Thursday, 27 December 2012

Sea Lice get nastier

It’s not an everyday occurrence, anywhere, to find a prominent, highly respected and much awarded professor accusing an ancient university of scandalously misleading the nation, but it happened here in Scotland last month.
The professor’s outburst was prompted by the publication of a study in the publishing arm of the Royal Society, itself a respected institution one would have thought, based on research by an international group of scientists, who suggested that sea lice are responsible for 39 per cent of the mortalities amongst salmon in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. The press release issued by St Andrews University to accompany publication included
“This high per cent mortality attributable to sea lice was unexpected. The salmon aquaculture industry has long placed a high priority on controlling sea lice on their captive salmon – but these results do emphasise the need for the industry to not only maintain the health of their own stocks, but also to minimise the risk of cross-infection of wild fish.”
It can be read in full by clicking here
A response from the aquaculture industry was to be expected, but the ferocity with which it was delivered perhaps wasn’t. Professor Phil Thomas, the chair of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said

“This story has now been exposed as a scandal – it is a major blunder by the University of St Andrews.  The institution has misled the nation.

“For a prominent Scottish University like St Andrews to behave in this way is inexcusable, whatever its need for publicity. To make these wholly incorrect and unjustifiable claims damages both the scientific reputation of the individuals concerned and the institution.

“But worse, it erodes the already shaky public confidence in science and scientists, and that is ultimately to the detriment of Scotland.”
The researchers did not wither under this fire and did not withdraw the study findings. They did clarify that the study did not actually state that fish farms were the sole source of the sea lice that were killing the wild fish. The inference remained that fish farms could be a contributory cause however.

Fast forward a few weeks and we find Professor Thomas giving evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee of the Scottish Parliament (RACCE) and returning to his theme. The exchange is worth quoting in some detail

“…..One tricky issue that is often lost in the debate is that there seems to be an assumption that sea lice come from fish farms. Sea lice are already there. For many fish farmers, the most problematic issue is when a run of mature wild fish come in, as they bring in sea lice—there is a sea lice strike on farms. In that situation, there can be rapid increases in sea lice numbers….
The difficulty is that, when wild runs of salmon come in from the sea with heavy infestations of lice, the transfer of lice from the wild salmon to the farmed salmon tends to be a mixture of lice of different stages, including lice that are quite close to mature as well as lice that are at the free swimming stage.”
Nigel Don:  “Up to now, I understood that lice did not transfer except when they were in their first stages, when they are so small that they get out and about—the idea of a bloom was mentioned. However, Phil Thomas is suggesting that mature fish coming  back from the sea bring lice at different stages and that lice at later stages in their development might transfer at that point. That is not what I thought that everybody else had told me. I thought that a mature louse would not transfer. Was I wrong?”
Professor Thomas:  “Without getting too complicated, there are two different types of sea lice, one of which often comes in not on salmonids but on other fish species. It can transfer in a range of ways. However, you are right in thinking that the predominant route of transfer is through the free swimming stage.”

It’s a pity that the RACCE Committee didn’t explore this further, as a few short sentences are barely enough to explain something obviously complicated.

For those of us like myself, a non-scientist member of the public who wants to understand why our wild salmon are disappearing, this conflict is most unhelpful, falling far short of constructive debate. It cannot be helpful to those, like the MSPs on the RACCE Committee, who have to produce a report to the Scottish Parliament, either.

The ways of nature are of course a mystery to most lay people. At the risk of being accused of anthropomorphism it seems to me inherently improbable for a mature sea louse, firmly attached by suction to a returning salmon, travelling  at speed, suddenly to decide to jump ship in the vicinity of a fish farm and make a break for it to another host. For this to happen to such an extent that it would represent a major threat to the farmed fish seems even more unlikely.

Before the recent exchange I had tried to educate myself about sea lice and had learned, as had Nigel Don MSP, that sea lice were a form of tiny marine crustacean that went through a number of changes in their lifecycle, and that only in two or three of these stages were they capable of travelling about. Further reading and discussions with some marine biologists of my acquaintance have only confirmed that this is correct. In their earliest stage as plankton they are propelled by water movements until if successful in finding a host they become anchored to it by a filamentous thread.  In later stages they suck onto the surface of the fish only through being dorso-ventrally flattened.   Although the pre-adult and adult stages are called “mobiles” that word refers to their grazing activity on the host fish and not their ability to swim around at liberty.  They are very weak swimmers and stand more chance of being eaten by big fish than getting aboard them. It has also been shown that mature sea lice only survive in sea water for very brief periods after being separated from the host.

