Sunday, 30 June 2013

Yet another Mystery Yacht

The success rate to date has been 100%, thanks mainly to the Leggy Prawn, who as it happens has also had a hand (or perhaps a claw) in this one.

The image is from a lovely big portrait photograph in the Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club so most likely shows a West coast, probably Clyde scene. 

There seems to be a large strangely-shaped white building on the shore in the background.

In the centre of the cockpit appears what may be a hand on the jib sheet, with rather a smart white cuff showing.

The Prawn was crawling around the RN&CYC last weekend and expressed a view, but I won't publish it at this stage, so as not to spoil the fun.

One thing that struck me was the width of the panels in the sails, which seem incredibly narrow if that is truly a hand showing.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A nice pulling boat for the sea.

One of the dreadful things about building any boat is that after the present project is safely up in frame, or on the moulds if you build upside down like most of us do, one’s thoughts turn to the next project. Mutterings along the lines of “haven’t you got enough boats already?” do absolutely nothing to dampen things down. There are several reasons for these feelings.

Boatbuilding is itself a very basic and intrinsically compulsive activity. It seems likely that the human race was going afloat for millennia before the wheel was invented. After all, why build roads when the sea and river are here for nothing? Historically our islands were the centres of commerce and administration and hence culture, also the interface with other cultures far away and thus responsible for most of our genetic mix.

Constructing a boat is a fascinating blend of practicality and artistry, a three-dimensional object which must work, keep us safe and last in a destructive environment but which can also be handsome and even beautiful.

Finally, as with everything else, we do it because we can. We have acquired the tools and skills and why stop now, when every boat we build is an improvement in what has gone before. Ronnie McG from Kilcreggan told me once of an uncle who built livery skiffs by eye and continued to produce them at the rate of one every four weeks or so, long after there was no market for them and all his other faculties were giving up, “just because it was what he did”.

So, my record to date is: a a Joel White Nutshell, which took 6 months in 1986, Mystic John Gardner’s Swampscott Dory from Volume One in 1988, his Quincy Skiff in 1990, David Ryder-Turner’s Sonas between 1992 and 1994, Iain Oughtred’s smallest stem dinghy in 1996 and Walt Simmon’s Christmas Wherry in 2006. The significant gap before the wherry was taken up with rebuilding Stroma after a museum destroyed her and since 2006 I’ve been restoring Juni (and building a house). Most recently Selkie hit the water after the community build on the Isle of Seil. Not all my own work, but I was proud to help.

The next project will be a pulling boat with long enough legs to get up a good clip with one or maybe two people sculling, but not too difficult to handle on shore (so that she gets used)  and fine enough lines not to be a pain, but also firm enough not to cause alarm. Oh dear, I’ve just described two or three separate boats.

A Whitehall type, or Iain’s Acorn at the longer length, say sixteen or seventeen feet, or the lovely but extreme Flashboat, would get the speed, but such boats at shorter lengths are tippy spindles. At the intended longer length she’d be fine until caught in the wind and tidal chops we get around here. And probably blow away if left on the shore.

Shorter boats, such as the larger tenders, are too bulky for recreational rowing and don’t get the speed, if safe.

I’m tending towards an elongated tender, taking an existing design that combines a firm bilge with smooth lines and extending the mould spacings to add some length. The ends should be as vertical as possible, to maximise immersed waterline. Many of Iain O’s designs fail to do this, an exception being the Tammie Norrie, which should go on the list. It’s a plus too, that Alec Jordan has kitted her.

That makes me think of a traditional Cornish rowboat drawn by Percy Dalton, plumb ends, nothing fancy, just a good basic no-nonsense boat. I seem to have lost my copy of his book – must see if the lines are googleable.

A near vertical transom means of course that a little Mercury or similar could perch there, handy if someone wants to go fishing.

As often before I’ve turned to the sage of Mystic Seaport. The closest to what I have in mind is the Lawley tender, which is too short for the purpose at twelve feet, but what if drawn out a foot or two? She has the proud stem, firm bilge and lovely traditional transom that would hold their own in any company. The lines look good and would cope with being drawn out I think. She could be built in strip but, what the hell, better to do her in fine clinker, with lots of planks per side and make a proper job of her!

Does anyone have a better idea?   

