Saturday, 30 September 2017

Another Mystery Boat

I'm posting some photos taken by my friend John MacLean of Iona, of a lovely little sailing skiff that he rescued from certain destruction about sixteen years ago. He is anxious to trace her provenance and to learn about her history. I'm hoping that this post can set off a trail of detection among enthusiasts for our great Scottish designers and yards.

Right now, all the John knows about his skiff is that he thinks she was built in 1910 and before he found her at Crinan she had apparently been lying for many years beside a loch at Scammadale, up the road from me. There are several fishing lochs up there, miles from main roads, and one can imagine it being too much trouble for the estate owners to look after this lovely little work of art. It must have taken many years of total neglect to reduce a wonderful example of fine craftsmanship to her present pitiful state. It's a sad reflection that someone considered a craft obviously built for occasional sailing in salt water suitable for a fresh water fishing loch. 

The builder's plate looks pretty authentic and ties in with our  knowledge that Robertsons built lots of tenders and small craft, along with some pretty spectacular larger racing yachts and steam yachts. It doesn't help to confirm the date though, as although Alexander Robertson brought his sons into the business he didn't set up Alex Robertson & Sons Limited until August 1922.

In the middle of the plate is the top of the lifting ring, which pulls up to allow insertion of a hook, one at each end to hoist the boat aboard her mother ship after, we hope, a happy trip around the bay under an unstayed lug sail set in that mast partner braced to the forward thwart.

It's possible  that this wee treasure was built for one of the magnificent steam yachts that Robertson was building. But from the excellent Robertsons Wiki Entry, which was largely written by David Hutchison, a member of the family, it seems that yard didn't launch anything of this type in 1910. Candidates around that date could be Alfred Mylne's 60 foot Galma of 1909, or J A McCallums 65.2 foot Aroha (also Adana) of 1914. Yards wouldn't normally farm out the small craft, but if one of them had done Robertsons would have been a good choice. Towards the First World War Robertson was building mainly for the Admiralty and I doubt they would have required a lovely sailing tender.

If we assume that the neighbour would be a West coast yard we are looking at the McGruers of Clynder and William Fife III of Fairlie. 1910 rules out the McGruers, as it seems that they were just getting going then and didn't build larger yachts until later. May Fife McCallum's book Fast and Bonnie has a comprehensive list of Fife yachts, but 1910 seems again a fallow year for large steam yachts. The only candidate is the 83 ton Shaheen, built for a London owner, not very likely.

Two other possibilities occur to me.

Firstly, it's possible that one of the shipyards, such as Connel & Co, might have been building a steam yacht and commissioned Robertsons to produce a very special sailing tender. Directors of those yards did undertake these projects, often for themselves, but usually when work in the yard was slack.

Secondly, our pet might have been ordered by James Rennie Barnet of G L Watson & Co Limited to go with one of the magnificent steam yachts he was designing. He had a special interest in small sailing boats, having been an enthusiast for canoe cruising of the Rob Roy MacGregor type in his youth. You can read about one of his trips on the Forth Yacht Clubs Association website here: Cruise of the Kelpie

So, it's over to you, dear readers, to come up with some ideas!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Secret Summer Operations

The Yellow Boat, a Christmas Wherry designed by Walt Simmons 

At great personal risk I'm breaking the vows of omertà to describe the recent manoeuvres of the Bilderglug Fleet, a risk greater even than open sea sailing in a fifteen foot open wherry.

There was a lovely first evening at the campsite at Carsaig, where the fleet gathered and those without the luxury of a cabin set up camp, a little squishy underfoot due to frequent heavy downpours which provided plenty of fresh water for the voyage.

view North towards Scarba

At first options seemed limited, with a low pressure system unwilling to move on, but the challenge of working South against strong winds and a foul tide proved irresistible.

The trip was quite exciting, taking about six hours of windward work with waves just random lumps of water. It was tricky to get enough speed to put the wherry through the wind and a couple of times we were just stopped dead by a wave and I had to give her a push round with an oar. A problem is always how to look after two sails, the tiller and the bailing bucket with only two hands, but basically it's all good fun and perfectly safe. 

Years ago, in a much larger boat, I had been put off trying to land on Eilean Mor MacCormick by the angry tidal rips that surrounded it, but arriving at slack water was pretty easy and the little lagoon is a good haven, thanks to the efforts of the MacCormick Trust, who apparently blew up a nasty rock that used to lurk there.

For obvious reasons I don't have images of the voyage down, but here are some of the fleet at rest.

Our mother ship is a floating gem designed by Iain Oughtred.

Fleet at rest, photo courtesy of Brice

My tent is getting old but still keeps out the midges, fierce little fellows who one assumes would have enjoyed providing the monks who used to live here in caves and rock holes with endless torment.

My midge-free abode

This place is seriously spiritual and our party felt far more affected here than we had earlier on Iona.