In the final paragraph quoted above Professor Thomas seems to be saying that of the “two types of sea lice” it is the one that infects fish other than salmon that brings in the mature lice. This would rather contradict the earlier statement that the wild salmon rather than those other fish bring them in.

In European waters there are indeed two types of sea louse, Lepeoptheirus salmonis (Leps) and Caligus elongatus (Caligus), the former specific to salmon and the latter usually found on non-salmonids. There seems to be no evidence at all of Leps transferring from wild salmon or salmonids to caged fish. There are apparently some reported instances of Caligus suddenly appearing on caged salmon when
shoals of mackerel, herring, saithe or other shoaling fish swim past (Costello, paper  published by the Royal Society B on 8 July 2009).  Often these fish are attracted into the area by the presence of food and surround the cages.

A useful information resource is at the University of Prince Edward Island ( where academics partly funded by Canada’s massive fish farming industry are researching how to deal with the threat to caged fish from sea lice. It’s instructive that their work concentrates exclusively on Leps rather than Caligus and I found no reference to sea lice strikes.

This suggests both that “sea lice strikes” if they happen at all do not involve wild salmon and that any that do happen are probably rather minor and do not involve Leps.

Most biologists believe that the primary seat of infection of salmon and sea trout with lice is by juvenile infective stages when the smolts leave the rivers in the Spring to enter into the salty coastal waters for the first time. Before the arrival of fish farms on the aquaculture coast of West Scotland there would always have been some wild salmon and sea trout along the coast to ensure supplies of sea lice larvae to infect them.

Arguably the arrival of fish farms on an industrial scale has changed all that, with enormous populations of mature salmon present all year round in coastal areas. It seems logical to infer a connection between these and the high death rate of wild salmon from sea lice infestation identified in the Royal Society B study.

Whatever the cause there is no dispute over the seriousness of the problem. It is made worse by the fact that sea lice are now developing an immunity to the pesticide that has mainly been used to kill them in recent years, Emamectine Benzoate, otherwise known as SLICE. In a recent talk Dr Mark Fast of the University of Prince Edward Island said

“1999 was the year the aquaculture industry gained what would be its most powerful tool in the fight against sea lice. It’s called SLICE…. It’s an in-feed treatment that, for a time, acted like a silver bullet. It was so effective that as a researcher studying sea lice, I found it difficult to harvest sea lice from salmon in an aquaculture environment. I just couldn’t find them. It worked that well….SLICE’s effectiveness started to seriously wane around 2008. The sea lice were adapting. The previous two summers had been worse than ever. Sea lice were partying even harder than they were in 1999.”

The full talk can be found  by clicking here

Dr Fast predicts that the industry will develop effective vaccines to replace SLICE in seven to ten years and cocktails of other less effective solutions before then, but none of this will directly benefit the native fish.
For environmentalists the main worry in all this is for the future of the native salmon and sea trout that are native to Scotland, the wonderful wild creatures that contribute to our national image and that also spearhead the marketing effort of the caged fish industry that may be harming them. There is an urgent need for less invective and more research to find out what is truly going on.

This article is largely the work of two prominent scientists, who prefer not to be named. The image of a sea louse at the top is borrowed from Dr Larry Hammell of UPEI.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Best Christmas Present Idea Ever

What an utterly lovely, beautifully built wee boat, offered for sale at £3,000, unbelievable.

This isn't an ad by the way; this blog doesn't carry them. I just feel that I have a duty to bring her to the attention of the boating world. She's a wonderful memorial to her builder Stuart Mann, who sadly hasn't lived to enjoy her.

She'd be a fantastic addition to the Bilderglug Fleet, although I'd have to hide my own efforts to avoid critical looks at my (lack of) workmanship.

Full details can be found on Port na Storm's Blog 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Bilderglug Fleet Summer Manoeuvres 2012

In which “looks like light winds for the weekend” joins the pantheon of famous last words.

Today mid-Argyll is dreich and grey and with the boats safely ashore there are only memories of the best moments of Summer. The words above come from the briefing from the Supreme Commander of the Bilderglug Fleet, who had commissioned a force to explore mutually supportive open dinghy sailing in an area of strong tides, rocky shores and unpredictable weather, just for fun.

