Summer 1893. Paisley ‘thread baron’ Stewart Clark’s rakish c200ft GL Watson-designed steam yacht Vanduara poses with engines stopped, somewhere on the Firth of Clyde. Clearly seen hanging in her starboard quarter davits is no ordinary ship’s boat.
She is Clark’s son, J Stewart’s extreme, fin-and-bulb keel half-rater racing yacht Nita, built that spring to GL Watson’s design (no. 279) at Rosneath, Dunbartonshire – from lightweight cedar for the hull and manganese bronze for the keel fin – by one of Watson’s favourite builders of fine small boats, Peter MacLean.
Given that Vanduara‘s function in life is pure pleasure, Nita adds an extra string to her bow in sporting possibilities; a diversion from one of the main functions of a Clyde-based steam yacht – easy access to the lochside hunting estates.
It’s just possible to discern Nita’s lead bulb here, slung low from its bronze plate. A challenging build for MacLean, just as it would have been for her designer – to engineer a strong enough but still lightweight hull shell to cope with all that lead hanging from a very narrow base. Fascinating, ground-breaking times to be a yacht designer, and a yacht builder.
Note that launching is by well padded slings to Vanduara’s mainmast’s boom, with the davits merely keeping Nita securely attached to her mothership.
Peter MacLean’s boatyard lay just inside Limekilns Point, at the western side of Rhu Narrows, the tide-swept entrance to the Gareloch, which is best known nowadays for its nuclear submarine base at Faslane. MacLean made his living from a combination of boatbuilding and as sometime landlord of the nearby Rosneath Ferry Inn.
Remarkably for the Clyde, the site of MacLean’s yard is still very much involved with the yachting industry, but no longer in the building of new yachts. After MacLean’s time, it was taken over by an employee, James A Silver, who still lends his name to the present, much more recent and unconnected business – despite him being active there for only a few years before the first world war. In the early years of that war, the shrewd employment of yacht designer John Bain as yard manager saw Silvers become highly successful pioneers, then leaders in the modern marketing of series-produced, yet high quality wooden motor yachts from the 1920s into the 1960s.
It’s that marketing skill which brings us back to Vanduara and her sporting combination.
The steam yacht Vanduara was GL Watson design no. 115, launched from Meadowside Shipyard, Partick, Glasgow, by D&W Henderson & Co on 6 April 1886.
After active requisitioned anti-submarine duties during the first world war, she began a varied commercial career, including time as a Liverpool pilot vessel.
Peter MacLean was one of a select group of Firth of Clyde boatbuilders favourited by Glasgow-based yacht designer to the world, GL Watson (1851-1904), to build his small to medium-sized sailing and powered yacht designs, and ship’s boats for Watson’s magnificent, large sailing and steam yacht designs – more often than not built at neighbouring shipyards.
~ Iain McAllister ~
[This is an edited version of a post written for the Peggy Bawn Press blog, 3 March 2014.]