Heckstall-Smith and du Boulay on the origin of 19th century racing yachts


Wood engraving The Yacht Race – A Sketch from the Deck of a
Competing Yacht
, was published in Harper’s Weekly in  1872.
Taken from the Wikimedia Commons

Although Charles II was almost as enthusiastic about yachting as he was about his many mistresses, his collection of 16 yachts do not seem to have had much of an influence on later racers.

From their researches including studying Clark’s History of Yachting up to the year 1815, Heckstall-Smith and Du Boulay say later racing yachts derived their form largely from revenue cutters.

They write: ‘the fashionable type of cutter was about three and a quarter beams to her length, her midship section was so round it might have been drawn with a pair of compasses. She had a nearly vertical stem, and a  short counter high above the water. The greatest breadth was just abaft or close abreast of the mast. The bow was therefore bluff, and the run long and often not ungraceful.’

The type was known as ‘cod’s head and mackerel tail’ and had evolved  in competition with the craft used by smugglers. This seems to me to be a case of a rather imperfect form of evolution, if faster boats could have been achieved by moving the greatest beam aft, but there are some good stories about how the same boat builders worked for both smugglers and  the revenue men.

Living in Kent as I do, this one from Heckstall-Smith and du Boulay appeals to me particularly: ‘it has been recorded that Mr White of Broadstairs, whose descendants afterwards moved to Cowes, used to lay down two cutters side by side, very much as 19-metres and 15-metres are laid down today, and the Government officials used to puzzle their brains to puzzle out which would turn out the faster, knowing that whichever boat they bought, the other would be sold for smuggling.’

For more on revenue cutters at intheboatshed.net, click here.

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‘O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea’

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The Storm by William Miller

The Storm engraving by William Miller after Van de Velde, published in 1858.
From the Wikimedia

We’re in the midst of yet another storm here in the UK. I might have enjoyed them as a child, but now they set my mind racing, first to worrying about safety on the roads and to property such as houses and boats, and then I start thinking of those at sea, and finally the lifeboat crews who have to go to sea in a storm that’s already raging when they leave the land. It’s enough to stop me sleeping, but in the scheme of things that’s a minor irritation.

Last night I found myself thinking about grandeur and truth of the hymn For Those in Peril on the Sea.

Here are the lyrics complete with written-out music.

Here they are again with a playable midi sample.

Here The Daily Telegraph newspaper tells the hymn’s story.

For a little history, read a historical discussion of how Scottish fishermen coped with storms before the days of weather forecasts and also about how storms affected the fishing community at Polperro, Cornwall.

Again, here’s a 19th century story of heroism in the North-East of England.

I’ve also been thinking about the terror of going out onto a big sea in a small open without the benefit of a weather forecast. No doubt that spawned a host of superstitions and the slightly neurotic activity described in the song The Candlelight Fisherman. There’s a joke that some allegedly lazy fishermen wouldn’t go if the flame didn’t blow out, on the grounds that there would be no wind to carry them home, and like most jokes I’m sure it had some grain of truth.

Also, see Out on a Shout, the RNLI’s rescue activities as they happen. In case you’re wondering, there have been a lot of launches in the bad weather of this winter.

I started off by saying that we’re thinking about storms here in the UK, but I’d argue the weather is making many of us think of more than just the weather. Stay safe and stay alive, everyone.

PS – If you get a moment, print out the Miller engravings – on some nice paper, they could be just what you need to hang on your wall!

The Shipwreck, engraving by William Miller after J M W Turner

The Shipwreck engraving by William Miller after JMW Turner, published
as part of a series of 120engravings from Turner’s paintings.
From the Wikimedia

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