Thus at the end of July ten mariners in five craft set out on a short morning shake-down to Bagh na h-Aird at the South end of Luing to wait for the South-going stream. 

The target for the first night was the harbour of Kinuachdrachd a couple of miles down the East coast of Jura. Pronounced sort of Kyanooachrach I’ve heard that its English owners call it KiloDelta.

We got a good stiff WNWly wind across the rather neapy tide, by no means the worst you could get but still a bit lumpy in the whirlies near the Corryvreckan. A few minutes after clearing the point I decided that the jib was a bad idea, got it off and made sure that the tent and all the gear and food were safely stowed and covered, then settled down for a wet crossing.

Some took a port tack just North of West towards Scarba and slightly against the tide, to get closer to the Jura shore they would eventually beach on, whereas I decided on a long leg on starboard tack with the tide, but began to worry how I could eventually get across. The tidal stream strengthens as you get further South and runs like a river quite close to the shore. In the end it didn’t seem to make much difference and we all arrived off KD more or less together.

As we closed the shore the Kelpie was swept half a mile or so past her intended landfall, but a quick tack brought her inshore of the tide, then there were a number of short tacks to get back up-tide to the harbour. Just as we were gathering way after one of these we got knocked down in a squall and a good load of solid water came aboard, a bit annoying when everything had stayed dry so far.

The idea behind the excursion was co-operation, so everyone had brought something to the party with no duplication. Thus the Bilderglug Fleet was well provided with plenty of food and drink, as well as our communal rain shelter. The accumulation of outdoor skills meant that we were soon warm and fed and ready for a good night’s rest on the heather.

Next morning I was pleased to find the Jura ticks had not found me wholesome, but others hadn’t been so lucky. Maybe Highland ancestry has some benefits.

On Day Two we had a splendid sail. Some were worried about being carried on the flood into the Corryveckan, which can happen if you don’t have enough wind to drive you across it, so they started Eastwards towards Carsaig Bay. I reckoned there was enough wind and had a fast reach North, although those whirlies and eddies were at it again and you’re very close to them in a wee open boat.

All made it safe and well to a lovely bay under the North-east corner of Shuna. At least the bay itself is lovely; the outlook is ruined by one of a number of gigantic industrial fish farms that Her Majesty’s Commissioners and Argyll & Bute Council have conspired to allow in this area of great tourist potential and scenic amenity.

We were ashore in good time for rest and reflection, also for some to dream of future voyages.

And future ships to do them in.

Once again a good sail was followed by a congenial and warm evening by the fire, although the  Kelpie’s master and commander went to sleep and missed the DIY pyrotechnics.

On the third day the Kelpie had a fast run home before a gathering breeze, while for the rest of the Bilderglugs there was a hill climb above Arduaine followed by a challenging beat back to Luing.

Altogther it was an entertaining and enjoyable weekend, once again proving the seaworthy nature of little traditionally shaped boats and that by sticking together and sharing resources one can safely achieve things that would be tricky and miserable done solo.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Wonder of the Modern World

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is about 200 years old, depending on your choice of start date, an outstanding piece of engineering overseen by Messrs Stevenson and Rennie, the former of course the grandfather of RLS. The light has an interesting history and its own website,

It's only appropriate in the modern world that she should have her own tartan too and today the Commissioners of Northern Lights have announced that they are adopting as their official tartan The Bell Rock 200th Anniversary, designed by the talented Steven Sim of Arbroath.

Until talking to Steven recently I hadn't understood just how intellectual tartan design actually is, with the patterns full of references. Here in his own words are some of the meanings buried in this one.
"The tartan design reflects the flashing lights of the lighthouse: white for the primary, white light, and red for the secondary, red light (when first put into operation the lighthouse flashed an alternating white and red light). The muted dark blue and black shades represent the treacherous dark North Sea at night. Solid black commemorates the 1000s of lives lost on Inchcape Rock as well as the men who died during the construction of the lighthouse. The geometry of the tartan creates two different impressions of the lighthouse on the horizon: when flashing white and when flashing red. When flashing white, 90 threads between the black and white represent the 90 courses of stone blocks that make up the tower. When flashing red, the lighthouse is represented at a greater distance, standing on the horizon." 
Over the years the finest artists have been attracted like moths to the Light. Methinks the skipper of the yacht in Mr Turner's effort at the top of this post should have been down to a trysail well before the storm got to this stage. There's also a wonderful image of the Light, but without the accompanying vessel, done by Scotland's very own Jolomo, which the Commissioners will even supply as a Christmas card.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

More Marine Painting

I am humbled by the fact that my blog derives as many hits from browsers looking for maritime images  as from my own efforts. Truly pictures speak a thousand words.

