Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Royal Windermere Seventeens - a guest post by Richard Pierce

       Many predicted the demise of the Royal Windermere 17 restricted class through the 1970′s as race          turnouts dwindled, and mass-produced glassfibre boatbuilding boomed.  Indeed the National Trust        conserved a couple of yachts in sailing order as an important Lakeland icon, fearful that the heritage        would be lost. The yachts could be hired from Fell Foot Park by the half day. 
Then in 1981 David McCann asked Ian Howlett to design a new 17 for Richard Pierce to build. Freedom, no 44 won her first race, and absolutely dominated the fleet in her first season. Not only was her hull form a significant development in the class, her construction revolutionised the structural integrity (and maintenance needs) of wooden racing yachts, and revitalized the class. 
Freedom’s launch heralded an unprecedented decade of  excitement, growth, and development. A flurry of yachts were brought out of retirement and restored, some half a century old, and just a year after Freedom’s launch Brian Ellis ordered Falcon, no. 45 during the excitement of the 1983 America’s Cup. The class hastily (and sadly… rp) ruled against winged keels when it was rumoured that the new yacht would sport this feature! 
Throughout the class history America’s Cup designers have been called to draw Windermere 17′s.  Alfred Milne, David Boyd, Arthur Robb, and Olin Stevens are all represented, and until the late 1960′s Windermere 17′s hull forms resembled 12m yachts of the day.  But at this point RWYC sadly ruled against the newly emerging bustle. This feature would have reduced the building cost and maintained the handling character of older yachts.
Un-noticed by most, the reason for Freedom and Falcon’s superiority was largely down to a reduction of wetted area, achieved by moving the rudder post forward and thus shortening the keel. While significantly reducing skin resistance, this had the unfortunate consequence of increasing the likelihood of stalling the rudder with attendant loss of control. Ian’s later designs incorporated a skeg behind the rudder which helped alleviate the unfortunate characteristic, and Freedom and Falcon were modified in due course.
The 1984 season opened with the launching of Falcon, sadly disqualified from her first race for a pre-start port & starboard incident involving a boat from another class that unsportingly strayed into the the starting area and forced its right of way.  But thereafter Freedom’s absolute superiority was challenged and the remainder of the season was hard fought between the two new yachts. The photo shows a typical finish at the Henholm line after several hours of close fought racing!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Seasonal Visitors

Mother was always bothered about the Soviet Union to such an extent that when there was any unusually loud aircraft noise overhead she would cry out “the Russians are coming”. I don’t like to reflect on the anguish I caused her in 1956 at the age of seven when I decided to pay an unscheduled visit to a Russian lifeboat in Lerwick Harbour and was entertained by her crew for a couple of hours, returning to the Orkney and Shetland mailboat just before she set sail.

How times have changed! Lovers of Local Hero are familiar with the more recent klondyking tradition on the West coast, which led to countless friendships and more. In fact despite the decades of the Cold War there have always been strong bonds between Scotland and Russia, going back to the earliest trading links.

Accordingly it’s great that the Russian Navy decided to pay us a surprise visit at Christmas time, the fleet including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and her supporting vessels. 

It’s just a pity that there were no Royal Navy vessels closer than 600 miles to share the Christmas cheer, due to UK Government cutbacks.  You can see the Russian sailors celebrating without their British chums here: 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Fife Regattas

2013 was an interesting year for visitors to the West coast with a number of spectacular events. The best known of these was the skiff world championship week at Ullapool, which you can visit here: skiffieworlds

Not so well known was the fourth Fife Regatta. One way or another I've managed to visit all of these five yearly events for at least a little of the action. The official website is here:

The first regatta in 1998 was a very emotional affair overshadowed by the loss of Eric Tabarly on his way to the event aboard Pen Duick. There's a detailed article about this disaster that I just discovered when writing this piece, accessible here:  Until now I hadn't realised that there was such accurate information about what had happened, as at the time everyone was pretty much shocked and in the dark. Here is Pen Duick after the survivors arrived at the Largs Marina.