Friday, 28 June 2013

SCOTS IN OYSTER BAY - Chapter Three - The Scots return

Chapter Three

The Scots Return

Herbert Thom enjoyed three seasons with Westra, becoming class champion in 1934, 1935 and 1936. The main competition was coming from the Russell’s old boat Sanda, now sailed by James Buchanan.

Westra, No 1 and Sanda, No 5

Westra leads my Stroma, No 4 to the finish

The fleet
Just when Herbert Thom was looking for a new challenge he was approached jointly by Alexander Robertson & son and David Boyd, who suggested that they produce a new six metre for him. The result was Circe, which was Boyd’s first design for a metre boat. By the end of 1937 Circe had won 24 flags including six firsts, the largest number in any class, despite being dismasted on the first day of Clyde Fortnight. The Glasgow Herald reported that her helmsman already had 312 flags in 12 years, so was now up to 336.

When it was decided that a team of British sixes would contest the British America Cup and the Royal Northern yacht Club challenged for the Seawanhaka Cup, Circe had to be involved.

The British America Cup would go to the first team of four to win four races. Team racing requires a different cultural approach, a profound knowledge of the rules and the confidence to put boats at risk and get away with it. It’s best done on true one-design boats, which six metres patently are not. I suspect that the British team would have had little if any experience of this type of competition.

The British yachts were Mr R M Teacher’s Erica, Herbert Thom’s Circe, Mr J H Maurice Clark’s Vrana, all Scottish boats, and Solenta, owned by Eldon and Kenneth Trimingham of Bermuda. The American team consisted of Mr Briggs Cunningham’s Fun, Mr George Nichols’ Goose, Mr Paul Shields’ Rebel and Mr Henry Morgan’s Djinn.

The Scottish yachts were duly craned aboard the Anchor liner California, while Herbert Thom, accompanied by his mother and son John travelled on the Donaldson Line’s Letitia. The cost to each owner would have been about £1,500, a very substantial sum.

The races were a disaster for the British team. In the first race, sailed in variable but mainly light conditions, the Americans got first, second, fourth and seventh places, with Circe last. In the second race, sailed in a nice breeze of 10 to 13 mph, the Americans forced Circe and Vrana over the start line and they were recalled. The Americans got first, second, third and seventh places, Solenta at fourth was the best British boat and Circe came sixth.

The next day the wind was very light. Djinn forced Solenta and Circe over the start line at the expense of being over herself and all three got recalled. Later on Djinn fouled Circe and Henry Morgan promptly withdrew. The British boats were now generally doing rather well, when the race committee decided that the time limit of four hours would not be met and cancelled the race.

On day four Goose luffed Solenta and collided with her, causing both to protest. The yachts had been only five feet apart when Goose’s skipper put his helm down hard and at the subsequent hearing she was disqualified. As this was a re-sail of the third race Djinn remained disqualified for her skipper’s behaviour the day before. The British skippers pleaded with the committee to waive this and allow Henry Morgan to compete, but the rule was enforced, so the Americans had a serious handicap. They got the first and second places, but still lost on points. Circe came fourth.

In the fourth race, day five of sailing, there was a good breeze. The Americans won with first, second, fifth and eighth places and Circe came fourth again.

The Americans won again on the final day with first, fourth, fifth and sixth places in very light airs. Circe, considered to be a heavy weather boat, came seventh.

On the evening of the last day the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club declared that Goose would defend the Seawanhaka Cup and the Royal Northern nominated Circe to challenge for it. It is unlikely that the challengers felt they had much of a chance, but by now Herbert Thom had had time to learn about the local conditions. For the challenge he had his pick of crew from all the British boats. 

He selected William MacAusland (the wee fellow in the picture) from Mr Teacher’s Erica and Sandy Baird (on the left, later Harbourmaster at Bermuda) and Murray Maclehose (the tall chap on Thom’s left, later to be the Governor of Hong Kong) from Maurice Clark’s Vrana to sail with him and his son John (extreme right). He selected the best sails from all the British boats too.