The late John Gardner was an inspirational fellow seaman, drinking companion, loyal and generous friend and not least one of the finest maritime artists of the last century. I publish his work with the consent of his family, as they are happy for John to be remembered and his work shared, just as he himself enjoyed it being shared through his calendars. Having said all this it’s always nice to be asked, rather than have permission taken for granted and I think it would be appropriate if anyone using an image took the time to send a wee acknowledgement to me for forwarding to the family.

John's images can be found throughout this blog, as you'll see in the list opposite.

Now, continuing my habit of getting a hurl for nothing, I’m moving back to the Nineteenth Century.

The McLean Museum in Greenock houses a treasure trove of art, much of it maritime in nature in keeping with a town that lived on shipping and shipbuilding. They include some great paintings by the town’s William Clark and I  asked the Museum for their consent to republish the following images. They’re happy, subject of course to their involvement being acknowledged. I’m adding their blog to my links list and suggest that any fellow maritime and historical bloggers should consider likewise. I hope that if you decide to republish anything you will extend this great public asset the courtesy of a similar acknowledgement. There are some very interesting articles on their blog and they deserve a lot more followers than they presently have.

William Clark lived from 1803 to 1883 and so his work covered most of the Victorian age. 

The image at the top of this post is of the Eldon, which I suspect was in the Australia trade around the 1840s. The first and second images below have the museum’s own captions added. Many thanks are due to the Leggy Prawn, who alerted me to the Museum's  great archive in the first place.

A mid nineteenth century oil painting on canvas entitled 'The Queen's Visit to the Clyde 17th August 1847' by William Clark (1803-1883), showing a view of Queen Victoria's visit to the River Clyde in 1847. The scene is on the River Clyde with a group of large and small vessels decked in flags with many smoke plumes visible. The participating vessels are left to right, Hercules, Chieftain, Fire, Queen, Conqueror, Admiral Garland, Victoria & Albert, Mars, Scourge, Undine, Fairy, Thetis, Sovereign, Premier, Craignesh Castle. Signed and dated 'W. Clark 1847' at the lower left by the artist.

A mid nineteenth century oil painting on canvas entitled 'The Tug Conqueror' by William Clark (1803-1883), showing a scene on the River Clyde off Greenock with a wooden hulled paddle tugboat on the right and sailing vessel on the left. In the background the building popularly known as the 'Duke of Argyll's stables'. Unsigned by the artist.

Next we see some shipping becalmed off the Cloch - how often have we been there? And finally the visit of the Fleet.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bending the Rules

As is well known, the good people of the Slate Islands have a reputation for the utmost integrity. Never in their history have the residents of Easdale, Seil or Luing even contemplated taking an unfair advantage, not only in their working lives but also in their moments of leisure and recreation.  

For example it’s well known that when the sailing ship Norval struck the South end of nearby Insch on 20 December 1870 and broke up a fortnight later, not a single match-stick from her a cargo of fine Canadian housebuilding timber found its way into any of the residents’ modest cottages. You can read the story here, Report from Easdale

Now, one and a half centuries later, the islanders have been presented with a moral dilemma and like their forebears have decided to close their ears to the sea-nymph’s call.

The weekend just passed saw the island residents turning over the Seil Skiff, one of the latest additions to the growing Scottish Coastal Rowing fleet . The build is of course nowhere near finished, but we’ve got a lovely fair hull and know for sure that we’ve got a great foundation to  build on. More important for those of a competitive nature is the simple fact that fairness and smoothness of line are essentials for a fast boat, as the less disturbance caused the better. This much is plain to a layman like me, but other aspects are less obvious.

The moral issues have come as the building work has proceeded. Everyone knows that boat-building is at least 90% sandpapering and doing mindless work as a group allows time for discussion. On Seil our team includes a diverse range of talent with a heavy emphasis on science, engineering and design.  Coming as I do from the law’s dusty purlieus I have been able to contribute nothing, but have listened as various potential contributors to boat speed and manoeuvrability have been analysed.

