Saturday, 23 October 2010

Aground in style in Kyle

HMS Astute on sea trials
One has to offer one's condolences to the Lords of the Admiralty for getting their boat stuck. I suppose that we ourselves as taxpayers should hope that the damage doesn't cost too much to fix, as we paid £1,200,000,000 to BAE to build her. I know how upsetting it can be to get stuck, but did learn some years ago that just because the water is blue doesn't mean it's very deep.

Last night on television I heard Professor Eric Grove, a maritime expert and sometime defence adviser, opine that the likely reasons for the grounding were (1) the charts were wrong, (2) a shingle bank had shifted or (3) the submarine had been caught in a puff of wind. Option three seems very unlikely, as the ship displaces 7,200 tons and would have been mostly underwater when she grounded. Obviously their Lordships will ask Commander Andy Coles for his version and we may be told the outcome in due course, but I can't help wondering if the new method of navigating had anything to do with it. When she was launched the Commander declared:-

"We have a brand new method of controlling the submarine, which is a platform management system, rather than the old, conventional way of doing everything of using your hands..."

It's pretty lucky that the boat grounded on shingle, as the area is pretty rocky, so matters could have been much worse. Here is a map showing where she got stuck:- 

The area is not in fact badly charted, despite what the good Professor says. Even before there were charts it was the custom for naval vessels passing through to recruit (kidnap?) local seafarers as pilots. This probably happened in Roman times and was certainly practised by the navy in Cromwell's time. Cattle were commonly swum across the Kyle and the drovers would have had as good a local knowledge as anyone. In 1719 Sir John Norris was sailing his ships through these waters without getting stuck, while on his way to Scandinavia. He was a canny fellow, old "foul weather Jack" having witnessed the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovell and 2,000 of his men on the Isles of Scilly in 1707.

However Commander Andy didn't need to capture a local Pict. I have a nice set of sketch maps published by the Clyde Cruising Club forty years ago and I'm sure the Royal Navy could find one in a second hand book shop. Here is a copy of the relevant page:-

My map doesn't show the bridge of course, but a good look-out might be able to spot it on a clear day. From the images on the telly the red buoys are still there and the older chaps in the Royal Navy would have been able to tell Commander Andy Coles that you leave them to port when coming up with the flood tide, that is to say as he was going South at the time he should have used the platform management system to keep outside them. Actually I find the old system easier to remember and usually have to ask Peter for help when we come across the modern yellow ones with wee black things stuck on top.

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.

Sonas, a Gaelic form of happiness

Sonas on Loch Melfort

Building the Canoe Yawl Sonas, designed by David Ryder-Turner

In 1992 I had built several small boats, mainly American designs picked from the "how to" books written by the late John Gardner of Mystic Seaport and for my next project I had decided to build Joel White's Haven class. An American friend living in Scotland persuaded me to look closer to home and told me about David Ryder-Turner, whom I had never met. He suggested that I look at D R-T's design number 41, which he had admired.

A few weeks later D R-T clumped up the drive at Kilmelford very early one Saturday morning. He must have left the Clyde before dawn. He had under his arm a loaf of bread which he had baked, a bottle of wine and a set of drawings. Number 41 was a little centreboard canoe yawl, very long and slender. The lines and sail plan were pinned on the sitting room wall and studied in great detail over the next few weeks. After the visit we kept in touch by phone. The design became number 42.

Design number 42 was basically Sonas. D R-T put a lot of pressure on me to go ahead, offering to supply drawings and help if I would build two boats, one for each of us. It was drawn in three sizes and the largest was selected. This meant the boat would not fit in my workshop. A redundant industrial unit was found, which I could rent for one year before the owners needed it. This meant that many parts would need to be prefabricated. By October 1992 I was persuaded to make a start.