On the first day of the series any American complacency was severely shaken. The Glasgow Herald reported,

“It was a nasty day for sailing, judged by the standards of ladies afternoon sailing parties. There was an easterly blowing up the sound, seventeen miles an hour at the start and clear to twenty five at the finish. It was piling up a real sea, steep, rugged navy, and out of the low grey clouds heavy cold rain squalls sluiced down now and again. Maybe Circe thought she was back at home in her own Firth O’ Clyde waters, for it was a dour day for these parts. At any rate she went, and Goose, fastest all-around yacht of the American sixmetre fleet, couldn't hold her under the conditions.”

The second race had a triangular course, sailed in another blustery day. Herbert Thom gave Circe a perfect start and Goose couldn’t catch her, finishing twenty four seconds behind.

The third race was sailed in Goose’s weather, a light easterly with a windward/leeward course again. Goose had by far the better start and covered Circe as the latter tacked several times in quick succession. Suddenly the wind whipped round to the southeast, giving a reach to the windward mark, at which Goose was two minutes thirty-five seconds ahead. The return was now a reach in about seven miles an hour of wind and Goose rounded the next mark just over five minutes ahead. There was now a run to the original weather mark. Circe made up a little and was four minutes ten seconds behind at the final turn.

The final leg was now a beat. The wind died and both boats drifted along, Circe holding inshore of Goose. Herbert Thom must have scented a land breeze, because while Goose lay becalmed Circe silently eased sheets and started moving very gently, gradually overhauling her and steadily easing sheets again, picking up speed, while the crew of Goose could only sit and watch. The wind eventually reached Goose, but it was too late. At the very end she tried the expedient of setting her spinnaker, but to no avail. Circe finished half a minute ahead and won the Cup.


After their return from the States the Russells stayed with six metres and commissioned a new boat, Mara, from Alfred Mylne. Their yacht Kyla has enjoyed a long retirement and now sails, fully restored, in France.

Herbert Thom successfully defended the Cup against a Norwegian challenge on the Clyde in late 1939. He then sold Circe and went back to the Islanders after the War, commissioning a new yacht Canna. He continued in his unbeatable ways, winning virtually everything until by August 1963 he was exhausted and, perhaps mindful of his father’s history of heart trouble, decided to retire. Over a racing career that lasted 60 years Herbert Thom had won 690 flags, including 453 first places. He died in 1986 at the age of 96.

Circe didn’t enjoy a happy retirement. She was sold to the Russians who took her to Helsinki for the 1952 Olympic Games, where they came a bad last. The story in Finland is that afterwards they held a party and barbecue during which they burnt Circe. Only her drawings remain, in the archives at Kilmory, Argyll.

Of the American boats Bob Kat II is believed to be still around, possibly in Italy, while Goose has been fully restored and is based in Puget Sound, Washington State.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

SCOTS IN OYSTER BAY - Chapter Two - The Scots Invade

Chapter Two

The Scots Invade

At the close of the 1933 season Willie Russell’s daughter, Udy, records in her diary,

“A definite challenge has been made by the British for the British-American Cup and the Seawanhaka Cup. It will be against the Americans and raced for at Long Island Sound. To buy, or not to buy, a Six Metre Yacht? Two new sixes are being built by Fife. One for Mr Teacher and one for Mr A S L Young. One six is being built by Mylne for Mr Clark. Daddy has decided to buy a six metre and he has ordered one from Mylne’s yard!!! Great excitement and planning for next season. I am sorry to part from Sanda as she has been faithful to the name of Russell. On this day, November the 28th 1933, we drank to the new boat, her name may be “Aline” after me or “Luinga”. But is now “Kyla” after Kyles of Bute.”

1934 would be a year of great excitement in the wider yachting circles, with the latest British challenge for the America’s Cup in Sopwith’s Endeavour going ahead against Rainbow, but at home on the Clyde the buzz was all about the new six metres; Mr Teacher’s Melita, Mr Young’s Saskia II, Mr Clark’s Volga and of course Willie Russell’s Kyla.
Kyla at Bute Slip Dock before her launch

going down the ways

weighing at Rothesay Pier

The Press wasn’t optimistic, the Express reporting,

“On the occasion of the last contests for the two cups, which took place in 1932 in this country, the British yachts were soundly beaten. The American Jill defeated Mr John G Stephen’s Maida in the Seawanhaka races, and in the Solent four home sixes lost to the Yankee team…”

Just because you decided to build a new yacht didn’t mean you were entitled to be selected. During the summer a series of tuning up races took place on the Clyde. Yachts were divided into two teams, the reds consisting of Melita, Saskia II, Mr Clark’s older boat Vorsa and Kyla and the greens consisting of Mr Parker’s Fintra, Mr Clark’s new Volga, the Hon J P Maclay’s Susette K25 and the Donaldsons’ Maida.