I’m not going into too much detail unless I give people ideas, but it’s relevant to share the exchange of emails I’ve had with two of the main people in the project

Ewan’s email to Topher and Robbie

“There are a few practical matters that I'd like to run past you …. It seems that rudder design is uncontrolled and we are free to plan what we want in terms of the size, shape and angle of incidence of the rudder blade.  It also seems that there's no problem with an open inwhale, which we see in the photos of other boats and would like to adopt.     We're considering moving the thwart positions a wee bit forward, as we see that some skiffs are squatting especially when they have a heavy cox aboard. I think some teams have done this already. Finally I'm thinking of introducing a small amount of rocker, possibly reducing the depth of the external keel at the ends by an inch or so from Iain's construction drawing. It's difficult to be sure from the photos online, but it looks as if there are some variations already in keel profile.”

Topher’s Reply

“Well done for getting the planking finished, and I look forward to seeing the finished boat. The rudder does seem to be as you say, uncontrolled, and there are many variations on a theme. Slotted gunwales are also OK and we have gone down that route (without reducing weight) for reasons of strength and drainage.  If you move the thwarts my advice would be to keep the number 3 seat centred on the frame, move the stroke seat 2 inches aft, number 2 seat 2 inches forward and the bow seat 4 inches forward, thus increasing the space for each rower by 2 inches and moving the rowers forward, on average, by an inch. We did this on our second boat and so did the Sailing club here. Although oars are many and varied, a consensus does seem to be forming that the oars are better restrained in some way from floating in or out at the oarlock. My advice which you are well experienced enough to ignore would be to make the cheap oars on the oar tab of the SCRA website, and then using those as a datum make better ones when you know what you want. I'd be a bit uneasy about introducing rocker or reducing the outboard part of the keel, because of the advantages to speed and turning which this departure from the plans would introduce. I'm aware as I write this that the same could be said of changing the seat spacing or fiddling with the rudder, but somehow the outside of the hull is sacrosanct, and I would not like to see people cutting their outside keels down to reduce drag. As you say this may already be happening and so far we have not done anything about it, but it could get out of hand. We may have to issue guidance on this, what do you think, Robbie?”

Robbie’s Reply

“Agree absolutely with Topher.  In the measurement rules there is a difference between hulls and fittings (including thwarts).
For Hulls the rule is:
2.1 The hull is to be constructed as faithfully as possible to the St Ayles Skiff plans produced by Mr Iain Oughtred. The hull may be constructed from a kit from the approved kit supplier or may be built entirely from the plans.  That to me excludes varying keel shape by introducing rocker.  For fittings the rule states:
4.1 While the plans show how Rudder, Tiller, Oarlocks, Thwarts, and Seats can be constructed, it is open to the builders to innovate and experiment with these fittings.
4.2 Oarlocks must be at the gunwale. Outriggers are not permitted.
Innovation to me includes spacing the thwarts slightly differently, and that has improved the trim of some boats.  
IO introduced extra buoyancy in the hull shape after the prototype to try to sort out the fat cox problem, but the boats do still tend to sit rather heavily by the stern. It can be helped a little bit by the fat cox sitting forward to shout in the stroke's ear, rather than sitting back and relaxing.
Full measurement rules are here:  St Ayles Skiff Measurement Rules
We need to form a sub committee to review the measurement rules at some point.”

With nearly a hundred boats built or building there is definitely a need for more precise rules.

Oddly amongst the existing generalities there is one rule which is very prescriptive and has no obvious purpose, other than to challenge ingenuity. It is laid down that rowlocks must be made of timber, rather than of metal, which has been the preferred material for several hundred years. This would be understandable if the boats had to be constructed of solid timber, rather than glued plywood. Then the whole project could be seen as an historical pageant, rather than community sport. 

On Seil we’re hoping that this may be something that the promised rules sub-committee will look at early on. 

Update at 19 November

Topher comments:-

I am glad to read your assurance Ewan that the Slate Islanders would not dream of taking unfair advantage of any loopholes in the rules of the St Ayles Skiff. It fans the flames of patriotic pride in my country to hear of the upright probity of these new entrants to skiffdom. Nevertheless we in the SCRA will deal severely with any club found to have used helium filled plywood, and indeed have invested in a helium detector to stamp out this pernicious practice.

We look forward to hosting you in Ullapool in July next year at the World Championship, and if there are any pipers or drummers in your number we especially invite them to take part in the St Ayles Skiff World Championship Pipe Band. 

