Friday, 28 March 2014


I've cared for her since 1976 and she's been a big part of my life, source of a lot of joy and good friendships and occasional worries. She's taken me and those I love safely through storms, gently cradled us when we were tired and thrilled us when we eased her sheets and let her reach across broad seas.

I've never counted the hours spent caring for her, but am sure there are few yachts her age in better condition. She's as strong as when McGruers launched her in 1929.

I'm sixty six now and won't be taking her, as I once did, to Ardminish or to Craighouse, or to Skye or Muck or Eigg or Coll or Mull or Wester Ross. She needs someone younger to do such things, in Scotland or further afield; I won't care if she's going to be in good hands.

Stroma is up on the hard at Cairnbaan along the Crinan Canal, a two hour trip from Glasgow. I'm asking £18,000, about 22,000 euros, for her and she's well worth that to the right person.    

There are full details elsewhere on this website.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Scottish Islands Class Yachts for sale

Readers will know that for the 2013 season I lent Stroma to my friend Adam Way, a brilliant boat builder and restorer based just down the road from where I live. He had a good season and I had the pleasure of sailing with him a number of times, but in the longer run I think he will be looking for a yacht with more substantial accomodation. While he's currently intending to launch Stroma again this year selling these classics takes a lot of time and if anyone is interested please let me know.

I've heard on the grapevine that Bernera has just been sold and is on the way to a new life back on the Clyde. This means that there's potentially a good fleet back on the Firth where they started out - Gigha, Isla, Shona, Fidra, and now Bernera.

This leaves three or four Islanders either for sale or for restoration, i.e. Canna and Stroma in commission plus Jura and Sanda waiting for restoration. If you're interested in becoming part of Scottish yachting heritage by owning one all is not lost.

Anyone interested can contact me via this blog and I'll pass your details on to the various owners concerned.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Stroma was built by McGruers at Clynder, Scotland in 1929 to a design by Alfred Mylne, so she's got a fine pedigree coming from two of the finest names in Scottish yachting history. She's in first class condition, having been fully restored a few years ago and given new spars and sails. I'm only selling her because after thirty six years it's time for a new owner to take over, enjoy her and care for her.

Stroma is one of the Scottish Islands Class One Design yachts, which were introduced to provide competitive racing on the Firth of Clyde and safe, short cruising on our West coast and inner islands. They are powerful boats for their length, but incredibly well-behaved and nimble, being fast and light and responsive on the helm.

Regular readers of this blog will know that there's a great deal of history and lore about these historic boats here. If you're visiting the blog for the first time please enjoy the posts and allow yourself to become immersed in part of our yachting heritage.

Over the years the shapes of yachts have changed a bit, with the older ones designed by craftsman engineers and modern ones by computer nut accountants. One thing that hasn't changed is the sea and a lovely traditional yacht will perform just as sweetly today as when she was built.

In Stroma's case the restoration work has ensured an extremely tight, strong hull, in many ways of much greater strength than originally. This has almost eliminated the annual maintenance bill and I've been able to drive her hard without worries.
Basic Details

Stroma is a registered British ship, Official Number 161770 at Greenock, with the sail number 4.

Her registered details are:-

Tonnage 2.96 registered, 3.21 gross, 4 TM (about 3,200 kg)
Length OA 28.0 ft, WL 20.0 ft (8.53 m, 6.1 m)
Breadth 7.0ft, Draft 4.5 ft (2.1 m, 1.4 m)
Sail Area 418 sq ft (39 sq m)

Stroma currently has no engine, as I prefer to sail without one and declined to instal one during her restoration. These yachts did have an engine originally, so a new owner could have one if desired.

History of Ownership
Elsewhere in this blog I have recorded much of the history of the various Scottish Islands Class yachts and the people associated with them. They include the legendary Herbert Thom, possibly the most successful racing helm of all time, whose skills were undoubtedly honed by the very close racing these yachts provided. The new owner will be joining an extremely interesting and diverse band.

My ownership started in 1976, when I was looking for a fast, stylish traditional yacht for weekending and light cruising. For the next thirteen years I kept her mainly in Argyll and visited numerous anchorages up to the far North of Scotland and islands such as Skye, Eigg, Coll, Mull, Jura and Gigha, usually sailing with one or two friends. We took part in various inshore races and regattas, always ending up at or near the front.

By 1989 it was clear that Stroma, then aged sixty, was getting tired and I was contacted by a museum, which was looking for traditional yachts as exhibits and offered to restore her, so I agreed to lend her to them. Unfortunately the museum failed to keep their side of the bargain. They simply displayed her afloat until she deteriorated, then took her out of the water and stored ashore, while they looked for funds. Her condition then got even worse, until there were doubts about her survival.

