Monday, 13 February 2012

The oldest One Design in the World (and a chance to buy her)


Avid readers of this blog (you know who you are, I don’t) know how I love a good mystery. If you guddle through my earlier posts from 2010 onwards you’ll find my attempts to trace the histories of long-disappeared yachts and their owners, which have resulted in occasional successes and one or two tales of maritime adventure and even espionage. On reflection it’s actually quite surprising that so many old craft, built as they were in an impermanent medium and often used hard in rough conditions actually survived, the more so when one reflects on the habits of the early owners of racing craft who cannibalised an older boat for rig and fittings for the new one.

Occasionally the hours spent originally in libraries when I started out in a pre-internet age and now done online from a remote corner of Scotland produced real and very satisfying results. Earliest was the discovery that the Scottie survived as she approached her first century, still making ripples on the Wansee.Read that post here:- Scottie, a tale of espionage

More recently I posted on the one-designs of George Lennox Watson here:- The Clyde 17/19 foot Class 

The Master in his prime

I suggested that his nineteen foot lugsail boats created for the Clyde Canoe Club in 1886 were possibly the oldest one-design class in the World. I had to be tentative, as I knew that the Dublin Waterwags of the same year make this claim, supported by the advertisement placed in the Irish Times of 18 September 1886 by their founder Thomas B Middleton, which started off

“It is proposed to establish in Kingstown a class of sailing punts, with centreboards all built and rigged the same, so that an even harbour race may be had with a light rowing and generally useful boat…..” 

Waterwag at Dalkey
At that time I didn’t have a precise date for the Watson boats and also didn’t want to upset the Irish friends whom I meet mostly in cyberspace but sometimes also along our shores, but help has now arrived in the form of Martin Black’s masterpiece “The Art and Science of Yacht Design” which arrived here recently and has put paid to all work around the house for the time being and coincidentally published by some of those Irish friends. Martin records the Dumbarton Herald of 18 August 1886 reporting 

“Early in the present season the Clyde Canoe Club ….. resolved to add to their fleet of lugsail craft, three lugsail boats…. and on Saturday last, 14 August, the three left the Leven for Gareloch…”

The first boats of both classes were built by R McAlister & Son of Dumbarton. It would be fascinating to read any surviving correspondence among the promoters of the two, as we know there were very close family and sporting connections across the Irish Sea at that time.

So there we have it, nearly a dead heat and certainly a victory for the Celts, as both classes beat the Solent by a couple of years.

In my original post I recorded three more boats built in 1887 and a final one in 1888. Martin reports a total of nine, the first three named Red, White and Blue, three more built by McAlisters in 1887 for the Royal Clyde YC, which he doesn’t name and a final three in 1891 by Paul Jones of Gourock, also unnamed.

So what about my 1888 boat? I was thinking about the Banshee, which the Watson design list published in Martin’s book describes (design no 149) as a “Clyde 17/19 ft”, 2.5 tons and built by A McLaren at Kilcreggan. Incidentally Martin also lists the Nell (design no 156) as a “Clyde 19ft”, also 2.5 tons and built by J Adam of Gourock.

Confusion is caused by the emergence of another class hot on the heals of the first one, the 17/19s, about which we know quite a bit. To which class did Banshee and Nell belong?

In my post I wrote that we didn’t have photographs of the earlier boats and posted the lines and sailplans, copied here:-

  Here is a half model of Red, which is just a wee bit clearer than the above.

But I have now learned that one of them, Banshee, still exists. Not only that, she’s for sale, via Gareth Worters of the Dauntless boatyard. Contact details are posted below.  To me she looks like one of the original boats and not a 17/19, which generally weighed in at 3 tons and seem to have much deeper keels.

She’s had a very thorough professional restoration, including making and fitting a new stem, stern post, lots of planking repairs and reframing and an entire new deck structure. From the photos below it seems she’ll need very little, apart from a final coat of paint, to get her sailing again. Gareth tells me that there’s a good set of spars, finished to a high standard and a suit of sails.

As visitors will know this blog is unmonetised and totally non-commercial and I want to keep it that way, but I am happy to help friends in the world of old boats. If you want to pursue the Banshee further you can find Gareth on garethdauntless (at)

And if you miss out on the Banshee, don’t forget that Hubert Stagnol is building and has maybe finished (I haven’t heard from him for a while) another of the original design in France, about which I posted here:- Red lives again

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Cool Colonsay

I'm just back from an interesting trip to Colonsay. Over the years I've often had a glimpse of this island, visible far out to sea from the pre-historic lookout post of Dun Fada round the corner from Degnish Point, but thoughts of the great Atlantic swells always put me off visiting by boat. Better to travel on board the good ship Isle of Mull, above, where good conversation and fine strong coffee can be found.

An invitation  to take part in a discussion about the proposed fish farm stirred me from winter lethargy into three days on this magical island on the edge of the world. 

What follows is a little photo-essay of my visit, without the polemic, which I will save for a more political forum.

Well, maybe not entirely politics-free, because what on earth is the Icebeam doing in Oban? She's been here for months, a Swedish research ship equipped with state of the art under-water survey equipment. She's been seen as far afield as Ardnamurchan, as reported by the Kilchoan Blogger.

McCaig's Folly
And I can't resist a poke at the PC Brigade, who insist on calling it a tower, when everyone knows its real name. Here goes with the essay.

Leaving the Sound of Kerrera, Mull in the distance.
On arriving there was time for  quick drive round the island before dark.

The Strand, between Colonsay and Oronsay
It has to be called Hangman's Rock

Loch Fada
First view of Traigh Ban

Day Two dawned cold and bright and I decided to do a gentle stroll from Scalasaig to the north of the island.


Leaving Scalasaig one soon comes to an interesting wee haven.

After a little while I came to the Colonsay House estate and took a detour through.

A case for the WD40
Traigh Ban again, from under Carnan Eoin
Raised beach

The Old Man of Balnahard

The way back is always longer  

On Day Three I had time to explore south from Scalasaig and walked over towards Queens Bay, where there are signs of old cultivation.


From the high ground one gets a good view of the Scalasaig Kirk.

And finally a view of the route home, with Jura stretching north on the left and Scarba just visible beyond.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water