Over the winter moulds were made, the stems laminated and D R-T got on with the drawings. I started working out the building schedule and wondered how to build a boat while keeping on top of a demanding day job. Eventually this led to shifts of 8.00am to 4.00pm in the office followed by 5.00pm to 11.30pm in the shop a couple of days per week and two full shifts at weekends. D R-T was to visit, do some work and supervise. Early on he decided against having a boat of his own. This meant that the overhead got a bit heavy for one boat, moulds etc were only used once, but saved on the amount of work involved.

Sonas was to consume about two thousand hours of work, from me mainly but also D R-T himself and the late Duncan McKay, who scheduled his work as a taxi driver to allow him to attend eventually almost daily. Boats have that effect on people. With the experience I now have I could build the hull very quickly, but finishing would always take a lot of time. As the man said, building a boat is ninety percent sandpapering.

The bow and stern stems were laminated Douglas Fir, an excellent wood used for the keelson, beam shelves, deck beams and much else besides. The stems were set up on a ladder, which supported the blockboard moulds. The beam shelves were temporarily slotted into the moulds and protected by plastic to stop them becoming glued in. The moulds were taped up for the same reason.

Originally the hull was to be covered with mahogany veneer and I bought enough for two hulls from McGruers boatyard. I should have realised they were only selling it because they had machined it too thinly and it was useless. I was left with enough wood to make model boats for about two centuries. However experience is a valuable commodity. The hull was eventually planked with red cedar from Joe Thompsons of Sunderland. This was machined 18mm thick with a concave/convex profile, a product now largely replaced by Speedstrip. The strips were glued with Balcotan, as the prospect of mixing epoxy hundreds of times was daunting.

Western Red Cedar has the advantage of being rot-resistant, very light, long-grained and strong. It glues beautifully with Balcotan or epoxy. Thompsons' product was very mixed in quality. A lot had been machined with no regard for the grain and was discarded. It is poisonous and if you get a little skelf you really feel it a few days later. It would make good arrow heads. Thompsons' strips had a lot of splinters. Doing the job again I would use Douglas Fir or Honduras cedar and get it specially milled with straight edges. These could easily be planed, or epoxy squeezed into the spaces. Of course this would also be heavier, but you could reduce the dimensions to compensate.

D R-T insisted that the individual strips be scarf-jointed to get the complete lengths, most needing to be about 27 feet. To do so I built a scarfing box through which I could run a portable circular saw. I also made a jig in which I could glue up five at once. D R-T called sometimes and condemned a joint here or there. About 150 joints passed his test and were used. This work was quite unnecessary. Butt joints would have been quite adequate. Planking up should have taken about 100 hours and took about 300 because of this.

At the end of 1992 the hull was complete, epoxied, glassed and faired while upside down, then left to cure over the Christmas break. In January 1993 I held a turning over party to get the man and woman power to lift Sonas safely. She was so light she nearly flew up to the roof.

I had glued MDF boards to the outside of the hull, octagonal in shape, to facilitate turning over. I found that I could roll the hull over unaided, which meant that later I could do all sorts of jobs single-handed. For example, drilling for keel bolts was done with the boat on her side, checking the drill bit with a spirit level.

I decided to build the floors from scrap Bruynzeel ply stacked to form blocks, which were spiled and fitted. Had they been shaped when the moulds were set up a lot of time would have been saved. The inside of the hull was cleaned off (horrid work) epoxied and the bilges glassed. D R-T instructed that the glass should be fitted between the floors. Doing it again I would glass throughout, then fit them. This would be easier and I think stronger. What was done has proved very strong however.

The beam shelves, which had been only loose-fitted originally, were now freed from the building moulds, finished and glued into the hull. They are massively built and much over strength. The boat was set up dead true to her waterline and the sheerline faired down, a process which took lots of time and was enormously satisfying.

The ring frames were cut from 25 mm Bruynzeel ply, spiled and fitted. Again they should have been fitted and shaped earlier. Spiling added about 50 hours.

I found a single log of ancient yellow pine lying at the back of a sawmiller's yard, that had been there so long it wasn't on his inventory, which I bought and got machined for deck-planking. It was epoxied in strips on top of 7mm plywood giving a finished deck thickness of about 16mm.