In late 1995 I cancelled the loan and removed the yacht to a shipyard, where she was comprehensively restored by me, with help from a number of friends and professional boat-builders. The hull planking was in great condition but many of the large structural components, for example her wood keel, stem, sternpost, transom etcetera were found to be rotten and had to be replaced. As this removed the main obstacle to a modern hull coating I took the opportunity to protect the hull with a woven-cloth/epoxy treatment and then had it faired and finished professionally. Full details of all the work done can be provided.

I commissioned a new set of spars, the mast being specially designed and built by Alastair Garland, and sails from the Tollesbury master, Gayle Heard. These are all still in excellent condition.

Since she was relaunched in 2003 Stroma has been used mainly for day-sailing and short cruises, some of which I have written about on this blog, and also on my scottishboating blog. She took part in West Highland Week in 2004, winning several races and coming third in her class and in 2006 she won the Royal Highland Yacht Club's 125th anniversary regatta, beating 62 other yachts. She has been at most of the Crinan Classic regattas, usually winning in her class.

Stroma has proved incredibly stiff and fast and time has shown that the restoration work has been a complete success. In recent years maintenance has been limited to touching up the brightwork, antifouling etc. This year I noticed that her topside paint, which had never been refinished, was becoming faded and she has recently been given a fresh treatment professionally.

I have not regretted my decision not to put the engine back after Stroma was restored. Personally I prefer the challenge of pure sailing and do not like to share my space with a nasty, expensive piece of machinery. Some of Stroma's sisters have small diesel units, but since the technology for electric propulsion units is now well advanced this should be considered by a new owner.


In common with all traditional racing yachts space below is limited. I gave a lot of thought to the internal layout and ended up with two full-length "Pullman type" berths in the main cabin with bench seating below. During the day the berths are folded up, keeping bedding out of the way and the benches give full sitting headroom. I've posted about this in detail, here:-  Keeping comfortable 

There is the possibility for a third berth for one person or two close friends under the foredeck.

On the original drawings Alfred Mylne shows lockers under the cockpit seats entered from the rear of the cabin and I duly reconstructed these. They give plenty of storage for cooking and other equipment. There's also a drawer for navigational materials and a food storage bin.

Stroma's future

My main concern is to ensure that this lovely yacht passes into the hands of someone who appreciates her qualities, fast, exciting sailing, a lovely yacht that turns heads wherever she goes, a piece of yachting heritage with, thanks to her restoration, a very limited schedule of annual maintenance. The classic yacht scene is now very international in character and I have absolutely no concerns about seeing her go to one of our friendly European neighbours.


It's incredibly difficult to know what a yacht like this is worth, given that she's already been restored at considerable cost. I'm asking £23,000, that's about 28,500 Euros at current rates, which I hope is about right and certainly should be to the appropriate person.

Stroma is currently ashore at Kilmelford, Argyll, where I live. You can contact me by email here:- or by phone on +44 (0) 1852 200261

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Stroma is for sale

I am posting this to let my friends know, in advance of formal marketing, that I have decided with huge regret to sell my beloved yacht Stroma, number four of the historic Scottish Islands Class, built in 1929 by McGruers to a design by Alfred Mylne. There is a full history of the class on this blog.

Scottish Islanders are absolutely lovely boats, well behaved in virtually all normal conditions, fast and elegant. The compromise is the limited accommodation, which I have always considered a small price to pay for such a wonderful sailing experience.

Stroma was extensively rebuilt by me, with help from a few friends, and her spars, rigging and sails were all renewed before she was relaunched in 2003.

I decided not to instal an engine, so that would be for a new owner to decide.

I bought Stroma in 1976 when I was 28 years old and have had numerous adventures on her with my friends over the years. It’s only advancing age and the lack of regular sailing companions that are causing me to sell her.

Stroma is lying ashore at Kilmelford, in order that her topsides can be repainted, just to freshen her appearance as there are no cracks showing. I’m also doing a number of small jobs to ensure that she’s in fine condition for a new custodian.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Where this blog is now at

Regular visitors will notice that I haven't posted anything new on this blog for some time. This is deliberate, as the blog was always intended to create an archive of information about the Islanders and the people who sailed and continue to sail and look after them.

Instead of creating new postings I have been steadily correcting any errors found in earlier ones and adding details as they are found. In the course of the blog I've received a lot of information and encouraging comments from the families of former owners, but there are still lots of blanks in the story. It's still my intention someday to produce a volume celebrating the Class, which will present the information in this blog, in particular the images, in a more attractive format, but I won't embark on that voyage until I'm satisfied that any remaining blanks just cannot be filled.

