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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An update from Will Stirling of Cutters & Luggers down in Cornwall

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An update from Smuggling Luggers & Revenue Cutters An update from Smuggling Luggers & Revenue Cutters An update from Smuggling Luggers & Revenue Cutters

The Duke of Bedford’s boathouse (note the blocks in the foreground), a rebuilt
Tamar Valley salmon skiff, a skylight from the Garlandstone, and
Garlandstone, the WWII Naval pinnace and
Alert, all mentioned below

We’ve also received these splendid photos and an update from Will Stirling of Revenue Cutters & Smuggling Luggers. I’m sure many readers will remember his knockout 18th-century inspired design and build project Alert last year (see previous posts) and will be interested to know what he’s been up to in the first half of 2008. In fact, he seems to have a tremendous lot of work going on!

Connoisseurs will notice some good sheds here too…

Dear Gavin,

‘I’m spending a lot of time banging in nails!

‘We have a 150 ton West Country trading ketch Garlandstone on the slipway and are beginning a programme of further restoration after she suffered a period of neglect.

‘The upper works of a 40’ Admiralty pinnace built in Scapa Flow, Orkney during World War II are in the process of being entirely replaced. This has included redefining her sheer as it had been pushed out of shape after many years landing on the beach.

‘We have just completed a completed rebuild from a new backbone up of a Tamar Valley Salmon Skiff. An original member left in the boat has the rope marks where the net led over the side.

‘We have also restored the Duke of Bedford’s boathouse for the Tamar Valley Trust and extensively repaired a neglected cornish punt.

‘We have an MOD contract from the flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Victory, to build a new 26ft ship’s cutter to a draught from the National Maritime Museum to an 1805 specification form D. Steele’s ‘Naval Architecture’.

‘Cornish Master Shipwright Ted Luck is now helping me and lending much valuable experience to the operation.

‘I received an MA in Maritime History from Exeter University and a distinction for my thesis ‘What Factors influenced the design and construction of Revenue Cutters between 1770 and 1850?’

‘Four photos attached and I will send more when I take them,

‘Best Wishes

‘Will Stirling’

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but Will’s report has left me breathless!

See much more at Will’s website: Revenue Cutters and Smuggling Luggers