Covering-boards and kingplanks were made from mahogany, as were seats and other internal furniture. After some experiments with machines these were hand-sanded.

mahogany, yellow pine and bronze meet up

The keel was cast in Cornwall by Henry Irons from a piece of lead cut from Kentra's old one. William Fife's wonderful creation of 1923 was losing a little weight to balance the installation of modern equipment. Thus Sonas has a physical connection with her inspiration. The new keel was delivered to Scotland on the back of a Cornish cream lorry.

The bronzework came from a variety of sources and some was quite indifferent. I would never again buy bronze fittings without inspecting a sample. I suspect there are gentlemen out there who think that if you can cast bronze at all you are a craftsman. The best stuff came from Moray MacPhail at Classic Marine, who really knows his stuff.

The blocks came from Harry Spencer and were a delight. They looked too pretty to use, the smaller ones equipped with farthings, the larger with halfpennies.

The spars came from Collars and were beautiful. D R-T had supplied a spar drawing in great detail and this was complied with. The mast was to break the first time it experienced a real breeze and I had to order a stronger one. The lesson in this is not to tell the expert how to do his job. Had I asked Mr Collar for a mast to do the job and left the dimensions to him there would have been no problem.

Gayle Heard made the sails. They are pretty good.

on Loch Melfort

The name Sonas is Gaelic for a type of happy experience and was the name of one or two famous boats in the past.

The boat proved very strong and virtually maintenance-free. She is extremely fast and must be reefed in strong winds. This was a deliberate part of the design as I did not want to bother with a spinnaker and our winds are usually light. She will scare the unwary and should be treated as a fine piece of sports equipment rather than a serious yacht. Her looks are quite outstanding and when you are on the water you had better be ready to have your picture taken.

With the experience gained in sailing Sonas I suggested to D R-T that he should draw out the design to twentyeight feet, widen the hull by nine inches and include a centreboard. This would have increased the displacement and made her more sea-worthy, as well as increasing the cockpit space. The centreboard, which I had discarded because we have plenty of deep water, would have made her easier to handle out of the water and enable easier transportation to sailing events. You could also explore shallow coves and picnic places more easily.

D R-T had originally suggested the yawl rig and I had rejected it, because I considered it fussy in such a small boat. I am now convinced that it could be very useful, as it would enable you to sail home comfortably under foresail and mizzen when the wind got up.

The UK yachting press showed almost no interest in Sonas, probably because there would have been nothing in it for the commercial interests that dominate our publications. D R-T wrote her up for Classic Boat in June 1993 before she was built. When she was finished I sent them some photographs and a short piece, but didn't receive an acknowledgement. Wooden Boat later ran an article on the modified design.

Theo Rye tells me that he is now working on a project that may result in one of the larger versions being built. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Here is a photo taken by D R-T at the launching. The late Duncan McKay, who gave hundreds of hours to the project, is on the extreme left. He was a wonderful person and it was very sad that he didn't live long enough to go sailing on Sonas more than a couple of times.

An expedition to Stockholm

From the centre of Stockholm a twenty minute ride on a small electric train will take you to Saltsjobaden. It will also take you back over a century in time, to an affluent relaxed seaside resort, which has hardly changed since it was built in 1893. The resort is dominated by the Grand Hotel, the pet project of Swedish banker Knut Wallenberg, who also established the railway to ensure that his guests could get there easily.

Grand Hotel

In July 2005 Anne and I were lucky enough to be invited to a regatta organised by the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS) to celebrate its one hundred and seventyfifth anniversary. The marinas at Saltsjobaden and Sandhamn are operated by the KSSS, so they had been able to instruct the owners of all non-wooden boats to be elsewhere during the week of the regatta. As a result the bay in front of the Grand Hotel was a feast of lovely vintage racing yachts, bright mahogany commuter boats and classic sailing dinghies and rowing skiffs. Fine food and drink were served in marquees erected on the lawns in front of the hotel and on several floating bars, while groups of traditional musicians entertained the crowds. In the cloudless sky overhead Mr Maniac (think "Man in Yak") performed aerobatics, his plane sometimes hanging vertically from its propellor at what seemed to be just above the mast height of the larger yachts. Our friend Bosse assured us that we were quite safe, as the Russian plane had an engine of nine cylinders.

