Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Pierce Bracket

My original intention in providing the Mariota with auxiliary power was to build a conventional outboard well at the aft end of the cockpit and use a nice, quite light, 3hp Mariner outboard I had bought twenty or so years earlier and never used. After I had built the well, which included the painful exercise of cutting a hole in the bottom planks, I learned that two strokes don’t like operating in enclosed spaces; they misfire if not provided with plenty of air.
I wasn’t willing to finish the build and take a chance on this, so I decided to look for an alternative motor. Four strokes being heavy, expensive and very bulky, this led me to researching electric power and the purchase of a Torqeedo outboard, also expensive but very light. I’m comfortable with that decision and convinced that a nice clean unit is the way to go, but being slow revving the propellor is 12 inches diameter and would have required that dreadful hole to be much enlarged.
I spent a week or two surgically removing the well and filling in the hole, leaving myself with a nice little storage space to keep a radio or binoculars out of harm’s way, meanwhile thinking about an external bracket.

Freeboard on the Kotik design, an extended Wee Seal, is too high for even a long shaft to bury the propellor adequately. The motor has to be dropped nine inches or so, which means that there is enormous torque. My first attempt at a wooden bracket failed miserably, but with no injury of loss of life. What I thought was quite robust broke apart as soon as the motor’s full thrust came on and showed that any replacement would need to be a metal fabrication, probably with an extra fastening low down on the hull for security.
The guru from An Cala then arrived, examined the state of affairs and came up a with a solution that is simple and strong. It’s a sliding beam that travels within a strong wooden box behind the aft bulkhead, easily pushed out when required and unnoticeable when it’s not. The box is bolted to the bulkhead, but for additional security I’ve added an oak bar. The beam itself is oak. At the outboard end I’ve added a plate, so that we know it’s fully home when not required.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Modelling Admiral Popov's Battleship

Last November the Riverside Museum launched their publication celebrating their wonderful model collection. It’s a beautiful work of art and a great tribute to the museum staff such as Emily Malcolm, who spent years on it. We heard Professor John Hume speak of his childhood visits to the ship models in the old Kelvingrove Art Gallery. I was another of those Glasgow children taken there at weekends in the days when much of the ground floor was devoted to the city’s enormous collection of ship models, a tradition that continues nowadays in a rather restricted form at the Riverside.
Among the sleek racing yachts and the ocean liners some real oddities stood out, none more than the almost circular Russian Imperial yacht Livadia, her mystique enhanced by her constantly being referred to as Admiral Popov’s battleship. That isn’t exactly true. As we have seen, Vice-Admiral Andrei Alexandrovich Popov was attracted to the idea of circular battleships that John Elder had floated and in September 1879 appointed John Elder & Co to construct the Livadia as a prototype. We can see that it was convenient to test the design as a yacht; a battleship that didn’t perform would be embarrassing.
By 1879 John Elder had died and his widow Isabella had taken over the yard with its workforce of a couple of thousand men. The city of Glasgow owns her portrait and we see one strong, dynamic industrialist. She had head-hunted William Pearce from the Royal Dockyards as chief architect. Popov gave them an unlimited budget, the price being on a “cost plus” basis with a massive bonus if the ship exceeded fifteen knots on her trials. On 27 September Livadia on her third attempt beat the fifteen knots target and won Pearce a bonus of 414,000 Rubles on top of the base price of about 2.7 million.
Thanks to the new book we know that the model at the Riverside was built to the order of William Pearce. For many decades it sat in a case in the boardroom at Fairfields. A second, perhaps more elaborate, model was built and sent by Pearce as a present to the Tsar. It sits today in St Petersburg.