So, if you do have information, memories, old photographs or whatever please let me know. And if you haven't already found it please visit my more general site,

Happy sailing!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Dorian Thom, aviator

Daring young man
William Dorian Thom was born on 3 August 1892 in the family home at 5 Westbank Quadrant in the West end of Glasgow, the second son of John Thom, consulting civil engineer and owner of the business of Thom, Lamont & Co Limited. He had two older sisters, Mary and Helen and an older brother Herbert. His youngest sister, Mina, would arrive a few years later.

I think that Dorian, commonly called Dorrie, probably attended the Glasgow Academy a short distance from the family home. He had just turned 16 when his father died after years of ill-health and I suspect that he would have joined the family business of Thom, Lamont & Co at that point, as did Herbert. However the two brothers had vastly different personalities. Herbert was always serious, careful and meticulous, with a deep sense of obligation, whereas Dorian believed in enjoying life and taking risks.

The outbreak of war gave Dorian the opportunity to get out of the business and by the summer of 1916 he had a probationary commission as sub-lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps in 34 Squadron, being confirmed in that rank in October. In July 1916 he won the DFC. 34 Squadron flew the primitive and slow BE2es, single-engined biplanes with a maximum speed of about 70mph (110kph), which the pilots themselves called "Fokker fodder" and the Germans called kaltes Fleisch. When 52 Squadron arrived in France they were equipped with slightly faster RE8s, but which had the disadvantage that they easily went into an uncontrollable spin and crashed. The end result was that each squadron fancied the other's machines, so they duly swapped them.

99 Squadron was formed in August 1917 and sent to France to fly twin-engined de Havilland bombers as part of the Independent Air Force. Dorian joined it and survived numerous bombing raids, when the squadron took horrendous losses. When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918 the Army objected to their use of military ranks, so Dorian became a Flying Officer.

Prince Albert, the later King George VI, was posted to the staff of the Independent Air Force at Nancy in the last few weeks of the war and got to know 99 Squadron. Dorian was appointed to escort him and took him up for a flight in his de  Havilland. On Armistice Day, when the prince was 23 years old he sent the following letter to Dorian, who was then 25.

Post war, 99 Squadron was sent to India and flew bombing raids in the North-west frontier. Dorian wrote home that "the machines were certainly out of date but good enough for the job as there were no machines against us" and "if you didn't take off in the early morning you couldn't get off at all as there seemed to be no lift in the air when it got warmer."

Dorian was still in the Royal Air Force in 1924 and eventually left with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He then returned to a directorship at Thom,  Lamont & Co Limited. In September 1921 he had married Peggy Ramsay and set up house in Pollokshields, where they had three sons and two daughters together.

One son, David Trenchard Thom was to go on and distinguish himself in the commandos after D-Day and later had an eccentric career as a Newmarket trainer. There is a quirky biography of him in which his biographer  Terry Jennings reports him as saying that father Dorian had little interest in the business of Thom, Lamont & Co Limited apart from the director's salary that he drew. The book is entitled "A man before his time"  but a better title would have been "A man of his time" as I can't imagine David Thom having lived at any other period in history.

Dorian Thom enjoyed sailing, mainly aboard Aline and Falcon. Needless to say he didn't sail with Herbert.  He wrote "I fell in off Falcon when steering, was very annoyed as I had just got my stop-watch back from the makers. It was very amusing watching the Eights trying to get near me - they must have read in a book about gybing as they seemed to be getting further away all the time. However a wee lugsail slipped in and picked me up." One can imagine a certain tension in the boardroom between the two brothers.

Regrettably it seems that Dorian's constitution was not up to the demands of his lifestyle and he died at the early age of 43 on 10 May 1936.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

John Herbert Thom - Part Four - Canna cleans up

Of course yachting was suspended during the war years. The smaller yachts were laid up, many not to survive long periods of neglect, and the larger ones commandeered. There were occasional disasters such as the fire at Mcleans which destroyed inter alia Westra. The Firth of Clyde was itself dedicated to war service and out of bounds, the only small boats seen being occasional Navy whalers. The press speculated that leisure sailing would never return.

Apart from running the firm of Thom Lamont & Co Herbert Thom volunteered for the Clyde River Patrol and in 1942 he bought Beechwood House, Dunoon, a large house with a great view over the river. Meanwhile Sub-Lieutenant John Thom RNVR was taking part in various dangerous missions, which were to earn him the DSC and bar. His brother Herbert Junior joined the Fleet Air Arm but was found to be colour blind and so was not allowed to fly. Circe was sold to Captain G E T Eyston and went to the Solent.