Well done for getting to the turning over stage and enjoy the fitting out and painting. It is a great moment when you have the first row in your new boat!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Designer Unconstrained

As is well known the major challenge for any designer of racing yachts is exploiting the rating rule. Whether we are talking about America's Cup boats or small restricted design classes whichever yacht goes faster through the water will have a better chance of the gold. Such boats can have great disadvantages, sometimes being quirky and even unsafe. Once outclassed, as they inevitably are, they may have little residual value.

It must come as a welcome relief, therefore, to be asked to design something that is unconstrained by a rule. The designer can then apply his creative ability and experience purely to achieve the requirements of his client.

The picture above shows examples of the work of the three greatest Scottish yacht designers (in my opinion) of all time.

At the top is Thistle, George Lennox Watson's 1887 design for a syndicate of members of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club to challenge for the America's Cup. She was the only one of the three to be built to a rule, the YRA rule of the same year, which was intended to encourage greater beam to produce stiffer yachts than previously. She was 86 feet 4 inches on the waterline.

The designers of the other two did not require to comply with a rule.

The middle yacht is Rosemary IV, designed and built by William Fife III of Fairlie in 1928, when his yard was without an order, to keep the workforce busy. She is 36 feet on the waterline. Having no client to please allowed Fife even more freedom and the design is in my view one of his best, having significantly shorter overhangs than his normal productions.

The yacht at the foot is Alfred Mylne's Islander, also designed in 1928. Not only are the ends much shorter than the designs that Mylne did to a rule, she has much firmer sections than either of my other examples.

When the Clyde Clubs Conference were considering a new design in 1928 Alfred Mylne would have been extremely keen to become involved. The new design was intended to replace the 19/24s, nineteen feet on the waterline, twenty four feet overall, sail area massive, which had in turn replaced the 17/19s, governed by a similar rule.There was a general recognition that rules like these had resulted in some pretty extreme boats and several accidents and should be replaced with a new more wholesome boat.

Most importantly, the new boat would be  strict one-design.

The Conference considered various existing designs, such as Westmacott's Sea View Mermaid and Solent Sunbeams and Alfred Mylne's own Belfast Lough River Class of 1921. They probably wanted something slightly larger, because of the better opportunities for short cruises on the Clyde and the Scottish West coast.

Alfred Mylne had recently produced a new design for the Royal Bombay Yacht Club and this duly became the Scottish Islands Class One Design, but with a Bermudian rig as opposed to the Indian boats’ gunter.

The Islander would be 20 feet on the waterline as opposed to the Rivers 18, with the same overall length of 28 feet 6 inches. The sail area would 420 square feet, against the River's 350.

In February 1929 The Yachting Monthly reported that

"The new class has one feature which is a sign of the times, in that the boats will be fitted with auxiliary power and side propellers, those owners who do not wish to carry an engine being required to fit the propellor and carry a weight equivalent to that of the engine."

The view was also also expressed that

"fitted with auxiliaries the new boats will not be very fast, particularly in view of their moderate sail spread..."

There is no doubt that with modern sailcloth the boats are nowadays not under-canvassed. The seas are timeless and the short overhangs, buoyant ends and firm sections are still as valid for safe sailing in a small boat as they ever were.

In order to preserve the one-design principle to the letter and not just to the spirit various rules were enforced. The first five boats were built on a mass-production principle by the McGruers, who worked closely with Mylne and could deliver on a price, having just built the identical Indian boat.

On completion the first owners selected their hulls by lot.

The dummy propellor rule was another example.

Later on the owners were to agree that new sails would only be ordered by a vote, unless for a blown-out replacement, limits were placed on yachts being hauled out for scrubbing and so on. Occasionally owners would compete in each others' boats too.

I've researched the history of this class and published the results on sister website While doing this I was struck at how owners would sell their Islander only to buy another one, to the outside world identical in all respects. The extreme case was the sale by Herbert Thom of his Gigha, the newest boat and buying Westra, number one, following mutterings about an unfair advantage. Underlying all this must have been a reluctance to believe that it was the helmsman who was making the difference.

Herbert Thom did get an advantage in one respect however. It's often been remarked that the Islanders had a rule that each yacht should have a different hull colour and a lot of rather pointless research has been done, admittedly some of it by me before I learned better, to identify the "original" colours. The rule is contained in the 1959 edition, but until I find the earlier one I won't accept it existed earlier. Instead I've had access to personal papers, currently top secret, confirming that all the original fleet were white, apart from Sanda, which was light blue and Thom's current yacht, be it Gigha, Westra or, later Canna, which was always varnished.

