Keble Chatterton on the early development of racing yachts, part I

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King Charles II's yacht Mary

King Charles II’s yacht Mary. Progress in the developments of yachts remained slow until after Waterloo

‘I’m still reading Keble Chatterton’s entertaining if possibly dodgy history Fore and Aft Craft, and I thought readers might be entertained by his account of yacht racing’s development during the 19th century. It comes, of course, from an early 20th century perspective.

‘Among the famous yachts of the ‘twenties must be mentioned the Pearl, the Arrow and the Alarm. These were all built as cutters. The Pearl was launched in 1820 at Wyvenhoe and was of 95 tonnes. The Arrow was 84 tonnes. She was altered and rebuilt many times since she first appeared in 1822. The Alarm, which came out in 1830, was only seven tons short of two hundred, and was one of the very largest cutters ever built. What a gybe must have been like round a mark-boat in a smart breeze we can well wonder. Her origin is not without interest, for she was designed from the lines of a celebrated smuggler that was captured off the Isle of Wight.

‘It was owing to the fact that no time allowance was granted that the development of size in yachts had gone on unchecked: otherwise such a monstrosity as the Alarm would not have appeared. Right away as far back as Charles II the English yachts had been ballasted with shot. It was suggested to Christopher Pett that stones should be used for this purpose, but he wisely declined to entertain such an idea on the ground that it took up too much room. In this respect, Pett was more ahead of his time than might appear, for the ocean-going ships had for centuries had a considerable amount of their valuable internal space taken up by gravel ballast, which left but little room for the ship’s stores.

‘In some of the early nineteenth century yachts gravel or stone blocks were still used, just as one still finds to this day in the case of some of the open fishing craft which go out from the shore to their lobster pots. After that, iron blocks were introduced, and finally a reversion to the idea of lead. Bags of shot were employed in the last century so that they could easily be moved up to windward at each tack. In 1846 lead pigs were used, and finally, ten years later, in spite of the frownings of pessimists, the lead, instead of being used as inside ballast was transferred to the keel outside.’

‘After the battle of Waterloo the sport of yachting and so the development of yacht architecture and everything connected with the yacht from ballast to running gear, received the advantage of an enthusiasm which had never previously been granted: and both immediately before and after the Crimean War this enthusiasm and interest had been increased tenfold. It was because there had been so little personal interest on the part of the owner, such scant encouragement given to the builder, such universal ignorance in regard to problems of naval design, such infrequent races for testing certain types of hull and rigs, that the progress since the introduction of the first Mary into our country had been slow.’

And then:

‘But now all this was changed. The Victorian sovreignty had brought about peace and contentment, and the effects of the great industrial revival of the previous century had already caused so much increased wealth to our countrymen that there was an unprecedented army of rich sportsmen from whose ranks to draw a large band of yachtsmen. Here then was the needful force of encouragement to builders. This was intensified by the formation of powerful yach clubs having for their object, as the preamble to almost every yacht and sailing club reads, “the improvement of yacht building and the encouragement of yacht sailing”, “giving the greatest latitude in the construction, rigging and sailing of vessels, consistent with their aptitude to yachting.’

To be continued…

Amazon has original hardback copies of an earlier edition of Keble Chatterton’s book, Fore And Aft, The Story Of The Fore & Aft Rig From The Earliest Times To The Present Day, and also scanned copies of Fore & Aft Craft and Their Story; another relevant book that looks particularly interesting in this connection is Lennarth Petersson’s book Rigging: Period Fore-And-Aft Craft, which describes the rigging of three 18th century vessels in detail – an American schooner, an English cutter and a three-masted French lugger, and includes some 200 diagrams.

Gadfly II is back on the water – but has anyone got any unwanted iron for ballast?

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blackwater sloop,  gadfly II,  gaff cutter,  iron ballast,  simon papendick,  whitstable

blackwater sloop,  gadfly II,  gaff cutter,  iron ballast,  simon papendick,  whitstable

Whitstable-built Blackwater sloop lookalike Gadfly II is afloat once again after a period of restoration, reports boat builder and repairer Simon Papendick. Here’s what he says about the East Coast gaff cutter’s progress:

‘It has been a hard over the last few months, but I have finally got Gadfly II back in the water. After a few days of all hands to the pumps, she is now all but watertight.

I took her for a sail the other day and it was good to get her underway with new sails. The boat felt good and so did I after all the hard work I’ve put  in over the past three years.

The only problem I have now is working out how much internal ballast she is going to need to get her to sit on her lines and not be so lively. So far I have put in 300kg of ballast, which has made things better – but she is still way above her lines, so possibly I will have to find about another 300kgs. I think that should just about do for the moment.

So if any of the readers know or have any old iron they want rid of that I can pick up and use please I would be most  grateful!’

Well done that man!

Simon runs a boatbuilding and restoration firm (J-Star Boat Services) and a sailing school (J-Star Sea School), so if you have any suitable ballast please contact him directly via his business websites.

Perhaps of particular interest to readers are some small boat maintenance workshops Simon is running designed to help boat owners to increase their knowledge and do small jobs themselves. These start form removing seacocks to replacing boat windows and anything in between. They are run on a
weekly basis on a four:one basis. Contact Simon on 07799401650 or email

Katydid loses her ballast keel, but what about her wooden one?

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Fife-built Clyde 17/19 lugger Katydid loses her iron ballast keel

I love restorations. The restorer never knows quite what he or she is going to come up against, and along the way they generally find all sorts of interesting things. An example in this case is a keel bolt in such sad condition that I wonder whether it contributed anything at all to keeping the keel attached the last time this boat went sailing.

Restorers are also obliged to make all sorts of decisions as they go along. Right now, Charlie Hussey is having to decide whether Katydid’s 115-year old wooden keel can be repaired, or whether it needs to be replaced. He’s even asked us to look at the photos and throw in our tuppences…

See Charlie’s weblog here:

Well, I let him have my guess, even though I’ve no idea what hundred-plus- year-old timber looks like when it’s bad compared to when it’s still ok. I think I’ve heard that an electrolysis process makes it look quite strange quite some time before it actually becomes weak, but what do I know? Perhaps Charley will give us his decision in a day or two.

PS – I’ve just noticed that is now two years old, almost to the day. It’s been quite a ride, and some would say something of an obsession. Still, it has also been fun, and satisfying too. The sharp-eyed will know that we’ve recorded almost 320,000 hits in that time, and some may even have spotted that only today we’ve scored a new record for traffic on this site, thanks to our dear friends at Duckworksmagazine highlighting the Julie skiff project.

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