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

More of Roger Davies’ classic marine paintings

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Roger Davies has been a marine artist for 30-odd years, although he claims it wasn’t a conscious decision – rather, it seems that living in a series of seaports had a powerful influence on his work. Over time, he lived in Newport, London, Belfast and Hull, and became drawn into the history of boats and ships, and those who sailed them. Perhaps unusually, his interest was caught by both the world of wealthy yacht-owners (and the crews, who were often fishermen also) and by the world of working sail.

The foundation of his very detailed work is undoubtedly his almost obsessive research. The atmospheric quality of his paintings probably derives from most of his career being spent as a watercolourist: ‘For a long time, I found I couldn’t develop sharp and precise detail with thick, sticky oil paint, and so I preferred working in watercolours.’ However, he’s now back working in oils, attracted by what he calls the extra ‘oomph’ of the medium. His classic yacht paintings in particular are almost exclusively in oils.

The Big Five
THE BIG FIVE,1926
Named by journalists of the time, The Big Five were a mixed class of superyachts who raced on handicap throughout the mid-1920s. They were:(L to R) White Heather II, Westward, Lulworth, Shamrock, Britannia, and are shown here at the start of a race during Cowes Week 1926.

Lulworth dominated the class during the year, as she had the year before. This painting was commissioned by her owner to be the centrepiece of the newly restored Lulworth’s saloon below:

The Big Five in Lulworth's Saloon

The Rebirth: Lulworth off Portonvere
THE REBIRTH: LULWORTH OFF PORTOVENERE
After working for over two years on Lulworth commissions, Roger decided to commemorate her restoration himself with this painting of her sea trials in the waters of northern Italy. He was a privileged guest at her regatta debut at the Argentario Sailing Week in June 2006, and says that racing on Lulworth was unforgettable.

Sloop off Hessle Cliff
SLOOP OFF HESSLE CLIFF
A Humber Sloop sailing eastwards past a mill at Hessle on the north bank of the Humber, circa 1920. Hessle Cliff refers to a nearby quarry visible from the river. This the site of the Humber Bridge today.

Sloop approaching the river hull

A SLOOP APPROACHING THE RIVER HULL
A Humber Sloop about to leave the Humber and enter the river Hull. The mate is beginning to work the foresail halyard winch to reduce sail for the journey through the confines of the narrow river. I should explain that the location is given by HMS Southampton in the background. She was a borstal ship moored just to the east of Hull until 1912.

Thames barge in a blow
THAMES BARGE IN A BLOW
Originating in the Thames region, these capable vessels ranged far and wide round Britain, wherever they could find work. They could be sailed by just a man and a boy.

In a Clearing Mist
IN THE CLEARING MIST
Roger’s notes: The painting shows a Humber Sloop and Keel. These later barges were iron or steel hulled, while the earlier ones were wooden. The Sloop, being unladen, shows the typical bluff bow. Her mast is stepped further forward than the Keel’s to accommodate that long boom.

The Big Five and Sloop off Hessle Cliff are sold, but the other four are recent work and still available. These and other paintings and prints by Roger Davies can be seen at Top Pictures, 7 Hepworth Arcade, Silver Street, Hull, HU1 1JU. Go to: http://www.toppictures.co.uk

Roger also undertakes commissions.