It has been suggested by one apparently authoritative commentator that this led to litigation, a judge ruling that varnished was "brown" but there's no evidence of an actual case. From what I've learned of the original owners they were a dignified bunch with better things to do than waste time and money in the courts.

What is certain is that, like everything else he did Thom was exploiting a rule. Traditional varnish could easily be scraped off at the end of each season and the minimum number of fresh coats applied at the start of the next to keep the topsides light, whereas paint would just be abraded to give a sufficient key for a fresh coat, composed of course mainly of lead.

All this suggests that new poachers will soon arrive on any hillside and the gamekeepers will find it hard to keep up. There are lessons in this for our friends in Scottish Coastal Rowing, who have their first World Championships in Ullapool next year.

This is a repost from my  Scottish Islands website, where my friend Hal Sisk posted the following interesting comment

“In 1893, John Coats Jr.commissioned the great G L Watson, at the height of his career, to create two identical 36ft cutters purely for match racing. These were specifically not to be influenced by any rating rule, truly unconstrained. The result was the delightful clipper-bowed pair Gypsy and Brunette.
In his extraordinary busy period,also designing the America's Cup challenger Valkyrie and Britannia II and a steam yacht of 1025 tons for Arthur H E Wood, he also managed to find time to occasionally helm one of the pair in their frequent Saturday races.
My beautiful Peggy Bawn, built the following season as a "fast cruiser" which could also race as a 2.5 Rater, is almost a sistership to the match racers. So she also represents an unconstrained design, from the Golden Age of Yacht design. Indeed her hull shape and hydrostatic parameters conform closely to the "Britannia Ideal" which, for a sea-kindly sailing craft, persisted as a type right up to the late 1960s, until more powerful auxiliary engines caused sailing yacht design to move in the direction of quasi motor sailers.
See also my foreword to Martin Black's "G L Watson--the Art &
Science of Yacht Design".
Hal Sisk 
PS Yachtsmen are slavish followers of fashion and most one designs reflected the style of recent racing craft. An classic example is the Dragon class, with unnecessary long U-shaped overhangs, looking backwards to racing rules which primarily measured waterline length." 
It's possible that Hal may hold the key to the identity of the mysterious Leggy Prawn.

Ace Marine now own the Mylne archives and can be found here:-

G L Watson can be found at

Successors to the Fife dynasty can be found at

Friday, 2 November 2012

Leggy Prawn is blogging

But who is at the helm?

Since this blog started we’ve had occasional gems of wisdom from a strange sea-creature, who styles him(her?)self the Leggy Prawn. Time after time he(she?) has come up with solutions to the mysteries and uncannily accurate information, suggesting that among the seabed’s dark rocky nooks and weedy fronds there is a good old-fashioned library of the type never seen nowadays on shore. Perhaps one of our modern politicians, who value nothing other than saving money, has simply tipped a maritime archive into the deep.

Anyway, this strange, articulate and erudite resident of the seabed has now started blogging and the early results look promising. You can visit the new blog here:-  

I'm adding the new blog to my list below and recommend our other blogging friends to do the same.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tore Herlin and the Juni boats

Tore Herlin is not as well known in this country as two of his creations, the tall ships Gladan and Falken. While chief architect to the Swedish Navy he enjoyed a parallel career as a designer of yachts and small boats inspired in large part by his wish to encourage sail training at all levels. The little yacht Juni, which I found in Stockholm in 2005 and brought back for restoration, is a "Pojkbat" or young persons boat intended for this purpose. 

The original Juni was built about 1935 and resembled the Swedish Starboat, a design that was adopted here with the addition of a counter for the Loch Long. She proved to be very fast and seaworthy for her size with the result that numerous copies followed, some in carvel mahogany and some clinker planked in oak. They were taken up by boat-building schools as a conveniently small project, so that the design was used to teach building skills, resulting in a boat which teaches sailing. My Juni was built in 1973 to the order of Sonja Herlin, Tore's daughter, to replace the original boat after she was destroyed in a fire.

I didn't know all this when I first saw Juni looking rather dejected in a garden in Dalaro. It was obvious that she needed a lot of work, but the quality of her original build shone through, crying out for restoration.