After several years some experience and our combined resources have proved that you can be very comfortable and well fed even in the most remote of places.

central heating, Brice's pic

The BBQ Meister, photo courtesy Tina

Youth Club, who says today's young ones aren't useful? Tina's pic again

Our happy shelter, Tina's pic

We were storm-bound for a day, then the smaller boats made a break for it up Loch Sween, while the mother ship braved the trip North in open sea.

We stopped for lunch at Taynish Mill, where there are some interesting pieces of art among the trees.

We had a nice trip up the loch and were almost becalmed on the approach to Tayvallich, then just when we thought we were home we were met by what felt like a half gale straight out of the West, as the warm land accelerated an already stoury breeze. Thankfully there's a really nice cafe on the shore where they do great coffee and cakes.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Harrison Butler and his Z4s

Some of the nicest boats around are drawn by gifted amateurs and the lovely designs of the ophthalmologist T Harrison Butler are good examples. An interesting feature of Dr Butler's second career as a yacht designer is his enthusiasm for metacentric analysis, a curious theory, which those who understand it say doesn't stand up. As elsewhere in life a dodgy theory sometimes produces good results.

June is one of about 50 little yachts built on a production system by Alfred Lockhart Marine of Brentford in Essex in 1938 and 1939. It seems that Captain O M Watts had seen a commercial possibility in Butler's Zyklon design and the Z4s were the result. The attraction is very obvious, when one reflects that potential buyers recovering from the effects of the Depression years would have been  keen to get afloat without undue expense.

One assumes that the entrepreneurial Captain Watts would have gone out to tender for the construction process, as I believe that Lockharts were originally house, rather than boat, builders. Without a tradition behind them they built the Z4s upside down over iron frames, hulls glued and splined, the intelligent and practical way to go, but rarely adopted by boatyards in the UK. As a result it seems most of the fleet have survived. Building upside down with frames in means that you have to get the important sheerline right first time.

These are tough wee boats for their overall length of under 22 feet and about 7 feet beam, displacing 3356 kilograms with 2700 kilograms of external ballast. By contrast the Kotik design that I'm currently building should displace about 1200 kilograms with 430 kilograms of ballast on the same overall dimensions, although admittedly with longer ends, which of course the Guru of Luing is always pointing out add nothing other than weight (apart from North European charm). Having said this, there's an understated practical elegance here.

An interesting contrast is Ed Burnet's very similar design, about which I wrote here: Frolic

It's also interesting to compare the Z4 with the much larger Mat Ali. Her owner, Charlie Hussey, has written about her here A Builder takes Liberties, where there's also a brief discussion about aesthetics.

I had a nice sail on Mat Ali in a gale of wind a few years ago. so can testify that she's a great sea boat.  You can see a family resemblance from the post I wrote at the time here

Update 13 June

Thanks to comments on the forum at Wooden Boat I realise that the ballast figure for the Z4 is wildly inaccurate, it appears to be about one metric ton. It's still a lot for a wee boat though!

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Turning the Hull

This week it became impossible to put off turning the hull any longer. The outside had three coats of epoxy, nicely sanded down to give a key for further coating, the weather was nice and Annie and Gareth had arrived from New Zealand for their wedding in a Highland castle next weekend to lend a hand. They and a group of local pals rallied round to help with muscle and, of course, advice.

I'm greatly indebted to Mairi Fleck for the images on this post. They make words quite unnecessary.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Breaking News - Toberonochy invaded again!

It's difficult to believe that it's a year since the above photo was taken by Mark Robertson as the Bilderglug fleet made its way back home North from the wee bay where we had stopped for lunch. This top secret event, only for highly superior very select people, which is why it has the name, is now taking place for the fifteenth time. Sadly we will miss Hugh Gray this time.

My yellow boat is the only non-resident participant to escape the indignity of arriving by road, but this does involve some careful weather watching. First of course there is a little winter maintenance, which was confined this year to treating the tyres on the trolley to a session with Peter's ancient but very sturdy Dunlop Standard pump. (There's actually a book about them: Vintage British Foot Pumps 1900 - 1950)

Here is the good ship the Kelpie ready to go:

This boat is absolutely ideal for events such as this. She's the Walt Simmons Christmas Wherry which I built in 2006 specifically for Bilderglug. She's an incredibly seaworthy and to my eye lovely little boat that has seen us through an awful lot of tricky weather over the years. There's a lot of reserve stability and if you keep a look out for squalls you can carry quite a bit of sail and have a lot of fun.

My only complaint is with the location of the centreboard on the drawing, which was far too far aft for proper balance and made tacking difficult. I shifted the slot forward and replaced the lifting board with a daggerboard, but may have slightly overdone it. She comes into the wind instantly I drop the tiller, which is of course safe but a bit undignified at times.

Yesterday I set off at six on a frosty morning and had a good, warming row for an hour or so before the wind came in from the North, straight from Iceland. It was a good working breeze and we ran straight onto the sandy shore in the wee harbour at half past eight. I was met by the Grand Controller who took me to his underground Control Room to investigate the mental condition that causes me to return each year.


There's now a video clip showing the flavour of the trip across on Youtube, here, Sailing to Luing

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water