John MacAulay, Hebridean boatbuilder with an interesting theory

Like many Brits I’ve been enjoying the BBC television series Coast, which is made up of interesting segments about various stretches of our coastline. It’s been good stuff most of the time, and has covered areas of our coast most people never get near, such as Spurn Point, and it has often been illuminating and informative.

If I was to make a complaint it would be that at times I have felt the influence of middle-class London youngsters laughing just a little too hard at people who live or holiday at Northern seaside resorts. Directed largely from London as it is, I suppose we should not be surprised that the BBC should be like this from time to time.

Watching this otherwise very enjoyable piece of television couple of weeks ago, I noticed a segment on the Hebridean boatbuilder John MacAulay, and was inspired to use Google to see what I could discover about him.

Here are the BBC’s notes from the programme:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/coast/programmes2/07-outer-hebrides.shtml

Here’s what I found when I Googled for John Macaulay. First, here’s a picture of his yard:
http://www.pbase.com/dwerner/image/50645025

Here’s a scrap of video from the film Am Baile in which he talks about boatbuilding and his ambition to pass his skills on to a younger generation:
http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_videofilm.jsp?item_id=18182

The way that Google can broaden one’s perspective of people can be wonderful. Here’s a review of MacAulay’s book making the plausible argument that all those songs, stories and legends about seal people were based on real encounters with a kayak-using people who used to be seen along the Scottish coast:
Seal-folk and Ocean Paddlers: Sliochd Nan Ron

I’m reminded of all those Australian Aboriginal stories about giant creatures that seem to be supported by fossil evidence – or was it that the fossils were the source of the stories?

Anyway, in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here are some sites that may give some insight:
http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/selkiefolk/index.html

There are lots of these stories and ballads. Here’s one recorded by the Oxford book of ballads of 1910:

http://www.bartleby.com/243/31.html

And here’s the Child Ballads version:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch113.htm

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Temptations part IV: a small classic to build and race

The International 12 Square Metre Sharpie class is founded on the winning design in a competition organised by the German Deutcher Segler Verband in 1931, and was quickly adopted first in Germany, and then Holland, England, Italy, Belgium, France and Portugal. International competition followed shortly after – and if my memory serves – for a brief period it was also an Olympic class.

Here in the UK 1931 the Sharpie was introduced by the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, which sponsored a fleet of nine boats. Other clubs followed and the class spread throughout England. Within a few years it is said to have become the strongest class in the country. Those days may be long gone, but the Sharpie is still sailed and raced in the UK.

In the last few weeks, the British Sharpie Association has put up a set of FREE BOAT PLANS in pdf form for building a Sharpie, and there’s some very photographic and historical material, as well as all the activities you’d expect from a busy class association.
http://sharpies.org.uk

Sharpies racing at Adelade, 1960

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JOG, anyone?

Hobbit is a 20ft mahogany clinker Laurent Giles Barchetta design sloop based on the legendary Sopranino sailed by Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie.

In the very early 1950s, Ellam and Mudie chased the big boys of the RORC Santander race fleet, and arrived in their little boat only a few hours after the cream of the fleet despite their much shorter waterline length. They then sailed on to La Coruna, across to Las Palmas, over to the Caribbean and then up to New York. Needless to say, these were no mean achievements for a small boat and Sopranino, Ellam and Mudie all became overnight celebrities.

Their feats inspired the development of the Junior Offshore Group (JOG) of small light-weight, cruiser-racers.

Hobbit is built in mahogany clinker and is for sale at Newson’s in Lowestoft:
http://www.newson.co.uk/boat/hobbit/

Hobbit