After a couple of days at Saltsjobaden the regatta moved by way of a passage race to the island of Sandhamn, the centre of traditional Swedish yachting in the Stockholm skerries. I enjoyed a pleasant sail with Bosse on board his Embla, although the tall slender rig and self-tacking jib meant that neither of us had too much to do.

A day or so later, still in beautiful weather, another friend, Petter, lent me a lovely little yacht for an afternoon. Although only five metres long Miss Julie performed like a proper thoroughbred, quick and responsive, but also sea-worthy. This was the start of my undoing, as on my return to shore I discovered that one of her sisters was for sale, at what seemed a very affordable price.

Tore Herlin, who lived from 1879 to 1967, is best known for designing the tall ships Gladan and Falken, both built just after the War. However he produced over 350 designs in his career and had a great interest in all aspects of sail training and education. Early in his life he narrowly escaped from a nasty accident in an unstable boat and this gave him a real concern with safety. In all his designs he took great care to produce boats which would forgive their owners and get them home unscathed. However he also believed in boat speed, as an ability to outrun any approaching bad weather could save your life in the skerries.

Miss Julie was a Polkbat, or boys boat, designed by Tore Herlin in 1938, the first boat having been named Juni. The original Juni had apparently ceased to exist, but large numbers of her design had been built, some clinker with oak planking and others in mahogany with the close seam planking which is the trade mark of the best Swedish craftsmen. This involves shaping each plank to fit its neighbours with no caulking whatever, an incredible feat considering the length of the planks involved.

Sonja Herlin on board Juni
The boat for sale had been commissioned in 1973 by Sonja Herlin, the designer's daughter, and also named Juni. She was built by a boat building school near Stockholm of close seam planking with laid teak decks.

There wasn't enough time on our July visit to inspect Juni, but the idea of bringing her home as my next project began to take root, encouraged by frequent emails from our friends in Stockholm. I was assured that one less wooden boat would not be missed in Sweden and that it shouldn't be too difficult to arrange transport. Another invitation followed, this time to sail with Bosse in the city regatta in September. This event takes place annually in front of the fantastic Town Hall, giving visitors to the city centre classic yacht racing before their eyes.

So we took the flight from Prestwick and enjoyed our friends' hospitality once again. The pre-regatta dinner took place on board the floating hotel, moored near to the Town Hall, that was formerly Barbara Hutton's yacht. After dinner we walked along the north bank of the lake leaving Anne and Bosse's wife Zelinda off at her little flat, then down to the pontoon where Embla was moored. We had a final dram in the cockpit, looking out across the still water to the lights of the city and enjoying the last of the clear, cold evening before turning in for the night.

Bosse at the helm

Ewan on board Embla
The regatta was good fun and as we came last we won a miniature water-colour, which Bosse promptly gave me (I suspect his poor performance was deliberate). The day after the regatta we visited the island of Dalaro, where Juni was inspected. Then a very amicable meeting with the seller took place and she was mine.

Back in Scotland the reality sank in. Juni was sitting on an ancient trailer in the drive of a house on a small Swedish island and her former owner wanted her away as soon as possible, so we had to work out a way of getting her from there, across a fair-sized country, over the North Sea and then to Argyll. With boat matters you can do a lot worse than enlisting Richard Pierce, and he readily agreed to come on my expedition.

In early October Richard and I set off for Newcastle, where we collected a flatbed trailer and boarded the DFDS ferry to Gothenburg in the late afternoon. The crossing was not unpleasant but hardly ocean cruising and we were surprised at the number of Northumbrians taking the trip for pleasure. Next morning found us in Kristiansund and by evening we were in Gothenburg.