There were only about a dozen Fifes there, resulting in a total complement of not much more than a hundred at the event. The result was in the nature of a private party, many already acquainted at the start and everyone friendly by the end. The opening reception in Kelburne Castle was at the same time intimate and imposing. The ancient Scottish fortified houses were built for practical reasons rather than for show and benefit from that, the romance and history shining through in ways that later displays of ostentation can't replicate. There was a taste of the latter a few days later at Mount Stuart. 

I was privileged to give a little help at the first event, which led to my being signed on in the French merchant marine for a couple of days aboard the old Moonbeam from 1903. On adding my signature I was issued with regulation white boiler suit and two pairs of socks, for light and heavy weather, with Fife dragon thereon. This was a surreal and unforgettable experience which resulted in a lot of respect for the skipper and crew. These big classic racing yachts are quite akin to industrial machines with very little in the way of health and safety. There were some interesting moments, such as the time a dirty squall caught Moonbeam, just she turned into a gybe. As we were closing the Kilcreggan shore at about twelve knots, Skipper Philippe had no choice but to put her round, topsail and all, and it was a relief when it all stayed up. 

In this photograph the hills of Arran provide a dark and romantic backdrop.

Here we are in mid-channel, self trying to remember some French words from school days.

We had the obligatory stunning blonde aboard.

The weather was a bit mixed that week, but we did enjoy at least one day that our visitors found familiar.

Here are some pictures of the Swedish Magda IV, which had sailed up with Pen Duick.

My introduction to the Fife yachts came in 1992 courtesy of Kentra, whose image at the top of this post was taken at Helensburgh this year. It was my professional duty to arrest her and good that she was eventually rehabilitated. Here she is sailing past Gourock on a typical Clyde day in 1998.

Here she is anchored off the Melfort Pier after the event. She was in the same spot again last summer.

And here she is, being lifted out of her legal troubles. The lone figure on deck is the late Harry Spencer, and I recall that it was his seventieth birthday,which places us in September 1995. The crane belonging to Mr Baldwin was believed to be the biggest mobile crane in Scotland at that time. She's being lifted onto a barge at the start of her voyage South and Harry's private tug is visible, standing off.

Pen Duick joined Kentra for a short cruise after the event. Here she is also anchored off the Melfort Pier

Another visitor from France was the beautiful Viola, here seen in 1998

In 2003 I was lucky to sign on as foredeck hand and general dogsbody aboard the Sara Moraea, not of course a Fife but lovely enough to be respectable in such company. This was a much bigger event which threatened to overload the facilities at some of the places we visited. The scene in Rothesay Bay could have been from eighty years earlier, in fact Kentra celebrated her birthday there.

One delight was seeing The Lady Anne reincarnated.

In 1992 I had visited the Hamble and got a picture of her, then ownerless and rather sad.

It was great to see her looking a lot better.

An interesting visitor to the second event was the Sheevra, alias Clio, the personal yacht of William Fife III, brought over from the States by ship for the regatta. Here she is.

Here she is in 1921 enroute to the same port of Rothesay. Aboard are William Fife, William Balderston (standing), Robert Balderston on helm, Archie McMillan Senior and John McMillan also there somewhere.

In 2008 and again in 2013 I managed to visit on one day only and don't have pictures. Last year we went across by ferry to the fantastic marina at Portavadie and it was great to see so many old friends back, also new visitors such as Latifa. Making up for any photographs I could have taken is the film made by Shirley Robertson and her crew from CNN, which can be seen here: CNN Mainsail Programme

I hope the fleet return to our waters in 2018 and that we're all around to watch.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Why I am voting YES

This year the people of Scotland, which means those of whatever origin or nationality who are resident here and over the age of 16 on 18 September, have the chance to vote on whether we want to continue to be ruled by English politicians based in London or to choose our own representatives to rule us from Edinburgh.