The story of her return to Scotland is one of the first posts on this blog and can be read here An Expedition to Stockholm. Only once she was safely here in Argyll was it possible to remove the furniture and floorboards to get a proper look at what needed to be done. This also gave me a proper understanding of the quality of the work done by the Storrebro School. The hull is of close-seam construction, that is to say there is no caulking or stopping between the planks. She has swept decks in teak, also a masterwork in small scale. Varnished mahogany topsides meant that any mistakes would be highly visible. The project was going to be more challenging than one on a larger scale.

Any restoration will take a lot of time and throw up problems that have not been met with before. A good way to proceed is to start with the routine but time-consuming jobs, removing old paint and varnish and so on, while researching the more difficult and novel tasks. The former work will have to be done anyway and the time involved mindlessly scraping and sanding gives one plenty of time to think and plan.

I won't bore the reader with all the details of what was done. The topsides, spars and internal furniture were all stripped down, to be refinished with oil and traditional varnish, the work producing plenty of thinking time. The difficult work involved dealing with two major structural cracks in the hull planking, combined with numerous associated broken frames. I was a bit worried in case this damage had occurred through normal sailing but it seemed more likely to have happened on shore, as Swedish clubs usually operate their own storage facilities and accidents do happen. Subsequently some discreet enquiries suggested that this was probably the cause, which was reassuring.
spot the eight replacement frame pieces

Juni was relaunched in June 2012 and there followed a couple of weeks of anxious pumping while she took up after about ten years ashore. She has proved to be a lively little seaboat, behaving in some ways like a much larger yacht but also very fast and responsive. She'll be ideal for day-sailing around the sheltered sea-lochs of mid-Argyll.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The lang skiffs are here

Only twelve hundred years or so after the Norsemen introduced the inhabitants to the sport of competitive rowing fleets of long narrow double-ended boats are appearing all round the coasts of Scotland.

An idea that sparked somewhere near the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther three years back has caught on, with over eighty kits of identical parts cut on a computer-controlled router and turned out by Alec Jordan from his workshop in Kirkcaldy, to date. As fleets turned out for regattas throughout the summer the project started to spread like a very benign virus, combining communities and their collective woodworking, organising and rowing skills.

Diverse groups are forming in rural and island communities, some already together through existing clubs and schools, others uniting through the love of boats and rowing. The idea is spreading abroad too, with several boats building in other parts of Europe such as England  and the Netherlands, also some in the United States and Australia. The first Skiffie Worlds will be held in Ullapool next July.

There are various formats to organise a build, but most seem to adopt the historic model of financing the boat through 64 shares, typically costing £60, then operating the finished skiff via a club. In truth very little organisation is required once the build has been done, most setting up a website for communications and booking the use of the boat.

In my corner of the West coast the Seil Skiff is well advanced and we hope to have her launched before the year is out. We adopted the sixty four share model to finance her and the community decided not to seek out charitable funds, something we're pleased about. You can follow the build on her website here:-

I feel privileged to be involved in an exciting and absorbing local venture, bringing people together in a productive way and hopefully leading to many happy days on the water.

The regattas to date have shown that these boats are very fast and seaworthy indeed. Races typically take place over a course of a couple of miles, with heats for different age groups. They also provide a huge impetus to local economies, the larger events attracting hundreds of participants and spectators.

For full information and plenty of photographs and more visit

The image at the top is by Paul Kennedy inspired by the Portobello skiff Jenny Skylark.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

St Abbs Returned

Eight years after leaving Edinburgh College of Art Paul Kennedy is now well established in his studio in Glasgow's Merchant City. To date much of his work has been inspired by the city, depicting a narrative between the people and their surroundings. 
For the new work in his latest exhibition Paul has revisited St Abbs, a favourite holiday haunt of his family for generations, not only on trips finding new images but remembering those from his own childhood and also reconstructing and imagining a few scenes from the past caught in his Grandparents old black and white snapshots.

A recent change of emphasis from mainly figurative work to expressive painting has given him greater freedom to explore his use of colour. The old images being black and white allow him an unconstrained palette.

'Everything has its own story. I like the idea of bringing history into my painting in more ways than one. For me this exhibition is the start of a new direction, a discovery of something that has always been there and just brought to light not too unlike finding my Grans photo album'.

The exhibition is now on at the Billcliffe Gallery in Glasgow city centre. Paul can be contacted via facebook and his website is


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water