Pine deck

Got the kettle on Nigel? Peggy Bawn, Dunmore East, Ireland, June 2005.
Got the kettle on Nigel? ‘Peggy Bawn’, Dunmore East, Ireland, June 2005.

Always fun to turn tables on a pro snapper. Through 2004 and 2005, marine photographer Nigel Pert regularly followed the authentic rebuild of Hal Sisk’s 1894 GL Watson-designed gaff cutter, PEGGY BAWN, at the Dunmore East yard of shipwright, Michael Kennedy, on Ireland’s south-east coast.

My affinity with a yellow pine deck (USA: white pine; botanical: Pinus strobus) continued from experience with the William Fife Jr-designed bermudan cutter, Solway Maid. Fortunately there was no choice: as found, Peggy Bawn still had her original, though not useable, then 110-year-old yellow pine deck – and authenticity was our watchword.

From a time when boat designers and builders could choose any species, on demand, Peggy’s creators would not have given much thought to the deck material: by default, GL Watson would have specified lightweight and dimensionally stable yellow pine, and John Hilditch would have held carefully seasoned stock at or near his yard at Carrickfergus on the north shore of Belfast Lough. It was the norm; the use of teak for decks wasn’t.

“… it’s better than we could possibly imagine.”

Years of unsustainable use and changing patterns of demand mean that best quality yellow pine is well-nigh impossible to find. But we succeeded via a wonderful network of contacts in sourcing perfect, full length (36 feet / 11 m) stock from a sawmill in deepest Massachusetts.

I well remember Michael’s excited phone call from America: “Iain, it’s better than we could possibly imagine.” And my feeling of relief that the expense of sending him all that way had been justified. The alternative: buying blind and incurring the cost of specially shipping potentially inferior material was unthinkable.

The sawyer, a specialist in already fallen trees, had kept the material set aside for some suitable project that might come along; the fact that his wife is Irish clinched the deal when Michael flew over to inspect the pine.

They eventually turned up unannounced at Dunmore East to make sure their hopes for the material had been honoured.

I think they truly were, thanks to great work by Michael Kennedy – in particular for the deck, his team member carpenters Graham Bailey and John Colfer, and our naval architect, Theo Rye – in faithfully replicating Peggy Bawn’s original swept and tapered deck, and the narrowest of cotton and Jeffrey’s Marine Glue seams.

Eagle-eyed readers may recognise William Fife II’s Ayrshire Lass of 1887, patiently waiting her turn for the treatment – eventually completed in time for the Fife Regatta 2008. A great story for another day.

~ Iain McAllister ~

Peggy Bawn Glandore Classic Regatta 2005 by Iain McAllister
‘Peggy Bawn’ and her deck, Glandore Classic Regatta 2005 (Pic: Iain McAllister)

Strachur’s first international sporting hero

Thistle crew Erie Basin by JS Johnston courtesy Long Island Maritime Museum
Thistle crew, Erie Basin, New York, September 1887. (JS Johnston/ Long Island Maritime Museum)

“I sometimes wish, mysel’, I had taken to the yats… it’s a suit or two o’ clothes in the year, and a pleasant occupaation. Most o’ the time in canvas sluppers.

Dougie (the Mate).

Among the Yachts from In Highland Harbours with Para Handy by Neil Munro, 1911.

A little-known yarn about a crew of specially selected seafarers from the Firth of Clyde’s maritime communities – which 129 years ago became one of Scotland’s first international sporting teams – will be spun at the New Hall, Strachur from 7.30pm on Saturday 13 February, when yachting historian Iain McAllister presents his great-grandfather’s story:

STRACHUR’S FIRST INTERNATIONAL SPORTING HERO: professional yachtsman Archibald “Pierie” McNicol and the quest for the America’s Cup.

Helensburgh-born Iain, who has strong Strachur roots, hopes his profusely illustrated presentation, part of Strachur and District Local History Society’s open winter talks series, will encourage other descendants of the crew of Thistle, the Royal Clyde Yacht Club’s 1887 challenger for the America’s Cup – yachting’s holy grail – to share handed-down stories and memorabilia.

In spring 1887, when 23 year old Archie McNicol (with pale complexion, 2nd from left seated on a cushion in the above image) eschewed the herring fishing, instead leaving his family’s St. Catherines maritime croft to sign-up for a season of well-paid yachting adventure aboard the 108ft long Thistle – newly built of steel and teak under great secrecy at D&W Henderson’s Partick, Glasgow shipyard – could this son of a Lochfyneside fisherman and fish curer possibly have imagined featuring in the New York Times by September, being fêted at Manhattan gala evenings by exiled Scots?

Great hopes were built up around the Firth for Thistle’s success; everything seemed set in place for nothing less than wrestling the ‘Auld Mug’ back across the Atlantic to defend it on the Clyde.

The Hunter’s Quay-based challenging club had rapidly grown from the Clyde Model Yacht Club, gaining Royal patronage along the way to becoming the world’s largest yacht club in number of members and tonnage of yachts owned.

The challenging yacht was owned by a syndicate of some of Glasgow’s most successful industrialists, including the Paisley, New Jersey and Rhode Island-based ‘thread barons’, the Coats and Clark families, and brothers James and William Bell, quietly intent on dominating the world market in shipping chilled and refrigerated meat. All had something to gain from the venture, commercially and in esteem.

Thistle had been designed by young Glasgow naval architect, George Lennox Watson, rapidly becoming dominant in the creation of successful yachts powered by wind or steam. It wasn’t just the challenger that Watson had drawn, but also the mothership that would accompany her across the Atlantic, John and William Clark’s sumptuous 700-ton steam yacht, Mohican.

And Thistle’s crew was chosen by Gourock-based skipper John Barr: the pick of the Clyde’s professional yachtsmen. They were:

John Barr, Master (Gourock); William Craig; John Crawford (Carpenter, Fairlie?); John Fyfe (Bute?); John Graham, (sailmaker); John Graham; William Griffin (Bute); Alex Hill (1st cook); William Holmes; Hugh Howat; James Hughes; Angus Kennedy; (Captain) Donald Kerr (Navigating Master); Alex McDonald (1st officer); Archibald McIntyre; Daniel McKellar (Bute?); Daniel McKenzie (2nd Officer); Archibald McNicol (2nd cook, St. Catherines); James Shedden (Portencross); James Wilkie; William Wright (steward).

Thistle was soundly beaten in America, but for Archibald McNicol it was just the beginning of a professional yachting career aboard big budget ‘superyachts’ that would leave him comfortably off for the rest of his life.

~ Iain McAllister ~

  • Who: Iain McAllister – classic yacht consultant and historian.
  • What: Strachur’s First International Sporting Hero:
  • Who? Professional yachtsman, Archibald “Pierie” McNicol.
  • Why: The quest for the America’s Cup.
  • Where: Strachur & District Local History Society, New Hall, Strachur.
  • When: Saturday 13 February 2016, 7:30pm.
  • Entry: £3.00 (including tea).

Further reading:

Order of the Thistle

Scotia’s Thistle

All mod cons: the steam yacht Hermione, 1891

Thistle at Facebook

Thistle at Twitter

Thistle Library of Congress
Thistle off Tompkinsville, Staten Island, New York, September 1887 (Library of Congress)