This was my first experience of driving on the right, not helped by having the trailer attached, so our first night was spent just a few miles from Gothenburg. The next day we crossed the entire country on secondary roads, as we had decided to avoid the motorways as much as possible. Petter met us at Ikea, about twenty miles out from Stockholm, and then escorted us into town.

To help us on our way Bosse had moved Juni on her ancient trailer from Dalaro to a yacht club near the city centre, a journey which had taken several hours at a very slow pace. I think he had been relieved to achieve this without being arrested. He had also provided a good supply of wooden posts and nuts and bolts in order that we could construct a suitable cradle. We took stock of what we had and decided that Bosse had done very well. We then left my Volvo and the trailer at the yacht club and went into town. Petter had kindly given us the use of his artist's studio in the Gamla Stan and after passing a pleasant evening in the old city we bedded down there.

The next day we busied ourselves turning Bosse's raw materials into a cradle. Richard explained that we had to keep Juni's centre of gravity between the axles, so she had to travel home astern. We also had to ensure that the keel stayed firmly in one place. Once this had been ensured it was relatively simple to construct a cage to stop her from falling over. I laboured away at cutting timbers while Richard supplied the brains for the operation. For extra security we constructed a completely separate back-up consisting of a sturdy beam cramped across the deck and held down at each side by lorry straps. In retrospect I think this second system would have sufficed without the wooden cage, although later it was reassuring to see the cage in position in the rear view mirror. Our efforts over, we joined Petter for some drinks and a robust dinner in the Pelikan, a traditional artists pub not found on the tourist circuit.

Thinking about the problem

Work starting
Work done, Petter tidies up

In the Pelikan
A fraternal toast
I found driving across Sweden a complete delight. Perhaps because they drove on the left until 1967 the roads are covered with "keep right" signs and chevrons. In October the country roads were relatively deserted and the surfaces would put Scotland to shame. Our journey westwards was uneventful if slow, as the Volvo found the job heavy going. It took us two days to reach Kungalv, just outside Gothenburg, which left us with one day to unwind before taking the ferry. This gave us time to visit Marstrand, the renowned sailing centre.

On the ferry to Marstrand the captain discovered we were from Scotland and suggested that we look out for Scottish Bob, who she said we would know by the Saltire in his garden. Sure enough we soon saw him, driving along in his utility. We had a brief chat and found that he had arrived there about thirty years before. He had fallen for the place and had decided to make himself useful in as many ways as possible, keeping many of the basic services going and so on.

There wasn't much happening in October, but we could see that in Summer Marstrand must be Yachtie-Heaven. Apart from the excellent sailing ground the town hosts numerous interesting chandleries, galleries and shops. On that day there was only one sailor about, a retired engineer in a canoe yawl that he had designed and built. He told us that he knew only three people in Scotland and it happened that two of them were friends of ours too. We had a good walk round and resolved to return sometime in the sailing season.

Mr Wallender in his canoe

The sea journey back to Newcastle was uneventful, once we had located the correct exit for the ferry terminal in Gothenburg's multi-lane road system in thick fog, which reduced visibility to about fifty metres. By evening the following day we had driven to Glasgow and Juni was parked outside our flat in the west end. The following weekend we carefully brought our prize home on the Argyll roads, certainly the most hazardous part of the whole expedition.

Back in the west end at last

On arrival there was the first chance to make a thorough inspection. Juni has a number of split planks, which may have been caused when she was being handled on shore, and some broken frames adjoining the splits. Work has now commenced on the repair of these. The topsides have been stripped down and will be treated to numerous coats of Tonkinois before Juni ventures out again. Generally she seems in excellent condition and it will be interesting to find out how she will cope with our sea conditions.

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.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Scottie, a story of espionage in sport

In 1998 I was hiding from the football World Cup, which was gripping the city and making work impossible. I decided to do a little research into one of Scotland's most successful yacht designers, Alfred Mylne. The following article resulted and had some interesting consequences.

