroma's bow, turning her round to face back where she came from. We were then drifting backwards in the tide, getting ever closer to the Seil shore and unable to steer. There's a little bay just South of the ferry pier and when we got there we had just enough way on to sail in, gybe round and come out going forwards once again.  In a few seconds we were back in the stream and under control.

We then had a gentle run down to Degnish Point and drifted up Loch Melfort as it started to rain and there was very little wind. Just when we were getting cold and depressed a gentle Northerly breeze came up and took us to the entrance to the Yacht Haven. Finally the wind died completely and we finished the day's journey as it had begun, shoving Stroma along with a paddle. We were on the mooring at 20.00, just over twelve hours after we had left Dunstaffnage.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water