Individual trials took place between pairs of boats. Melita was found to be a good boat in the light airs which could be expected off New york in late season, but was hammered by Volga in four races in strong winds. However, the latter’s three paid hands were probably a help.

Kyla then beat Melita in their trials. The final selection was Melita, Saskia II, Vorsa and Kyla. Meantime the Americans selected Lucie, commanded by Briggs Cunningham, Robert B Mayer’s Bob Kat II, Cornelius Shields’ Challenge and C l Smith’s Annis.

The Scots duly took with them a bunch of professional skippers and paid hands, but everyone aboard Kyla for the races was amateur – Russell father, son and daughter along with Wilson Thom, who in later life helped to fuel my addiction to sailing.
On the Clyde, Udy, Wilson Thom, Willie Junior, the Skipper
Willie Russell’s daughter, Udy, a sporting heroine before her time, is an important character in our story. In May 1915 the widowed Emmeline Pankhurst adopted four orphaned war babies to add to her four surviving children, who were by then adolescent. She promptly changed their names and destroyed their birth certificates, but this was only the start of an eccentric upbringing in a somewhat colonial style with servants and frequent moves, so that the young Joan Pembridge lived at various times in Vancouver, Toronto, Bermuda and Paris. When Mrs Pankhurst died in 1928 Joan was re-adopted by Willie Russell and his wife to become Udy Russell.
photo by her friend Uffa Fox

on the stern deck of Kyla

taking Mother for a sail

Udy never spoke about her early years, but they must have contributed to the independence of mind and spirit that she later showed in yacht racing. The Express reported,

“I’m the foredeck hand” said Miss Russell. “I attend to the spinnaker, clear the jib and make myself generally useful.” “I’ve steered too, in womens races, but of course I shall not be doing that in America. That’s dad’s job.” “Do you think,” I continued, “that yachting is good sport for women?” “The best in the world,” she laughed. “But you’ve got to take it seriously. It’s no use thinking you can only go out on nice days, and sit around the deck looking smart in trousers.”
Miss Russell wears navy and white jerseys and tailored flannel skirts. The yachts leave in the Caledonia on Wednesday, 29 August while the crews follow on September 8.”
The British American Cup series was due to start on 25 September. For the passage to long Island sound, the yachts were craned onto the decks of cargo ships and the teams followed later in style on passenger steamers. 

aboard ship

sightseeing in NY

As predicted in the Press the series was a disaster for the Scots. The first race was called off when the wind died, Challenge leading Kyla by a narrow margin. On the re-run, again in light airs, the American boats got the first four places, followed by Kyla, Saskia II, Melita and Vorsa.

For the second race there was a sixteen knot wind and the course was twice round a twelve mile triangle. The American boats got four out of the first places, the order being Bob Kat II, Challenge, Vorsa, Annis, Lucie, Kyla, Melita, Saskia II.

The third race decided things in stronger winds and a nasty jumpy sea. Kyla managed fourth place despite parting a jib halliard at the downwind mark. The order home was Bob Kat II, Challenge, Lucie, Kyla, Saskia II, Annis, Vorsa, Melita.

The Scots then chose Kyla to represent her country in the Seawanhaka Cup, while the Americans chose Bob Kat II. As good Corinthians Kyla’s crew remained unchanged, while Bob Kat II picked a new crew (and some fine sails) from the other boats. Kyla’s foredeck hand Udy Russell would now be pitched against Rod Stephens.

For two days there was a flat calm and it began to look as if time would run out before the scots would have to leave on their return voyage. Then it started to blow.

The first race took place in a 15 mph easterly, twice round a six mile windward/leeward course. At the start Bob Kat II as leeward boat used her right of way to carry Kyla over the line for a recall. Kyla squared off and ran down, followed by Bob Kat II, but the latter had less distance to go and came back through first. Kyla closed the gap on the beats, but Bob Kat II won by one minute and thirteen seconds in an excellent race lasting two hours ten minutes.