The issues are purely and simply about the structure of government, given that in the lifetimes of all current voters the Scots have hardly ever been ruled by a party that the majority wanted. In my case this experience goes back to the election of 1970, but at least in those days under a two party system there was a chance of change. That ended after 1979, when pig-headedness caused the Labour party to fragment, the resulting three parties meaning that the United Kingdom was ruled by a succession of right-wing Conservative or New Labour governments, none of which had the support of a majority of the electorate.

We have seen foreign excursions and wars, some of them illegal, whereas at home we have seen the wholesale theft of national assets through privatisation. The former have caused death and devastation abroad, the latter has ruined our national utilities, transport and housing stock. This has continued to the present day with the Royal Mail the last to go. There’s now almost nothing left of value in the public sector. Meantime the gap between rich and poor has widened terribly.

After the general election of 2011 it seemed for a brief instant that there was a chance that permanent minority rule could be ended for all time by the introduction of proportional representation. The Liberal Democrats held the balance of power. They could and should have made the introduction of PR a deal- breaker, but as we all know they blew it. As a result the Westminster system will remain profoundly undemocratic, whatever we in Scotland decide.

Now in its second decade the devolved Scottish Parliament has achieved a great deal in areas such as health and education over which it has a reasonable measure of control. I suspect that one by-product of this has been to obscure from most Scots the bizarre changes that have been going on at the same time in England. While the Scottish NHS has been coping quite well with winter epidemics and most sections have avoided bankruptcy English health trusts have been seriously damaged by privatisation. Down South Mr Gove has been introducing so-called free schools and other crazy inventions, all without the support of a majority.

It’s well known that devolution was introduced because a number of Scottish Labour politicians calculated it would satisfy Scots and end our wish for self-determination. For party reasons the system was designed to ensure that it would take a landslide for any party but Labour to get overall control. Of course precisely that happened when the SNP swept the board. So, what’s the problem with devolution?

First, and fundamentally, in terms of the UK’s unwritten constitution Holyrood exists only at the whim of the parliament in Westminster. Westminster can theoretically cancel devolution and abolish Holyrood and may do so, especially if there is a no vote. Factions in both main parties support this.

Second, the areas where Westminster has retained control are important to us all. At the lower level, many ordinary matters like controlling airguns require to be approved by London. Far more important are issues like weapons of mass destruction, our relationship with the rest of the world and our economic policy. Taking these in turn,

Nuclear weapons

I was at the start of my secondary education when the American fleet arrived in the Holy Loch on the Firth of Clyde. My parents supported this move, as they profoundly feared the Soviet threat, apart from which my father’s Far East war didn’t end until late 1946 and his views were coloured by the factors behind the Japanese surrender.

Almost seventy years later one of the biggest stores of nuclear weapons in all time sits about 24 miles (40 km) from Scotland’s largest city. This is insanity on a massive scale, insupportable on any rational basis in the modern world, whatever the arguments might have been in the past. The bombs are under American, not United Kingdom, control and there are no circumstances whereby an English politician would or could authorise their use against American wishes.

I suspect that if my parents were alive today they would see the madness. I also suspect that the immediate post-war generation of politicians who supported the programme at first would also see it, were they still around. Tragically we are now ruled by younger men and women who have never known careers outside of politics and who are blind to or just refuse to see the madness. Having the bombs makes them feel bigger people than they really are.

Bluntly, voting NO supports these dangerous lunatics.  Let’s not even try to work out how many hospitals/schools etcetera could be provided from the money saved. It’s an awful lot, but that’s not the point.

Foreign relations

First of all, post- independence England doesn’t become “foreign” in any meaningful sense. It’s nonsense to suggest there will be border posts on the M6 and M1. That is garbage put out by unionists completely underestimating our intelligence. It would mean that the Scottish/English border was the only one in Europe where a pass was required. Tragically the press loves this kind of emotive tripe, for example the political commentator on the Independent saying her granny’s grave will be in a foreign land – where’s your Rupert Brooke when you need him?

