Category Archives: Culture: songs, stories, photography and art

Traditions and culture relevant to the world of real boating and sailors

Kipling’s The Bell Buoy

I adore bell buoys. There’s several somethings about slinking past a bell buoy in a sailing boat… something cheering, something timeless, and something that reminds me of all the people living and dead who have passed that way before, including those who perished nearby.

Here Tom Cunliffe reveals that Kipling has a completely different and rather original take on them.

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A postcard of Her Majesty’s Yacht Alberta and the Titanic – a correction

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Well, I got it wrong – I believed this was the Royal steam yacht HMY Alberta pictured at Cowes the Titanic in the background – but thanks to the sharp-eyed Chris Partridge of the excellent Rowing for Pleasure weblog, I now know this SY Alberta is a different vessel – and correctly named.

SY Alberta changed hands during 1912 and at the time of the photo may have been either the property of either London company  Little & Johnston, which operated her as the royal yacht to King Leopold II of Belgium, or to a Mr Cohn.

The SY Alberta’s story is told by a page on the website of acutioneers Christie’s.

She was designed by GL Watson and built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co at Troon in 1896, and began life as the Margarita – she was the second of three yachts with the same name owned by Philadelphia banker AJ Drexel. Registered at 1,322 tons (Thames), she measured 252½ feet in length with a 33½ foot beam and sported a schooner rig on two raked masts.

SY Alberta had quite a career. By 1918 she was serving in the Russian Navy until seized by the Royal Navy and put to work as a despatch vessel as HMS Surprise. She then passed into private hands b7ut rejoined the Royal Navy in 1939. Things become a little hazy from that point, but she reappeared after WWII ended and was last listed as a yacht in 1950.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about the Titanic. She sank in the North Atlantic five days later, on the 15 April 1912.

A lady called Mary sent the scan of the postcard and asked about the steam yacht – so Mary, please scrub my previous answer and replace it with the correct one. And thanks for the scan of the postcard!


Lord Belfast’s yacht Emily off the Mediterranean coast with a xebec off her port bow


The combination of the mad sea and all that sail is hopeless, but I still love it. ‘Lord Belfast’s yacht Emily off the Mediterranean coast with a xebec off her port bow’, painted in the early 19th century by John Lynn.

And here she is hove-to. She’s waiting for her owner apparently. Well you wouldn’t get me in a boat in sea like that, except by accident!