Post-war Herbert Thom enjoyed himself as a popular guest helmsman on various yachts on the Clyde, generally bringing home the prize. In early 1948 he went to the Solent and helmed Circe for Captain Eyston in the Olympic tuning-up races, winning the Solent Cup in her.

Racing in the Islanders continued in the pre-war spirit with very close competition and generally at least six boats turning out. The Islanders, being a local class, were not affected by the 1948 Olympic Games, which attracted a lot of talent South, so that for example at the opening Clyde regatta there were no starters in seven of the ten classes. Canna had been put up for sale by Mr Norman McK Manclark and the temptation proved too much, so a new "yellow peril" returned.

Canna must have needed some tuning up (and replacement of topside paint with varnish), as she ended up in third place behind class champion James Buchanan's Sanda with Jura, now skippered by Adam Bergius, second. By 1949 Herbert Thom was back as champion and he repeated the feat every year apart from 1959, when he was ill, until again illness cut short his season in 1963. 1956 must have been frustrating for the other owners, as Canna entered 22 races and was first in all of them. (Cruise in Company incorrectly gives this total as 32.)  This was also the largest number of first places he ever gained in one year.

By the end of 1957 the David Boyd-designed Sceptre was being built by Robertsons at Sandbank. There was plenty of press speculation about who would helm her in the America's Cup. Asked at the launching if he would be going to the States in September Herbert Thom said "no, but I might change my mind before then." But the challenging club was the Royal Yacht Squadron and it remained to be seen if they would select an all-Scottish team of designer, builder and helm.

On 22 April 1958 the Herald disclosed that Herbert Thom was to helm Evaine, built in 1936 to a Charles Nicholson design, in the trials off the Solent in May. Sceptre's helm was likely to be Lieutenant-Commander Graham Mann, who had won a bronze at the 1956 Olympics at the helm of the Duke of Edinburgh's Dragon, Bluebottle and was the Duke's sailing master.

At the opening weekend of the trials in June Evaine beat Sceptre five times, this being mainly attributed in the press reports to the skill and tactical ability of her skipper. The papers speculated that the final selection would be a choice between youth and experience, the two main candidates being respectively 34 and  67 years old. 

After a few weeks of controversy Herbert Thom indicated that he would be willing to go across as helmsman, but had no interest in being appointed "crew adviser." In one interview he even suggested that Evaine should be sent across for the challenge. He also suggested swapping the crews over, but this was not taken up. At the end of the month he returned to the Clyde and maybe just to prove a point not only won the Islander race, but finished ahead of the 8 metres, which had started 20 minutes before Canna. The outcome of the Cup series is of course history.

There was an echo of this history in the summer of 1963 when Sovereign was being tuned up on the Clyde with Sceptre as trial horse. Herbert Thom had watched from the committee boat as the score stood at eight to Sovereign against two to Sceptre. He was given Sceptre's helm and notched up another two wins. This time there was no suggestion that at 72 he should be involved further.

It was stressful racing in a competitive class under the eyes of the general, as well as the yachting, press, because until fairly recently yacht racing attracted a lot of press attention. For example in May 1957 the Scotsman found it newsworthy that Herbert Thom had not come first in a yacht race. By late August 1963 he was exhausted and, perhaps mindful of his father's history of heart trouble, decided to retire. Canna was duly sold and he didn't race again. I'm happy to report that he didn't suffer any long-term effects and lived to enjoy a happy retirement, before passing away in 1986 at the age of 96.

Over a racing career that lasted 60 years Herbert Thom had won 690 flags, including 453 first places. Here is his record sheet.

As a postscript to a life on the water I should record that Herbert Thom built up and directed a highly successful business, whose pumps did service throughout the World. In January 2001 the British Antarctica Survey in South Georgia reported:- 
".... visited the old whaling station in search of an item to rescue, and found it in the old 'Coppersmith's Coal Shed'. It was a pump. A particular pump. A Twin Cylinder Vertical Steam Water Pump Circa ... well, we are not sure 'what circa'. The whaling station closed around 1960 when the pump was last used. The only identification we can find on the body of the thing is the manufacturer's label and a designation 5 x 5 x 6 which was probably the stroke and capacity. The pump, serial number 14398, was made by Thomas (sic) Lamont & Co Ltd, Engineers of Paisley, Scotland. But to what use was it put ? That we cannot answer either."

This pump is now in the Grytviken museum.

 There's another one at the Tokomaru museum in New Zealand.