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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Oyster boats and mystery boats

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Fal oyster boats at Mylor. As usual, click on the images
for larger photos

The start of the Tall Ships Race included some interesting-looking mystery boats, as did a brief trip to Mylor and it’s cute little church. But first I thought I should show you some of the last sail-powered fishing boats in the UK. These yacht-like vessels work oyster beds in the Fal and Helford estuaries and are forbidden by a local byelaw from using engines. On their days off I gather those who work them also enjoy some keen racing.

For material relating to Percy Dalton, artist and designer of the St Melorus Fal oyster boat, click here.

Falmouth quay punt (I’d guess), a handsome motor cruiser, and
a mackerel driver (again, that’s my guess) at the start of the Tall
Ships race. That’s Sedov in the background in the last photo,
by the way

I was intrigued by this little dinghy, which must have been either
strip-planked or carvel, or something in between. Does anyone
know the answer from what you can see?

St Leonard’s fishermen’s chapel, St Ives

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A memorial of an astonishing trip, presumably by a
member of the local artistic community

It was grey and rainy the day we reached St Ives, but I was nevertheless captivated by St Leonard’s, the little port’s fishermen’s chapel on Smeaton’s pier.

Typescript history

A typescript history (we don’t see many of them now!) shows that the building dates back to at least 1577, and has been renovated several times, most recently in 1971, when it was reopened as a small museum. In the old days, it seems, local fishermen retained the services of a friar who led prayers and services in the building.

There are some nice models, a touching memorial erected in 1959 to the fishermen lost to their families and community, and seats for those who wish to sit and pray, or simply think.

That engaging character Mike ‘Kipperman’ Smylie has some good stuff about the St Ives boats in his book Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain and Ireland, which you may find at ABE Books.

Interior, models and memorial, another plaque, and the exterior

And just outside I found the real thing – a mackerel driver. And
notice the ancient lifeboat moored just behind it