Kyla is pushed over the line
Bob Kat II

Bob Kat II won the second race by one and a half minutes. In a strong easterly with a rough sea the yachts sailed a triangular course. They were always very close but Bob Kat II got away on the reaching leg by hoisting a big double spinnaker. When Kyla put hers up she closed the gap, then at the gybe mark Kyla got hers down while Bob Kat II gybed the sail, managed to keep it flying although very shy and got away.

The next day it was calm again and the race was cancelled with Bob Kat II in the lead. The decider followed in thirty knots of wind. The dirty green water of the sound was streaked with white foam as the yachts were towed out with reefed mains and working jibs, keels showing in the squalls.


Kyla again
Kyla started first and did well on the beat, looking as if she would pass in front of Bob Kat II, when there was a problem while tacking and she had to go briefly back to the old tack.

At the weather mark Bob Kat II got clear away, quickly setting a special small spinnaker. As she approached the mark boat Kyla got a wind shift and nearly hit it, had to put in two tacks to clear it and ended one and a half minutes behind. Kyla now set her spinnaker, at first on starboard tack but then had to gybe over, then as they approached the downwind mark Bob Kat II got hers down but Kyla’s was stuck aloft by a jammed halliard. The sail quickly tore to bits and she had to come up into the wind to cut it away, after which she was over nine minutes behind. Kyla now set a big genoa but this was too much and she laboured under it.

On the second round Bob Kat II played safe and didn’t set a spinnaker. Kyla was so far back she had nothing to lose, set hers and closed up a bit, but Bob Kat II was eleven minutes ahead at the finish.

In general the view was that the British had something to learn about carrying spinnakers reaching and
 “it’s not that they don’t have the boats or the men, just that they don’t make such a business of it as we do.”

The foredecks of slender yachts are not fun places and the Americans were rightly complimentary about Udy’s performance. There was another reason, too

“Really Miss Russell had a more successful visit here than her father did. The morning of the last race she and Lorna Whittelsey had a match race of their own (staged by Phil Roosevelt) in Class S boats in the bay at Seawanhaka,
and Miss Russell won by a length after a great race in a Nor’wester that was anything but a ‘ladies’ breeze.’”

Lorna Whittelsey was a year or so older than Udy Russell and every bit a match for her. A competitive sailor since the age of six, she would win the Women’s National Sailing Championship a record five times and would just have returned from Stormy Weather in the Bermuda Race, the first woman to take part.

Lorna, left and Udy, right on the day of their race

To be continued …..

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

SCOTS IN OYSTER BAY - Chapter One - One-design Battles on the Clyde

One-Design Battles on the Clyde

By the 1920s the Clyde racing season was well developed, with the organisation shared among a number of yacht clubs. The area must be one of the finest stretches of water anywhere for tactical yacht racing. It contains a network of sea lochs and some lovely islands against a mixed backdrop of hills and coastal towns. While relatively sheltered the Firth has to be treated with respect, as the hills cause plenty of wind shifts and squalls, while the tide creates interesting sea conditions and has been responsible for many races being won and lost.

There was a new enthusiasm for one design racing which resulted in three new classes, the McGruer designed and built Garelochs in 1924, Johan Anker’s Dragon in 1928 and then Alfred Mylne’s scottish Islanders in 1929. 

from the Glasgow Herald

The Islanders had significantly more displacement than the other boats, a bit like “sawn off ” six metres, had a little accommodation inside and the class encouraged fitting an engine, because if you didn’t want one you had to carry equivalent weight and fit a dummy propeller.

Of these new classes the most competitive were the Islanders. From their first outings they established a tradition of racing whatever the weather with close finishes, the fleet generally all home within a few minutes of each other.

The Islanders attracted experienced yachtsmen looking for level racing in a strict one-design environment. Of the first batch Number 5, Sanda, was picked by the brothers Willie and Tommy Russell. Willie and his daughter Udy were the competitive members of the family. Tommy preferred the luxury of a larger boat and eventually went on to commission the lovely Eilidh from Alfred Mylne.

