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?"

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water