Looking at these models one can see the major features that were important to the Victorians. The model would enable the Tsar’s dream to be shared with an audience who would otherwise have had little opportunity to see the ship in real life. The model would ideally be a demonstration of the modelmaker’s skill and by implication that of the actual shipbuilders.
Victorian modellers sought total accuracy, a “good” ship model being expected to show every screw and rivet, even where it was impossible to produce this truly to scale. Sadly the effect of doing this could be distortion and a loss of the viewer’s ability to appreciate form. Elaborate gilding and paintwork further confuses the picture.
In 2014 I opened a fine art gallery in the city centre. We were on the ground floor of one of what John Hume describes as Glasgow’s Jolly Red Giants, the enormous red sandstone commercial towers that sprang up in late Nineteenth Century Glasgow and still dominate the cityscape.
Our building featured a Sixteenth Century French Renaissance exterior, with external statuary that includes a replica of the tomb of the Medicis, lots of mythical green men and other oddities. It was designed by the extraordinary Scottish architect William Leiper. To describe Leiper in one sentence, think the Scottish Branch of the Gothic Revival, throw in some Scots Baronial, season with Sir Walter Scott and you’ve got him. I decided to put on an exhibition dedicated to Leiper as part of the Festival of Architecture 2016.
So, what’s the connection to Livadia? In 1879 Leiper was having a gay time with his artist friends in Paris when the Tsar brought him back to Glasgow to create a Gothic interior in his new yacht. Being a bit mad about model ships, this was all the excuse I needed to get hold of a model.
I considered but quickly discarded asking the Riverside Museum for a loan of the Pearce model. There would be very obvious practical, insurance and security issues. A new model could show what could be done with modern technology.
I’m glad that we decided not to go with Virtual Reality. In theory we could have portrayed the spectacular interior, but it has to be done well and the cost would have been enormous. Doing it at a basic level, such as can be seen at the Museum in Irvine, does nothing for me. We also wanted something visual to draw people into the gallery, rather than something they would only access once already inside and perhaps have to queue to see.
Also, I simply like physical models. They are easy for the viewer to explore and can convey a sense of romance that technology doesn’t.
Of course this leads to adults and children alike wanting to examine not just visually but with the fingers, the sense of touch adding another perspective to understanding. As a result we lose some magic by protecting them behind glass. The Riverside Museum has solved this in a way that works at a superficial level, but has deficiencies. Livadia is immured at a high level, so you only see her from below, making it difficult to appreciate her remarkable design. We decided to put our model under a glass bubble.
To funding. We had put in for a grant towards the cost of the exhibition from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, but of course had been awarded a tiny fraction of what we asked for. At meetings of the steering group for the Festival of Architecture I had met the representative from the National Lottery. There was encouragement to go ahead and we needed a legacy destination. I spoke to Fairfield Heritage to find out if there might be a home for the model in the longer term and they was supportive, but had no funding to buy it.
At this point James Pierce heard about the project. He had just returned from Russia with a wife. I was still investigating sources of funding when I discovered not only that James was keen to go ahead, he’d already made a start, perhaps partly with encouragement from his new in-laws. We allocated part of our grant to reimburse the cost of the materials, but warned him that he was proceeding at his own risk.
Starting work ruled out any prospect of Lottery funding, but looking back it’s obvious that James had to make a start, to meet the exhibition date. Going through a tender process and waiting for an answer would have left no time for actually building the model.
In the event James built the model in his evenings, after a day spent building the spectacular model of the racing hydrofoil Britannia that today sits in the foyer of the British America’s Cup Challenge headquarters in Portsmouth.
We wanted to ensure accuracy and had a problem finding the original drawings. A set on deposit at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow had mysteriously disappeared, as had all the best of the photographs taken by Queen Victoria’s photographers when Livadia stopped in Southampton during her maiden voyage. There was huge disappointment when we untied the ribbons on the lovely leather bound album and found it almost empty. This problem was resolved when James found that a fellow in the States who sold model kits of various historic ships had somehow got copies of the originals and was willing to send him images of them.
Regarding the style of the new model we opted for simplicity with no colour and no attempt to replicate all the features of rigging etcetera. We also decided on a waterline model that could be displayed easily in the gallery window and internal lighting, given our location on a busy street with a lot of evening traffic.
Our exhibition was a great success in terms of numbers, with lots of people attracted purely because of the model in the window. Among the visitors were the organisers of the James Watt Dinner, a major annual event in the shipbuilder’s calendar, and Richard Pierce and I were invited to show it there. Sadly none of the industrialists present offered to buy it.

Monday, 27 April 2020

A haunted Mill, Watery Graves and the Toberonochy Lemon Shop

As the MacCrimmons were to piping so the MacFadyens are to handling the wee ferries that keep the place running. Single tickets are on offer, for those who expect to fall in love with the island, or maybe have a boat to recover, but most will buy a return for their eventual reluctant departure.

Since the start of this century an event has taken place in conditions of secrecy only rivalled by the Bilderberg Conference, but less damaging by far to global peace and prosperity, consuming no oil whatever and attended by a much nicer bunch of people, on this small island off the West coast of Scotland.

It takes place in the open air, but participants are untroubled by the vagaries of the weather, viewing extremes of rain, strong wind and temperature as stimuli to, rather than distractions from, their water-borne adventures. In all conditions they congregate. Strong winds and adverse tides present challenges to ever-longer turns to windward; in fact one year the weather obliged with a 180 degree wind shift while the crews were resting for lunch after tacking half a dozen nautical miles South towards the deadly Dorus Mor, coinciding with high water which gave a return journey of equal unpleasantness against a cold wet Northerly and a strong ebb tide. Despite, or maybe because of, such things participants, who like those at Bilderberg are all personal invitees, return year after year. Only the Great Johnson Plague has put a temporary stop to it.
Once over the ferry you’ll travel down slowly through a very Hebridean landscape, unusual for an inner island. Be careful when you reach the water mill; it’s inhabited by water elves, sithichean-uisge, who will inflict terrible punishment if you fail to leave a hair from your head as a tribute. Great hares, the size of dogs, will lollop past you.
Since we started only one of our number has left the scene, the lovely, gentle Hugh Gray, who sailed a little black cutter named after his Tanta Hedwig. His son created a Viking ship for his ashes and we watched as he set off on his fiery last voyage from Cullipool.

To end in the waters you love seems rather a nice destination. In 2004 the Brother came to perform at the special wee ceilidh we hold in the Toberonochy Hall and was captured by some American Campbells who had brought their aunt back to her place of birth. As he played a suitable lament the urn was opened, about half of the aunt entered the Sound of Luing and the residue engulfed the crowd.

On the Sunday morning there was little wind and the fleet was becalmed under a dreich grey sky, the drizzly rain trickling down their necks.
Through the Sound came a commodious plastic-hulled vessel, which dropped anchor in Kilchattan Bay and sent a lady crew member ashore on a mission, to acquire some lemons for the gin and tonic. Asking a local resident where such a purchase could be made she got the reply "I regret, Madam, that there are no lemon shops in Toberonochy, in fact there are no shops here at all."
At that moment out on the water the Brother, still in sombre mood, filled the bagpipe with blaw and started on a tragic lament, in keeping with the grim morning. On hearing this the lady said, obviously stunned at thinking she had gate-crashed an aquatic wake, "I'm terribly sorry to intrude on your small community in this time of grief," and made her way back embarrassed to her yacht.

Chan eil bùth an drasta

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water