In 1931 the fleet was joined by the almost unbeatable John Herbert Thom, who moved over from the William Fife six metre Susette, formerly Lucille, a design from 1928, in which he was the class champion. He had decided against a Dragon because of its being a foreign design and the engine rule had initially disposed him against an Islander, but the opportunity for keen racing won him over.

It didn’t take long for tense and sometime aggressive competition to develop between the Russells and Herbert Thom. All were people of their time, when the vibrant and rapidly-growing city of Glasgow was producing a new breed of talented industrialists inventing and making things, taking risks and enjoying challenges in their recreations as well as in their working lives. There the comparison between the Russells and the Herbert Thom ended, for their personalities were very different.

Willie and Tommy Russell were a pair of talented, sociable and hard-working engineers whose antecedents had operated the Saracen Iron Works in Springburn. By the late 1920s they had moved from mechanical to civil engineering and were dividing their time between design work throughout the country and yachting and very convivial socialising at Colintraive in the Kyles of Bute, where Willie had a sizeable house overlooking the water. At the time Colintraive was a secluded little enclave of enormous villas and home to numerous Glasgow industrialists, such as the Connel shipbuilding family, a group of mainly unmarried siblings who commuted from their Scotstoun yard in their own fast steam-yachts.

John Herbert Thom was born in Glasgow in 1890 but he had the sea in his blood, coming from generations of Clyde fisherman. Herbert’s father, John, had progressed from a training at the cutting edge of steam technology in the drawing office of Scott & Co in Greenock to become the chief engineering draughtsman at the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. 

Hard work broke his health down and he returned eventually to Glasgow and worked as a consulting marine engineer and naval architect. He became associated with George Lennox Watson in designing engines for the latter’s elegant steam yachts. He also acquired the pump-making company Lamont & Co Limited and renamed it Thom, Lamont & Co Limited, where in due course Herbert would spend his working life.

From his earliest years Herbert was sailing dinghies and taught himself the principles of steering and tacking without a rudder, by weight distribution alone. He never forgot these lessons and later applied what he had learned in boats right up to 12 metre size to ensure correct trim. By the age of seven he was sailing with his father and at the age of thirteen, in 1903, he won his first yacht race aboard Rose, one of the Royal Clyde yacht Club fleet.

In 1925 Herbert bought the 19/24 footer Sunbeam, designed by Alfred Mylne and built by Alexander Robertson & Son in 1904 and immediately began to make an impact, finishing second in the class with 14 first places and seven seconds, out of 36 starts. In 1926, 1927 and 1928 he was class champion, ending up with a grand total of 108 placings out of 143 starts. 

He had to look for a new challenge and bought the Fife 6 metre Lucille, renamed her Susette, came third in 1929 and became champion of the sixes in 1930. By the end of 1930 the sight of close competition in the Islanders won him over and he commissioned yacht Number 9, Gigha, built by Alfred Mylne’s own yard at Ardmaleish.

Herbert Thom brought yacht racing in Scotland into the modern age. He brought the same dedication to his sport as he had done when learning his business after the early loss of his father. He studied every aspect. The major significance of trim we have already noted. He carried this to extremes by requiring crew members to lie down below in calm weather, which must have been hell as such weather would also have been very hot. He let it be known that he carried only a minute amount of petrol aboard, just enough to get to the start and home after the finish.

Some of this was pure psychology. An example was his racing flag, the red, white and blue Tango, naval code for “Do not pass in front of me.” Far more important was his habit of meticulous note-taking, which involved recording the courses taken by other boats and their positions at different stages. He also spent time studying the tidal currents and wind patterns in the Firth of Clyde, sometimes from the slopes of the hills behind Gourock and Hunters Quay.

Competition between the Russell’s McGruer-built Sanda and Thom’s Bute-built Gigha at the top of a closely packed fleet became increasingly intense. Thom’s gamesmanship and steely aggression on the water eventually soured relations with the sociable Russells who enjoyed the sailing as much as the competition. Inevitably there was speculation that the yachts were different. At the end of 1933 Thom announced that to end this he had bought Westra, the oldest boat and put Gigha up for sale.

However, Willie Russell had another idea altogether.

To be continued…..

