This Sporting Combination

Vanduara with the ½-Rater Nita supported in her starboard quarter davits. (Iain McAllister coll.)
Vanduara with the ½-Rater Nita supported in her starboard quarter davits.
(Iain McAllister coll.)

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.

Nita aboard Vanduara. (Iain McAllister coll.)
Nita aboard Vanduara.
(Iain McAllister coll.)

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.

1931 view over the Edwin Lutyens designed Ferry Inn, towards the J.A. Silver boatyard. (Aerofilms/ Britain from Above)
1931 view over the Edwin Lutyens-designed Ferry Inn, towards the James A Silver boatyard.
(Aerofilms/ Britain from Above)

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.

“This Sporting Combination”, James A. Silver Ltd advert, 1935. (Iain McAllister coll.)
“This Sporting Combination”, James A. Silver Ltd advert, 1935.
(Iain McAllister coll.)

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.]


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)