The City of Adelaide calls in to the Thames on its way to Australia

City of Adelaide at Gillingham

My thanks to River Thames Photos for this shot of the clipper ship City of Adelaide arriving at Gillingham on her historic voyage to Australia.

For many years the 1864 clipper has stood rusting on a slipway at Irvine in Scotland – a neglect that seems incredible, but after years of wrangling she’s now to be looked after on the other side of the world. I hope they make a wonderful job of it!

The Australians’ interest in the City of Adelaide is that she carried so many emigrants from the British Isles to a new life in the country in a series of 29 regular voyages. Huge numbers of Australians are said to be descended from her passengers.

National Historic Ships UK and the weblog The Liquid Highway both have more information on the ship.

Buckingham Palace has announced that before the City of Adelaide leaves, she will take part in a celebration ceremony on the 18th October at Greenwich with the Duke of Edinburgh, close by that other clipper ship, the Cutty Sark. Details of the event, which is also a renaming ceremony (from Carrick back to City of Adelaide) are here.

The Duke has long had an interest in such things – we don’t have to be great fans of royalty to think it is worth remembering that in 1951 the Cutty Sark Preservation Trust was formed by the Duke and the then-director of the National Maritime Museum, Frank Carr. Here’s a clip of him visiting the Cutty Sark in 1953.

While I’m delighted that she is to be cared for by the Australians who have so much reason to venerate her, I think we should have very mixed feelings about the whole issue. It’s obviously sad to see her leave the country that built her but I can’t help reflecting on all those years of shameful neglect here in the UK. No doubt the Duke will have a salty remark or two to make about the issue…

Still more on the iconic zulu

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Scaffie and zulus by Frank Mason, click on the picture for a large image

The recent post showing photos of Spindrift the surviving zulu reminded me that Frank Carr’s book Vanishing Craft includes some nice reading about scaffies, fifies and zulus, and the conditions in which they developed.

Carr reckoned that the three classes had canoe sterns because this enabled to boats to run well particularly when entering the narrow entrance of a harbour, because a sharp-stern boat type enables larger numbers of boats to crowd into the tiny Scottish harbours, and because the strength of the stem construction is particularly valuable in a tidal harbour where the boat will inevitably receive some hard thumps from the bottom of the harbour with every rising and falling tide.

As he says: ‘A sharp-sterned lugger can carry all sail until she enters the harbour, and on letting go the single halyard the sail falls into the boat  by its own weight, and is down in a moment. The boat then surges on with her own impetus and wedges her bows between the projecting sterns of two craft already berthed. There is no bowsprit or other projection outboard to carry away, and a good hard squeeze does not matter when the boats are strongly built.’

There’s a long and interesting exchange of comments following an earlier post in which fishing boat expert, journalist, author and kipper king Mike Smylie argues that the zulu was the pinnacle in British fishing boat design during the sailing era, discusses the correct nomenclature for a 50ft zulu-type, and calls into question the often-repeated story that the first zulu was a boat called Nonesuch – he says he has seen evidence that the first zulu was an 80-footer, herself called Zulu. I see from Mike’s book 2002 Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland that he lists a number of small surviving zulus, if you can get hold of a copy.

I’d like to add one more quotation from Carr: ‘Big zulus up to 84ft in overall length and of 61ft keel have been built, and in such a craft the enormous fore-lug, rising to a height of some 70ft, is truly a wonderful sail. The zulu skippers were as particular about the cut and set of their sails as any racing yacht skipper, and these fine craft could easily sail 10 knots in a hard breeze. Six big zulus are still working out of Stornaway under sail, and Colonel C L Spencer, the rear-commodore of the Clyde Cruising Club, has told me that he has seen these craft come romping in from sea, passing the steam drifters and leaving them standing. A splendid sight indeed, to see sail beating steam in these days of mechanical efficiency. May they long continue to uphold the tradition of sail in such a magnificent manner!’

And, finally,  I have one more recent photo (below) of Spindrift to share, this time kindly sent to me by Adrian Perquage of Perquage Publishing, Beacette, Guernsey. Thanks Adrian! I think it’s useful to have this side-one view, not least because it shows clearly the striking stern of the zulu type.

Adrian is looking for information and history relating to RN45 MFV called Makalu, which I think is the boat discussed in this news story. If you have anything to share, please let us know using the comment link below of email me at, and I will pass the message on.

Spindrift, clearly showing her sharply raked stern – my thanks to Perquage Publishing

King George the Fifth, the king who was first yachtsman in the land, and his love for a boat

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King George the Fifth at the helm of Britannia, taken from the Wikipedia

I’ve just bought a copy of Frank Carr’s book The Yachtsman’s England, published in the spring of 1937. Carr could write carefully turned and well researched material, but on this occasion he seems to have been employed to provide lots of colour with special emphasis on the Empire and old socks school of writing, and he certainly included some fine sentimental stuff in this one!

Writing about the yachtsmen of England, he has this to say:

‘It requires,’ said a writer in the London Review over seventy years ago, ‘a combination of those attributes which distinguish a modern Briton to make a racing-man or genuine yachtsman.’ What was true in 1862 is equally true today; and no-one can think of those fine qualities which go to make a great yachtsman without remembering first the man in whom they were so perfectly combined – our late sovereign, His Majesty King George the Fifth. He who so dearly loved the sea, who by his subjects was so dearly loved, had won a place in the hearts of all of us who know the ways of little ships, not as our King alone, but as the First Yachtsman in the land. Most of us knew him only as a slight figure on the deck of the splendid old Britannia; or from the happy photographs taken of him at the helm, or hauling on a halliard, or looking up at a sail to see with a master’s eye that they were all well set and drawing. But we knew that he was a sailor as well as a King, who could see with a sailor’s eye and feel with a sailor’s understanding. We knew that he felt the power of a little ship to win the love of those who sail her, and we loved him for the love he bore Britannia.’

Many of us who enjoy sailing can get pretty misty eyed about our boats, perhaps particularly when they’ve seen us through a trying passage, but King George V’s affection for Britannia seems to have been a bit extreme. Perhaps it was from jealousy that anyone else might sail his yacht or maybe it was to avoid the sad effects of decay and decline that have afflicted other great racing yachts, but his dying wish was for his yacht to follow him to the grave. And so in 1936, probably just weeks before Carr sat at his desk to write, Britannia’s stripped hull was towed out to deep water near the Isle of Wight, and sunk.

To many of us now it seems like a big and unnecessarily wasteful gesture, but it turned out to be more than that – for it also marked the end of big yacht racing in Europe.

For more on Britannia at the Wikipedia, click here.

For Uffa Fox’s view, click here.

For more on Britannia at, including film clips, old photos of her racing and news of a revitalised Alfred Mylne company, click here.

For more on Frank Carr, click here.