My Article about Scottie

In the Glasgow City Archives one can find the plans of a lovely German yacht. Everything is there, the line drawing, general arrangements, sail plan and construction details. There are even drawings for individual wooden and metal parts and fittings. All you would need to build her would be a renewal of the permission from German Lloyds, because the original permit from February 1906 was only valid for nine years.

In the Summer of 1905 the young ship designer Alfred Mylne received a commission, in conditions of the utmost secrecy, to build a racing yacht to the old German/Danish 7 metre rule. Mylne had served his time with the legendary G L Watson, where he had been involved in the design of the  Britannia for the Prince of Wales, and in 1905 he had been established on his own for about ten years. During this time he had designed many successful racing yachts, mostly built on the Firth of Clyde, where he was enjoying a growing popularity. The commission of 1905 was his first design for a seven metre yacht, a very specialised type of racer.

The early years of the last century were a hotbed for espionage of all sorts and yacht-building was no exception. Alfred Mylne got his client Edmund Nordheim to measure the existing German yachts secretly and send him their dimensions. On 6 September 1905 Nordheim wrote to him as follows "Please find enclosed various measurements of the available modern German racers......" having visited the yards where about a dozen of these were laid up.

Mylne's plans are masterworks of technical drawing. He has taken the greatest care with all the details and left nothing to chance. All measurements have been carefully given in feet, inches and fractions of an inch to correspond to the metric dimensions of the Rule. The new boat was built by Robertsons at Sandbank and the sails made by John McKenzie in Greenock. She was very elegant and slim, with little room below and no concessions made for comfort over speed.

The new ship was called Scottie and emerged onto the Baltic regatta scene in 1906. In her first couple of seasons she won 41 races.

I ended my original piece by writing "it would be interesting to know the fate of Scottie after 1907 and if after ninety years she still exists."

"Scottie lives"

Her present owner Hans Heckmann then wrote that he had found the yacht in Berlin in 1945, then called Seagull, on the hard-standing at the Berlin Yacht Club, high and dry on a pile of bricks surrounded by total destruction. She was a bare hull without mast or sails, but still equipped with her British Admiralty pattern anchor and wrought iron tiller. He had bought the wreck for 500 Marks and completely rebuilt her over several years. He had called her Illusion and only later learned her name had been Scottie, when he came across some old sailing magazines from 1907.

Scottie now has state of the art racing sails and still wins races on the Berlin lakes. Her young crew is made up of the third generation of the Heckmann family.

Party on the Wannsee

In the Spring of 2005 I had a letter from Hans Heckmann  inviting me to the one hundredth birthday party of the Scottie, now renamed Illusion (actually as you will see from the above, 2005 was the centenary of the commission, rather than the launch). An enormous mobile Glockenspiel was going to come down from Rostock and he wanted some Scottish music for it to play. The party was to take place about midsummer on the Wannsee Lake at Berlin. Of course I couldn't refuse and when Glasgow's Provost Liz Cameron heard about the trip she supplied me with a special greeting message to the city of Berlin, but didn't offer to pay for my ticket.

The party took place in fantastic sunny weather, which Germans call Kaiserwetter.  The good ship Illusion set sail from the clubhouse of the Akademischer Segler-Verein with a cheery group on board and we drifted in a light breeze along the Wannsee to the Berlin Yacht Club, drinking champagne and listening to old German music hall songs on a wind-up gramophone. On our arrival we were treated to more champagne, tunes (but, strangely, not Scottish ones) rang out on the Glockenspiel and speeches were delivered. The day ended with dancing to a jazz band on the terrace in front of the clubhouse.

I wasn't able to understand everything that went on, partly because of my limited ability in German, but mainly because of the amount of drink on offer. It astonished me that the BYC members felt it necessary to keep their neat black blazers and club ties on, despite it being a sweltering day. My own style was a little less formal and I was given a club burgee to wear.

When writing this piece I came across a recent picture of Illusion with a rather nice crew, taken by the brilliant Berlin photographer Soenke Hucho. You will see that they still have music on board.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water