Second, Scotland won’t be “thrown out” of Europe as a result of independence. I prefer the reasoning of jurists such as Judge David Edwards to Spanish conservatives with an axe to grind over Catalonia.

Scotland has always enjoyed close links all over Europe, testimony to our history as a trading nation, going back to even before William Wallace and his Luebeck letter. We had trading posts everywhere, shared our universities, enjoyed similar educational and legal traditions, in short pre 1707 Scotland was truly a European nation at a time when England was looking world-wide to build an empire. We all know that this still counts when we Scots travel about Europe.

There is no legal mechanism for a state or part of a state to be expelled from the EU, assuming there were to be a will to do this. It is as offensive as it is plain wrong to say that Scotland would not meet the requirements for EU membership. It’s also a bit odd to suppose that Spain would do something that would exclude her fishing fleet from our waters.

Of course if Scotland voted no and the UK were to vote to withdraw from Europe in the referendum promised by David Cameron we’d all be out. On the other hand an independent Scotland within Europe would be one of only two English-speaking bridgeheads for countries like the USA and South Africa wanting to do business there.

Economic policy

For decades policy has been based on the needs of London, despite those of the regions of the UK being very different. One of the surprises in recent years has been the competence with which the Scottish Government has handled the limited control entrusted to it by Westminster. It is offensive to suggest that Scots are too stupid to run our own national housekeeping, particularly when London’s record in recent years has not been impressive.

I won’t lengthen this note by discussing the economic arguments in detail. I suggest that anyone interested who hasn’t done so should follow them elsewhere, on sites such as and One thing we all know about economics is that predictions are always wrong.

Next, what is this debate NOT about?

It’s not about Alex Salmond, despite his being the most effective politician in the United Kingdom in my adult lifetime by a long Scots mile (and sincere in his convictions, which underpins his effectiveness). Personally I have huge problems with the SNP over certain legal and human rights issues, failure to order a Lockerbie inquiry, fish farming, playing games with Trump and Murdoch etcetera, but independence is too big an issue to make a fuss of those just now. We can all vote for whom we want later.

The present Scottish voting system will almost certainly bring about coalitions and I suspect we’ll be living mainly under centre left administrations with a good deal of consensus politics. After all, the substance of a lot of the policies that Labour, SNP and the Greens propose is the same. The Greens are mature enough to admit this, but Labour under Lamont feel obliged to oppose everything on principle – she’s even ditched her support for CND. They will eventually have to grow out of this behaviour if they want a share of power.

Another thing the debate is not about is narrow nationalism, something the press has tried to smear the SNP with in the past, with some success. It’s true that some of the hairier nationalists in the 1960s wrapped themselves in tartan, but we’ve all moved on from then.

It’s a sad comment on the failure of the Union that the Scottish population remained static for about the last seventy years at just over 5 million between 1939 and 2000, with a modest increase since then. Overall the population is ageing and it seems that as many young people leave as come here. Unlike England we desperately need the talent and energy that come with new people. 

Modern Scots have proved good at integrating incomers, which has resulted in a wonderful new cultural diversity in places like Glasgow. By contrast modern England is becoming increasingly xenophobic and restrictions imposed to suit the South will have desperate impacts in the North.

Finally the debate is not about fear. To date the unionist message has been characterised by fear – fear of the unknown, of the oil running out, of our stupidity and even of what the English may do to us if we “break free”. Some of those putting that message across are probably motivated by fear – fear for their own futures as politicians or broadcasters, as there’s no doubt that independence will derail a lot of gravy trains.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone arguing that our lot in Scotland will actually improve under the union if we vote no – what we’ve got now is the best we’ll have, so that’s it. The choice is between staying in the mess we’re in with no control over it, or voting yes and taking charge of our own destiny.

That’s my summary of the issues as I see them. It’ll be old news for those already in the Yes camp, but I hope it may help some of our undecided friends to make up their minds.

Have a happy and interesting New Year!

Update 11 January 2014

This post is generating some interesting comments and I'll eventually do another post with my own responses rather than dealing with these individually. 

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water