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Clyde Classic Regatta 2013

The first ever Clyde Classic Regatta and Design Symposium took place at the weekend, centred on the lovely old clubhouse of the Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club at Rhu. The event was inspired, organised and run faultlessly by Gordon Drysdale. It was an utterly brilliant idea to combine sailing in a wide variety of leading designs with presentations from experts in a number of fields and to set the whole thing in such a place.

I first crossed the portals of the RN & CYC, then just the RNYC, with Spratt & McGlurg over fifty years ago in a bygone era when boys only spoke when spoken to and the  yellow oilskins hadn’t changed since before the War. Today one still has the same feeling of awe at the building and its contents - the paintings, the full models and the almost unlimited display of half models showing the talents of designers today both known and unknown. The Club is now unique in Scotland and deserves to be preserved at all costs as a national artifact.

What luck to receive an invitation to such an event! I put out some feelers as a result of which my old chum Iain set about persuading people that I knew the waters of the upper Clyde “like the back of my hand”. Know, yes, but last sailed on around 1975. The result of this relatively innocent deception was a berth on the Ayrshire Lass as one of two superannuated hands and the ship’s navigator.

The Ayrshire Lass has been around the Clyde since 1887. Through a good bit of the last century she was the command of the astonishing Liz Todrick, shipwright at McGruer & Co, who lived in a cottage above Clynder with no electricity and a goat for company. Her rigger colleague and my pal Iain Gillies told me that she could sometimes be seen on calm nights rowing the Lass for miles back up the Gareloch to her mooring. Advancing years overtook both and Liz couldn’t be rebuilt, but her yacht could be and was, in Ireland by Michael Kennedy, courtesy of Paul Goss. Liz lived long enough to go out on her former yacht in its reincarnation. In her nineties and blind she was able to steer by feel and sense required corrections to the sheeting.

On Saturday Paul wasn’t around, which was of course a pity but perhaps as well, as bus-pass-entitled lawyers would perhaps not be his first choice to crew his Victorian racing cutter. Getting out of the cockpit onto the foredeck was perhaps more of a challenge than staying on its varnished surface once up there and if invited again I’ll take a small rope ladder with me - see above photo.

Our race was enjoyable and we took a sort of scenic route from the start line at Rhu past Rosneath and then along the shore almost to Kilcreggan as we inspected various buoys looking for the right one to turn. Fortunately, word of my local knowledge had spread and most of the competition followed us, adding a good couple of sea miles to our track. At the back of my mind was the idea that the mark was painted red, so it was a surprise to eventually find that it was green.

Our hosts, Theo and Andy, were incredibly polite and wonderfully fit and competent, giving Martin and myself an excellent day out and a blast of fresh air away from our respective dusty purlieus. There was no real damage done to the result, there being only ten seconds on handicap between the Lass and the Tringa, a more modern racing machine from 1902, whose skipper Helmut had relied on my local knowledge.

Martin at the helm

in contemplative mood

the ubiquitous Winifred was there

we should have followed the local guys
the lovely Gylen 2, built by Adam Way
David Ryder-Turner's design Amber
Scottish Islander Isla looking great
Ayrshire Lass, William Fife II, at rest with bowsprit housed 
Wliiam Fife III's Tringa, stunning recreation by Gisela und Helmut Scharbaum
Tringa's foredeck
Tringa's cockpit
Adam admires Helmut's artistry

Thursday, 20 June 2013

On Radio Scotland with Susan Calman

I had to be sailing and was told not to cheat, so found myself out on the water hunting for a good signal on the mobile, wind increasing, ready for the call, which came at exactly 10.45. Without an extra pair of hands it was quite challenging. With apologies for the sound quality here is the result:-  Radio Scotland clip on Youtube

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Nat Herreshoff's Wee Winn lives again

We had a visit from Winifred, the reincarnation of Nat Herreshoff's half rater design of 1892, Wee Winn, built in 1999 and now in the command of proud owner Brian Corbett and have enjoyed a week of lovely weather and ideal sailing conditions for this extremely fast little yacht.

It seemed a good idea to challenge her for a trip round the Isle of Shuna, so off we went.

By the time we reached Shuna Sound Winifred was almost out of sight.

Passing Shuna Cottage, soon to be threatened by a massive 600,000 capacity salmon growing "farm".

Finally, a little history from the Detroit Free Press, 1896:

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water